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Utah State Aggies vs. BYU Cougars Preview and Prediction

Jamaal Williams

Jamaal Williams

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The Battle for the Old Wagon Wheel renews Saturday night in Provo where BYU (7-4) and Utah State (3-8) square off against each other for the 76th time.

This series historically has been a game that has usually been early in the month of October, but a few years ago the Aggies agreed to play the Cougars in the final week of the season, allowing for BYU to have what looked at the time to be a quality opponent in the month of November.

Like many November opponents in the past since becoming an independent in 2011, the Aggies appear on paper to be a huge underdog to the Cougars, winners of their last three games, while Utah State enters Provo on a four-game losing streak.

BYU has already accepted a postseason invitation to the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl while Utah State has suffered its first losing season under head coach Matt Wells, and their first year without a postseason bid since 2010.

Utah State at BYU

Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 26 at 10:15 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPNU
Spread: BYU -18

Three Things to Watch

1. Rivalry game?
For Utah State, the series with BYU has always been a rivalry. The Cougars on the other hand view it as a good game against an in-state opponent, but the feelings aren’t mutual when it comes to this game being a huge rivalry.

This game means the world to Utah State who has only defeated BYU five times in the last 40 years, including the last visit to Provo in 2014 when the Cougars were undefeated and ranked 18th in the country.

Utah State doesn’t have a postseason bowl game to prepare for, so this is its bowl game and with the rivalry already meaning the world to the Aggies, they are going to try and play spoiler on BYU’s senior day.

2. BYU senior day
The Cougars will honor 21 seniors on Saturday night highlighted by quarterback Taysom Hill and running back Jamaal Williams. Williams, the school’s all-time leading rusher, has missed the past two games with an ankle injury but is expected to play in his final regular season game as a Cougar.

Both Williams and Hill sit in the top five in career rushing yards at BYU and Hill currently is 11th in career passing yards at a school that is known for slinging the rock over the years.

BYU fans have been upset at times this season with the play of Taysom Hill, but he is one of the all-time great quarterbacks BYU has ever had. How many quarterbacks can pick up a first down on third-and-eight with their legs? A lot of what has made Hill great at BYU isn’t measured in the box score and not to mention he’s defeated a list of quality Power Five programs as the QB in Provo. Just ask Charlie Strong while he’s still in Austin for another few days how good Hill has been over the years.

3. Forcing Turnovers
BYU is No. 1 nationally in turnovers gained this season with 27 (18 interceptions, 9 fumbles). The Cougars have recorded at least one interception in every game, highlighted by safety Kai Nacua, who has come up with big plays whenever the Cougars need a momentum swing.

Utah State is 25th in the FBS in turnovers lost. Quarterback Kent Myers will have to take care of the football if the Aggies have any hopes of pulling off the upset.

Final Analysis

This is always an interesting game when you think of how many connections there are between the two programs with players going up against each other in high school, coaches who have worked with one another, and the long-standing histories in the state. It all makes for an intriguing game, at least until kickoff.

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Physically, BYU’s defense should have its way with a Utah State offensive line that has given up 2.5 sacks per game. The Cougars have had success this season stopping the run and that bodes well against an Aggie rushing attack that hasn’t had the production they’ve grown accustomed to ever since 2015’s leading rusher Devante Mays got hurt against USC back in week two. Mays has had just 11 carries since that game and his status against BYU is up in the air.

Taysom Hill and Jamaal Williams will have a productive senior day offensively as the Cougars focus on controlling the clock and finish out the regular season with an 8-4 record.

Prediction: BYU 28, Utah State 10

— Written by Mitch Harper, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Harper is publisher of Rivals' BYU site,, and also is the BYU reporter and insider for 1320 KFAN and co-host of "The Cougar Center" podcast. Follow him on Twitter @Mitch_Harper.