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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, December 18, 2015 at 7:00 AM

The Las Vegas Bowl is usually the best game on the first day of the bowls. That’s because it typically gets a showcase team from the Pac 12 and a decent opponent. This year…it also gets a blood rivalry!

BYU and Utah hate each other…compounded by the fact that the programs went different ways while chasing the TV dollar. Utah is now in the Pac 12, where it finished a respectable second in the tough South Division. BYU is an independent, with its top games each season contractually claimed by ESPN.

It’s like having Texas and Texas A&M playing in a bowl, but with even more animosity.

We do have to mention though that something is amiss in the build-up for Saturday’s showdown. BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall, veteran of many BYU/Utah matchups, has left the Cougars to take over the Virginia program. He won’t be on the sidelines. Can BYU players stay focused during the transition period? Facing a hated rival should help!

Let’s see what JIM HURLEY’S key indicator stats have to say about the most anticipated of the first week bowls…


Won-Lost Records

BYU: 9-3 (Independent, faced #68 schedule in Sagarin)

Utah: 9-3 (6-3 in the Pac 12 South, faced #26 schedule in Sagarin)

Both teams had the same won-lost record, but Utah did that against the much tougher schedule. That’s part of why the betting markets have them as a small neutral field favorite. Could BYU have finished tied for second in the Pac 12 South? They would have needed some breaks. The close loss at UCLA speaks well for their chances. But, the blowout loss at Michigan and the disappointing 20-16 loss at Missouri don’t. Also, Utah beat a Michigan team that BYU couldn’t compete with (granting Utah was a home and a very tired BYU was a visitor).


2015 Yards-Per-Play

BYU: 6.1 on offense, 5.0 on defense

Utah: 5.3 on offense, 5.2 on defense

Tricky to evaluate here because Utah played the tougher schedule, and BYU got to run up some stats in a 70-6 win over Wagner. Total yardage was 741-129! Take that scrimmage out…and we’re looking at fairly similar teams. Perhaps most importantly, Utah’s the better defensive team if you don’t count Wagner. That often matters in gridiron wrestling matches.


2015 Turnover Differential

BYU: +7

Utah: +8

Both teams have done a good job here. Utah really emphasizes percentage play with their offensive approach. They do run into problems against quality teams though, as you saw with their miscues at USC. BYU is similar in that they like their QB to run out of trouble rather than launching risky passes (except on Hail Mary’s!).


2015 Market Performance

BYU: 8-4 ATS

Utah: 5-7 ATS

BYU was the more underrated of the two teams. The market assumed impending disaster after the latest injury to Taysom Hill. His backups came through. Utah was garnering too much respect for awhile until the USC debacle helped put them in their place. Definitely worth thinking about this angle…as the market may be underestimating BYU again.



BYU: Tanner Mangum (242-390-7-3062 with 21 TDs)

Utah: Travis Wilson (186-298-10-2024 with 13 TDs)

The TD/INT ratios tell an interesting story. BYU is up at 21-7 with Mangum…which gets the job done with little fuss. Wilson is much more of a game manager. That means Utah runs for its TD’s, but them becomes interception prone when they HAVE to pass. Can BYU stop their run and force them to pass? That’s probably the linchpin factor for the whole game. Utah shouldn’t be favored if they have to pass. Utah can win by more than a TD if distracted BYU can’t stop their run.

Current Line: Utah by 2.5, total of 52

The markets sees Utah as slightly better…but not yet good enough to be laying a full field goal at a neutral site. The Mendenhall storyline is in play. It’s assumed to be a negative. And, in a less-electric bowl against a boring opponent, it might have been a huge negative. Here? Interesting question for handicappers.

Frankly, this game is right in the wheelhouse for JIM HURLEY’S exclusive TEAM HANDICAPPING approach. His on-site sources will get a read on the mindset and enthusiasm of BYU’S players…and his state-of-the-art game simulation program will determine whether or not their defense can stop the Utah run! INFORMATION WINS!

You can purchase the final word for the Las Vegas Bowl and the full Saturday bowl slate right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions about extended football service through the BCS National Championship and the NFL Super Bowl, please call us in the office at 1-888-777-4155.

Back soon with more TV previews…

Sunday: NFL TV Preview…Arizona at Philadelphia

Monday: NFL TV Preview…Detroit at New Orleans

Midweek: NFL TV Preview… San Diego at Oakland

Friday-Saturday: Foster Farms Bowl Preview…UCLA vs. Nebraska

Hey, BYU played nailbiters both UCLA and Nebraska this season! Our next bowl preview will feed naturally off of whatever happens in the Las Vegas Bowl. We’ll stay on top of the major TV attractions for you through the rest of the month.

Keep looking for helpful handicapping tips in the NOTEBOOK…and get your BIG, JUICY WINNERS from JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!


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