AUSTIN, Texas — The setup is like this: BYU is in the heart of the Big 12, where teams are cannibalizing one another, and the Utes are visiting the hallowed Coliseum, where the storied USC Trojans are battling NCAA sanctions as the Utes open an exciting future in the Pac-12.
Those should be the stories and focus this weekend with the Cougars and Utes, because those angles are so intriguing. But the most important action will be on the respective fields, and little else matters when all else is boiled away.
Both BYU and Utah are fully capable of beating the home teams today. They'll need almost flawless performances and must take charge in the trenches to do so.
But the real key? Two guys: quarterbacks Jake Heaps and Jordan Wynn.
These two games will be won or lost on how these two guys execute, show poise, make plays, keep drives alive and deliver big plays.
Simple as that?
If either one plays like they did in their previous games, Utah and BYU will return home with 1-1 records when they face one another a week from now in LaVell Edwards Stadium.
Is that fair?
And of course, it takes a lot more in the game of football for a quarterback to be successful and find timing — rhythm, the proper delivery of the hike, blocking, routes, etc. Both Heaps and Wynn will need solid running games to help them pass the ball and make plays with their arms. Both need their defenses to get stops and the kicking game has to be golden.
Still, when the pigskin hits the air, the cleats hit the turf, everybody starts hitting one another and the school bands play, this is one contest where the QBs will ultimately decide momentum, consistency, continuity and the point spread.
Other than turnovers, there will be no bigger factor today for Utah and BYU.
I think both Heaps and Wynn will play better than they did a week ago in the openers against Mississippi and Montana State. They have to. They've been through the opening jitters and have sat in film rooms and watched where they misfired, under- and overthrew passes, and they've seen what receivers were open.
If these QBs register a pass efficiency rating of 145 or higher, BYU and Utah will win. Right now, Heaps' rating is 116.32 and Wynn is 130.80.
Now, it is showtime. And they are going to face much tougher defenses.
Utah will get a USC defense that is talented, deep, tough and motivated to give the Utes a Pac-12 welcome — a new kid on the hazing block. And they're capable of it.
BYU will face a more talented, quicker defense in Texas than they got at Mississippi when the Cougars managed just one offensive touchdown.
You get the picture.
It is an uphill battle today and the odds say both will have a very tough time. This is the thought, even as Utah appears to hit the Pac-12 at a good time. After seeing Arizona against Oklahoma State Thursday night, and the less than inspiring openers by UCLA, Washington, Oregon State and Oregon, the competition is down.
With Wynn, it's mostly a matter of style points: arm strength, zip on the ball, challenging the entire field with his arm.
With Heaps, it's a matter of finishing drives, zeroing in on what he needs to get done with his so-called elite arm.
USC and Texas will bring the heat against these two. Major heat.
Heaps' hype has overshadowed his actual performance so far. He needs to post numbers.
Texas is going to force Heaps to hurt them with the wideouts. USC will take away John White, supposedly, and they want Wynn to beat them with his arm.
It should be an interesting day, indeed.
Here are this week's picks:
Wisconsin 38, Oregon State 7: The Badgers worked UNLV and this Pac-12 team will get run over by the Badgers.
Stanford 42, Duke 3: Somebody remind me again, why is it that Duke football is in a BCS conference and what do they do with that birthright on Saturdays?
Oregon 36, Nevada 24: Bounce-back game for the Ducks. Nevada isn't LSU in any way, shape or form.
Cal 27, Colorado 10: The Buffs are still searching for some kind of identity, both in the game and in their new league.
Hawaii 28, Washington 21: I like the Warrior offense in a game where defenses need to make an appearance.
Washington State 21, UNLV 17: This one is an interesting matchup. I'll go with the Cougars simply on league recognition.
UCLA 17, San Jose State 14: The Bruins couldn't fall two weeks in a row. Well, it could happen with Rick, but I'll give the gambler the benefit of the dice.
Utah State 38, Weber State 23: How can Gary Andersen pick things up after that emotional trip to Auburn? Let us count the ways.
USC 21, Utah 20: The Trojan defense is capable of making the Utes one-dimensional and if it's the run that's the dimension, the Utes have a chance. But I wouldn't bet on it. Utah's hopes have to be in the fact Kyle Whittingham is a better coach than Lane Kiffin.
Texas 24, BYU 21: The Cougars are fully capable of beating Texas in Austin if Heaps has a New Mexico Bowl-type game and the defense allows no huge pass plays. Can't count on that yet.
Last week 5-2 (.714)
Today's QB Ratings
QB . . . . PASS EFFICIENCY RANK
Garret Gilbert . . . . Texas 158.16 24
Matt Barkley . . . . USC 154.30 33
Jordan Wynn . . . . Utah 130.80 55
Jake Heaps . . . . BYU 116.32 69
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