Going into the football season, football fans like to rally behind their respective teams, believing this is the year for that breakout season. Before the first game is played, fans and the media carry expectations into the season.
Fans of rival schools point out why their team is better than the rest. A look at recent history however, shows that the football programs at Utah and BYU are quite similar.
After the 2004 season, Bronco Mendenhall and Kyle Whittingham, who were serving as defensive coordinators for their respective schools, took over the head coaching positions for the 2005 season. This upcoming season will mark the ninth year for both head coaches.
So what else do these rival schools have in common? Let's find out.
Justin Giles is a recent graduate of the University of Utah. EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org
Last season was supposed to be a great year for BYU and Utah as both programs were returning experienced quarterbacks.
Things did not go as planned, however, as both starting quarterbacks went down with serious injuries. Both programs had to rely heavily upon their second and third string players.
Heading into the season this year, Taysom Hill and Travis Wilson will look to stay healthy to give a boost to their respective programs, since both programs have not had healthy quarterback play since the Max Hall and Brian Johnson era.
This is the year of the receivers. While both programs have had great receivers over the years, it is hard to remember a time when both BYU and Utah were so stacked at the wide receiver position.
Utah has its big playmaker in Kenneth Scott and deep ball threat in Dres Anderson.
BYU has one of the top receivers in the nation in Cody Hoffman, who does it all for the Cougars. BYU has many other skilled receivers in Ross Apo, Skyler Ridley and JD Falslev.
Both BYU and Utah have a lot of experienced starters returning who will be counted on early to help carry the team. If BYU and Utah cannot get big plays and consistency out of their receivers, then both programs could be in for a long season.
While this might be the year of the receivers, don’t forget about the tight ends. BYU and Utah return a couple of key starters at that position and will look to use them more this season than in years past.
Devin Mahina, Richard Wilson and Kaneakua Friel will look to make a big impact for the Cougars, while Jake Murphy and Westlee Tonga look to lead the Utes.
BYU and Utah are both implementing a fast-paced offense that should translate into more positions for each team. It will be interesting to see how big of a role the tight ends will play in the new offenses.
After both programs lost some top defensive players to the NFL last season, replacing them will be no easy feat. During spring and fall camp, injuries have taken a toll on BYU and Utah as they face an uphill battle before the season even begins.
Utah lost a couple of players due to retirement or season-ending injuries. Brian Blechen, one of the leaders on the Utah defense, has been sidelined a bit in fall camp due to tendinitis.
BYU could not escape the injury bug either as it lost three players at the cornerback position. Jordan Johnson and Trent Trammell went down with season-ending injuries and would-be sophomore Jacob Hannemann was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the MLB draft.
Because of the lack of depth at key positions, both BYU and Utah have already begun the process of having players switch positions in order to stay afloat and run practices.
The defense over the last couple of years has been outstanding for BYU and Utah. If those programs want to keep it that way, they will need to find a way to stay healthy. Not only will they have to stay healthy, but both programs will need playmakers to emerge in hopes of filling the voids left by those who went on to play in the NFL.
Without doubt the state of Utah has the attention of NFL scouts and teams, with numerous players joining the league over the years.
Last year was no exception as both BYU and Utah had a player drafted in the first round. Ziggy Ansah was chosen with the 5th overall pick by the Detroit Lions and Star Lotulelei was drafted with the 14th overall pick by the Carolina Panthers. Ironically, both of these players play on the defensive line.
Even though both programs are in different circumstances (independence, Pac-12) both programs still have more things in common than most people think. With only 45 miles separating these rival schools, it is remarkable to see how similar these football programs really are.