Provided By Electronic Arts
A simulated football game screen shot from the video game "NCAA Football '09."

What are the odds?

It's a question fans ask when looking back on a season or looking forward, wondering how their team will fare this season. There are plenty of those questions this season in the Beehive State.

What are the odds ...

That the Cougars go undefeated?

That the Utes win the Mountain West Conference?

That the Aggies go winless?

Through modern technology — NCAA Football '09 — we now have the ability to answer those questions.

Here at the Deseret News, we made the sacrifice of playing the game and running through 50 computer-simulated seasons. The hope is that 50 seasons is a large enough sample to give us a reliable guess of the possible outcomes of the 2008-09 season. We have to rely on EA Sports' ability to evaluate each player's skill level for all 110 Football Bowl Subdivision teams.

According to the game's preseason rankings, the better team is the Cougars — they're ranked 20th, while the Utes are unranked. These rankings are decided by the developers at EA Sports, independent of the real-world polls.

Compared to all teams in the game, BYU's rating in NCAA 09 is the 38th highest. Utah's, however, is only the 68th highest, behind such football powerhouses as Northern Illinois, Duke and Indiana.

NCAA '09 doesn't include player names because of the amateur status of college athletes. However, the game includes an online feature called EA Locker, which allows you to download edited rosters from a variety of sources. By using this feature, or by checking a player's in-game jersey number against a team roster, gamers can see the rating each player is given.

The highest-rated player between the Utes and Cougars is BYU offensive lineman Dallas Reynolds, who has a 91 rating overall. Defensive end Jan Jorgensen was given a 90, and quarterback Max Hall earned an 89. Running back Harvey Unga and lineman Ray Feinga both were given overall ratings of 87. In our simulations, Hall was in the top five in the Heisman Trophy voting nine times (Austin Collie once). Neither ever won.

For the Utes, running back Darrell Mack leads the team with a rating of 89 overall. Quarterback Brian Johnson earned an 86, kicker Louie Sakoda a score of 84, and linebacker Stevenson Sylvester and wide receiver Brent Casteel both earned overall ratings of 81.

Again, these scores are low compared to the national elite. Ohio State has 12 players with ratings of 90 or higher. Georgia has nine. Florida has eight. So while the marks of the Utes and Cougars lead the Mountain West Conference, they don't stack up to the big-name BCS schools.

In our 50 sim-seasons, the Cougars won the MWC title half the time. The other half was split between Utah and the other seven teams. While BYU went undefeated just three times (one season the Cougars went 13-0 with a Fiesta Bowl win over Clemson), the team went bowling every season. The Cougars were invited to 15 BCS bowl games (Fiesta, Sugar and Rose but never the National Championship Game).

The Utes made one BCS game while getting an bowl invite 86 percent of the time.

As for Utah State, it never finished with a winning record but did get an invitation to the Alamo Bowl, where they lost to La.-Lafayette, after a 6-6 season.

But how do the two teams play? We played both as the Utes and the Cougars in Rice-Eccles Stadium (where this November's game will be played) and had no trouble moving the ball against the computer-controlled opponent.

As BYU, we rolled to a 28-3 win. Unga ran all over the Utah defense, and the Ute offensive line just couldn't stop Jorgensen and linebacker David Nixon from getting to Johnson for sacks. Hall struggled with accuracy at times (the game does a nice job of showing when a quarterback is rattled in a hostile environment) but managed to hit wide receiver Austin Collie for more than 100 receiving yards.

But in our second game, the Utes were absolutely unstoppable, beating the Cougars 46-20. Mack ran for more than 200 yards, and Johnson led the spread offense to perfection. Defensive back Sean Smith snagged two interceptions, and Casteel ran back a kickoff for a touchdown. In each game, Johnson was injured for more than a quarter, and backup quarterback Corbin Louks had to take over for several offensive series.

So which team really is better? In the simulations, BYU won 54 percent of the time and the rankings and the numbers seem to favor BYU. In our gameplay experience, the Cougars were better defensively, but the Utes excelled on offense, when Johnson wasn't injured.

Bottom line: no matter which team you favor, you'll be able to have a good time beating down your rival. But on a national level, both have a long way to go.

OTHER FINDINGS FROM THE 50 SIMULATIONS: The toughest blocks to an undefeated BYU season are Washington (beat BYU 40 percent of the time), Utah (40) and UCLA (38). Utah played spoiler, ending a previously undefeated season three times. Although the Utes and Cougs never met for an 11-0 vs. 11-0 showdown, they both finished 11-1 in one sim. ... Another sim had Weber State stunning the Utes, only to have Utah rebound and win the MWC. ... In USU's only 6-6 season the Aggies beat Idaho, Utah, San Jose State, Fresno State, Louisiana Tech and Nevada.

NCAA '09 team ratings

Team Off. ... Def. ... Overall

BYU ... 88 ... 73 ... 79

Utah ... 81 ... 69 ... 74

USU ... 60 ... 69 ... 60

50 seasons

How the state's top football programs fared after 50 seasons were simulated. The number is how many times each team finished the regular season with that record.

12-0: BYU 3, Utah 0, USU 0

11-1: BYU 15, Utah 4, USU 0

10-2: BYU 11, Utah 7, USU 0

9-3: BYU 13, Utah 12, USU 0

8-4: BYU 2, Utah 7, USU 0

7-5: BYU 0, Utah 8, USU 0

6-6: BYU 2, Utah 6, USU 1

5-7: BYU 0, Utah 4, USU 2

4-8: BYU 0, Utah 0, USU 10

3-9: BYU 0, Utah 0, USU 14

2-10: BYU 0, Utah 0, USU 13

1-11: BYU 0, Utah 0, USU 8

0-12: BYU 0, Utah 0, USU 2

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