The stakes are high for both BYU and for Texas when the teams match up this Saturday at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.
For the Longhorns, it's an opportunity to show the program is back on the right track under new head coach Charlie Strong. It's no secret Strong has targeted BYU throughout the offseason, hoping his players will work to turn the tables on the Cougars after being embarrassed in Provo last season.
For the Cougars, it's a prime opportunity to show they can compete with the Big 12's top programs while gaining more national exposure. Coming away with a win against a highly motivated and historic opponent on the road would say a lot about the current state of the program and its ability to compete in a Power 5 conference.
So what can fans expect come Saturday? How do the teams match up on paper and who are the standout players on each side of the football? We studied up on Texas throughout this past week to give an idea of how the teams stack up.
The Cougar ground game saw success on the road against UConn last week without the services of top running back Jamaal Williams. BYU's top three backs (Adam Hine, Paul Lasike and Algernon Brown) rushed the ball 21 times for 99 yards and a 4.7 yards per carry average.
The return of Williams this week will no doubt boost the Cougar ground game, but the big story surrounds quarterback Taysom Hill, who shredded the Longhorns with 259 yards and three touchdowns on the ground last season.
Hill picked his spots well against UConn last week and ended as the Cougas' top rusher with 98 yards on 12 carries.
Texas certainly should fare better in defending against Hill on the ground this time around. It's no secret Texas' defensive scheme was horrid last season and Strong has a good history in defending against running quarterbacks at both Louisville and as a defensive coordinator at Florida.
The Longhorns operate out of a 4-3 base led by a veteran defensive front. Senior defensive end Cedric Reed (6-foot-5, 272 pounds) is considered the team's top defensive lineman and was a first-team All Big 12 performer in 2013. The interior of the line is led by junior Malcom Brown (6-3, 320) and senior Desmond Jackson (6-0, 298), who have started 28 games between them.
At linebacker, the Longhorns return five players who each started at least one game last season. Middle linebacker Steve Edmond (6-2, 258), a senior, leads the linebacking corps.
The Longhorns were downright stingy against the North Texas ground game last week, yielding just 79 yards on a 1.8 yards per rush average. BYU will obviously pose a tougher test than the Mean Green, but will be hard-pressed to match last week's success given the Longhorns' experience and anticipated resolve.
The wildcard is Hill and his extraordinary ability to extend plays and completely frustrate a defense. Texas should defend much better against Hill on the read option, but it will be noteworthy how well it fares in containing him on the edges when scrambling.
Hill was composed in the pocket last week and picked part UConn's zone with 28-36 passing for 308 yards and three touchdowns. His top targets were receivers Mitch Mathews (five receptions for 62 yards and a touchdown) and Terren Houk (four receptions for 58 yards and a touchdown.) Running backs Brown and Lasike also had four receptions apiece.
Texas, meanwhile, forced four interceptions last week and held the Mean Green to just 15 yards passing on just three completions.
The Longhorn secondary features two returning starters at cornerback in senior Quandre Diggs (5-10, 195) and junior Duke Thomas (5-11, 178.) Senior Mykkele Thompson (6-2, 191) is the team's top safety.
BYU faced a very vanilla pass defense last week against UConn, but that will likely change this week. While the Huskies consistently dropped seven, and even eight players in zone coverage last week, the Longhorns should provide a much greater variety of looks and blitz packages.
Look for BYU to feature its top wideouts more this time around, particularly transfer Jordan Leslie, who played big in most fall practice sessions and Devon Blackmon, who returns after sitting out last game due to being suspended.
Overall, the Longhorns' main priority should be stopping Hill's ability to beat them with his legs, which could allow for ample opportunity for big gains in the intermediate and long passing game.
BYU held UConn to just 71 yards rushing and a 2.3 average last week. It did this without the services of nose tackle Marques Johnson, who was serving out a one-game suspension, and with an inexperienced group of inside linebackers.
Johnson returns this week along with mission freshman Kesni Tausinga, who sat out last week with injury, which should aid the nose tackle position considerably. Harvey Langi also returns after being nicked up a week ago, which should give the inside linebacker play a boost.
Texas' two best offensive players are its top two running backs — senior Malcolm Brown (5-11, 222) and junior Jonathan Gray (5-11, 215.) Both were five-star prospects out of high school and have proven to be top runners at the collegiate level.
The Longhorn offensive line, however, has been depleted with injuries and suspensions. Veteran center Dominic Espinosa will sit out Saturday's game with injury while Strong suspended starting offensive tackles Desmond Harrison and Kennedy Estelle.
There are more unknowns involved with Texas' running attack and BYU's ability to defend it than in any other matchup. How will BYU stack up after being relatively untested last week against UConn? And how will Texas supplement the loss of three starting offensive linemen?
Last season, BYU struggled to defend the run against top opponents such as Notre Dame and Wisconsin. With a lot of inexperience at both nose tackle and inside linebacker, it remains to be seen how well it will stack up this season.
Expect Texas to test BYU's interior run defense early and often despite its personnel losses.
The Cougars defended the pass very well last week without the services of expected starters Robertson Daniel and Jordan Johnson. Both sat out against UConn due to being suspended but will return this week against the Longhorns.
Freshman Jordan Praetor and sophomore Michael Davis started last week and both played well throughout. Davis played well enough to earn himself another start this week and is expected to be backed up by Johnson.
Overall, the Cougars gave up 284 yards passing but just a 5.9 average per attempt.
BYU also showed well in rushing the quarterback, employing a variety of blitz packages, which forced quick throws and accounted for four sacks.
Texas sustained yet another blow by losing starting quarterback David Ash to injury last week. Sophomore Tyrone Swoopes (6-4, 247) is expected to replace Ash and, like Ash, has the ability to beat a defense with both his arm and his legs.
The Longhorns threw for just 190 yards last week but didn't really need to open things up due to how the game played out. Their leading receivers are senior Jaxon Shipley (6-0, 190) and junior Marcus Johnson (6-1, 193.)
Shipley is the guy BYU needs to keep an eye on come Saturday. The senior has 165 receptions on his career (seventh on the Texas all-time list) and has a knack to get open and make plays.
The return of Daniel, who coaches consider the team's best cornerback, aids BYU's ability to defend the pass considerably. Davis and Johnson will combine to limit the Longhorn speedsters on the other side and should be tested deep on more occasions than a week ago.
Look for Texas to focus on the run in hopes of utilizing play-action and running back screens effectively.
There's no question Texas will come motivated and anxious to right last year's wrong against BYU despite its mass of losses due to injury and suspensions. Look for an extremely physical game on both sides of the ball that should take the form of a defensive slugfest.
BYU's keys to victory will be securing an early lead, proving effective in the red zone and improving on a very lackluster kicking game shown last week against UConn. Winning the battle in the trenches on both sides of the ball is also paramount.
Score prediction: BYU 21, Texas 20