Before every Arizona Wildcats football game, we like to take a look at how the next week's opponent stacks up statistically. In week one, that's always a challenge - no games have been played and no one knows anything, really - but let's take a look at Arizona's match-up with the BYU Cougars by the numbers:
70% - BYU's returning production from last season
BYU returns about 70 percent of their production from a team that went 9-4 last year. In contrast, Arizona lost more production than BYU (Cayleb Jones, Scooby Wright, etc.) from a team that only won seven games last year and had to squeak out a win against New Mexico in the bowl game to even get there. BYU was better than Arizona last season and lost less production than the Wildcats. It's easy to see why BYU might be favored...
5.7 - BYU's projected margin of victory, per S&P+
...and, at least per S&P+, they are. This makes sense - the game is at a neutral site (and BYU may even have the advantage in that department) and BYU is projected to be better than Arizona this season. A 5.7 projected margin of victory translates to a 63 percent win probability for BYU, so even this projection leaves plenty of wiggle room for an Arizona win. Arizona fans, though, have reason to worry this Saturday.
BYU +1.5 - the spread in Vegas
Yet despite the pretty strong statistical case for BYU winning this game, Vegas still has Arizona favored. As I type this, the Wildcats are currently 1.5 or 1 point favorites, depending on where you look. That's a surprisingly large gap between what the stats think will happen and what Vegas thinks will happen.
There are plenty of reasons why that might be. First, while Arizona does have a new staff on the defensive side of the ball, BYU has a completely new staff period. When Bronco Mendenhall left BYU for Virginia, he took with him Robert Anae (offensive coordinator), Nick Howell (defensive coordinator), Jason Beck (quarterbacks coach), Mark Atuaia (running backs coach), Garett Tujague (offensive line coach), and Kelly Poppinga (special teams coordinator), in addition to some other assorted staff members. As a result, incoming BYU coach Kalani Sitake had to fill out essentially the entire staff.
This is going to be BYU's first game with that new staff. It wouldn't be surprising if there were a few hiccups as the coaches and players get accustomed to each other in game situations.
Second, in spite of BYU's ticket sales, the game is in Phoenix, and there are a lot of local alumni who will be at the game. I expect an environment similar to the Fiesta Bowl in 2014 - plenty of Boise State fans showed up to the game, but Arizona still ultimately brought more fans. I'd bet on that being the case this Saturday.
Finally, if nothing else, Arizona simply has more talent than BYU. In spite of the Wildcats’ perceived recruiting struggles (prior to this year's staff shake-up, obviously), Arizona's recruiting ranks 44th in the country over the past two years and 44th in the country over the past five years. BYU? 66th and 70th, respectively. That's a pretty sizable difference. Talent isn't everything, of course - and BYU has done a phenomenal job developing those recruiting classes - but it certainly helps Arizona's chances in this game.
Last season really did a number on the Wildcats. The defense was bad, the offense sputtered against good teams, and the result was a middling season. To win against BYU, Arizona is going to have to show more than they did last season. Here's hoping they do.