Although there are plenty of question marks on both sides, there are things we know about both the Arizona Wildcats and BYU Cougars that allow us to project how Saturday night’s game will turn out.
With that, here are three things Arizona will need to do to open the 2016 season with a win in Glendale.
1. Slow down the run - BYU returns Jamaal Williams after he was suspended for the 2015 season for a violation of team rules. He rushed for 2,593 yards and 25 touchdowns in his three seasons at BYU before last year. In his absence, Algernon Brown took over and the 6-foot-1 bruiser rushed for 709 yards on 127 carries. Brown made the move to fullback, but he made it clear that he is not to be taken lightly. Not to mention 26-year-old potential Heisman candidate Taysom Hill is back at quarterback and he has some wheels.
The Cougars also have four returning starters on the offensive line. BYU was 6-1 when it ran for at least 100 yards last year with Tanner Mangum at the helm. Ty Detmer is the new offensive coordinator, and he doesn’t have any experience coaching at the college level coming from Saint Andrews High School in Austin, Texas. BYU also has inexperienced wide receivers, so if Marcel Yates’ defense can stop the two-headed threat of Williams and Hill, Arizona should be in good shape.
2. Special teams play - Kind of obvious, but Arizona lost two very solid special team pieces from last year in Casey Skowron and Drew Riggleman. Josh Pollack is expected to take both the punting and kicking duties, putting a lot on one leg. BYU returns a senior punter in Jonny Linehan, but is going to be breaking in a new kicker too. Sophomore Rhett Almond is listed as their starter.
Tyrell Johnson is a threat to break one every kickoff and Nate Phillips is a pretty reliable punt returner. For a game with the spread so close, one special teams play can make all the difference.
3. Cause turnovers - Another one that is really obvious, but Arizona only caused four turnovers in its losses last year. One of the major things the new defensive coaches are emphasizing is causing turnovers...an area Arizona surely lacked in last year.
Winning the turnover battle in general is usually a deciding factor in a fairly even matchup like this seems to be. Anu Solomon has always had the decision-making that leads to fewer turnovers. If that remains the same, the Wildcats should be looking at a big early-season win.