By Jon Wilner(Wilner Hotline)
The only first-year coach in the Pac-12 will make his debut Saturday night on a big stage against a credible opponent on a national broadcast, and the college football world thinks he’s doomed.
Jedd Fisch and Arizona are significant underdogs against Brigham Young in Las Vegas (7:30 p.m., ESPN).
Pretty close to two-touchdown underdogs, in fact.
The oddsmakers believe the likelihood of Arizona beating Brigham Young is comparable to that of San Jose State beating USC … in the Coliseum.
How fitting that Allegiant Stadium is just off The Strip. We think that forecast is craps.
Not only will the Wildcats cover the 12.5-point spread, they will win the game outright.
That’s right. By the time the casinos start serving $2.99 steak-and-eggs, the Wildcats will be 1-0 and flying back to Tucson without need for a plane.
Here are seven reasons why:
1. BYU is overrated.
Preseason support for the Cougars, as with most teams, is based on what happened last season and how many star players have returned.
That’s a solid foundation for evaluating teams, except last season was bananas.
For example, BYU won 11 games, spent most of the season in the top 25 and had a Heisman Trophy candidate in quarterback Zach Wilson.
But none of those wins came against Power Five opponents, the rankings were chaos because of truncated schedules, and Wilson is no longer in a Cougars uniform.
Along with a handful of BYU’s top talents and chief playmakers, he left for the NFL.
What remains is a beatable team that would finish in the lower half of the Pac-12.
2. Arizona is underrated.
First, some context: We do not believe the Wildcats are a bowl-caliber team, not by any stretch. If they win five games, Fisch will have earned three years of pay.
But they have some talent — certainly more than was evident during the truncated, disrupted, winless collapse under Kevin Sumlin.
Just as the COVID chaos made BYU’s performance look better than it was, so did the COVID chaos make Arizona look worse than it was — especially when combined with a coach who lost the team and the community.
The reality is that Arizona and BYU are closer in talent this season than it might appear.
3. See No. 1.
Also: In their four seasons under coach Kalani Sitake before the pandemic, the Cougars were 27-25.
4. Arizona has a tactical edge.
The Wildcats know what’s coming from BYU, where the coaching staff and playbook are largely intact.
But Arizona has a new head coach, new coordinators, new system, new alignments, new everything.
The Wildcats will anticipate BYU’s next move more often than BYU anticipates Arizona’s next move.
Fisch has no reason to hold anything back. This is a huge game for his program. Any page in the playbook the quarterbacks can handle, he should use.
That’s not the case with BYU because of what comes next for the Cougars.
5. Don Brown.
No explanation needed.
6. Arizona has a motivational edge.
The Wildcats have circled this season, this game, ever since they were humiliated in the 2020 finale by Arizona State.
After so many months devoted to creating a fresh start, they finally have a chance to show their fans — and prove to themselves — that the effort was worthwhile.
Meanwhile, the Cougars haven’t circled this week.
They circled next week.
Season openers are fine, but what really matters are rivalry games.
And next week brings the Holy War against archrival Utah, a team the Cougars haven’t beaten since the financial crisis.
Put another way, this is a trap game for the Cougars:
They are fresh off an 11-win season, they’re huge favorites over a team that was winless last year, and they have a rivalry game one week later.
7. College football is screwy.
No explanation needed.
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