College Football Picks: BYU Cougars at Virginia Cavaliers

Brigham Young Cougars at Virginia Cavaliers
Scott Stadium – Charlottesville, Virginia
Saturday, August 31, 2013, 3:30 pm Eastern, TV: ESPNU
Opening Line: BYU -2 1/2
Current Line: BYU -1
Opening Total: 50
Current Total: 50 1/2
Opening Money Line: BYU -140 / Virginia +120
Current Money Line: BYU -120 / Virginia +100

BYU is a one point favorite at Virginia Saturday.
BYU is a one point favorite at Virginia Saturday.

The BYU Cougars and Virginia Cavaliers open the season Saturday in Charlottesville. This is only the fourth meeting between the schools. Virginia leads the series 2-1 but BYU won the last meeting in 2000 at Virginia. The two schools will meet in Provo in 2014.

BYU, coached by Bronco Mendenhall, is coming off an 8-5 season last year and 4 of their 5 losses were by 6 points or less. The Cougars had narrow losses at in-state rival Utah, Boise St, Notre Dame, and San Jose St, and were beaten by 18 at Oregon State. BYU beat San Diego St 23-6 in the Poinsettia Bowl.

Virginia, coached by Mike London, had a disappointing 4-8 season last year in the ACC. The Cavaliers started off the season 2-0, but a 6 game losing streak sank their season. Virginia would then upset North Carolina St and Miami, before losing to North Carolina and Virginia Tech to close out the season. Strangely, six Virginia games were decided by 7 points or less and six were decided by 20 points or more. The Cavaliers went 2-4 in the games decided by 7 or less, a large reason they didn’t go to a bowl last year.

The BYU offense showed signs of life late last year scoring 41 or more points in 3 of the last 4 regular season games, but they also scored a total of 12 points against Boise St and Utah St. The offense must be more consistent this season though.

Sophomore quarterback Taysom Hill took over midway through the season last year when Riley Nelson and James Lark were injured or ineffectual. He threw for 425 yards with 4 touchdowns and 2 interceptions, but was really impressive with his legs, with 55 carries, 334 yards and 4 touchdowns. A knee injury knocked him out for the season last year but the job is his now. Sophomore running back Jamaal Williams had 166 carries, 775 yards and 12 touchdowns along with 27 catches, 315 yards and a touchdown. Receiver Cody Hoffman is an All-American candidate. He had 100 catches, 1,248 yards, and 11 touchdowns. The offensive line loses two starters and must get better at pass protection and run blocking.

BYU’s defense was one of the best in the country last yea finishing third in total and scoring defense. Aside from a 42-24 loss at Oregon St, the Cougars did not give up more than 24 points in any game. In fact, BYU only gave up more than 17 points in two games. BYU allowed just 2 300 yard passers and 5 rushing touchdowns. The Cougars do lose a lot of talent, but still should be a top 20 unit nationally. Senior linebacker Kyle Van Noy had 13 sacks last year. Safety Daniel Sorensen had 68 tackles and 3 interceptions.

Virginia was #37 in passing last year nationally but they had way too many turnovers, and struggled to score. London brought in former Colorado St head coach Steve Fairchild as coordinator and former NC State coach Tom O’Brien as associate head coach for offense. The three have said Virginia will put more of an emphasis on the running game this season.

Last year’s two starting quarterbacks Michael Rocco and Phillip Sims both transferred to other schools. Sophomore David Watford beat out redshirt freshman Greyson Lambert for the job. Watford redshirted last year but played sparingly as a freshman throwing for 346 yards with 3 touchdowns and 4 picks. He can also run the ball pretty well. Junior running back Kevin Parks split the carries with Perry Jones the last two seasons, but Jones graduated. Parks had 160 carries, 734 yards and 5 touchdowns, along with 24 catches. Junior receiver Darius Jennings had 48 catches, 568 yards and 5 touchdowns. Tim Smith and tight end Jake McGee are also reliable targets. The line returns most of the key pieces and should improve.

New defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta returns to his alma mater and looks to improve the Cavalier’s woeful pass rush. Last year, the Cavaliers were inconsistent against the pass, mainly because they couldn’t put pressure on the quarterback. The secondary will be anchored by corner Demetrious Nicholson and strong safety Anthony Harris who had 103 tackles last year. Defensive end Jake Snyder had 2.5 sacks last year.

BYU is 7-0 ATS in August, 5-1 in road games, 4-1 on grass, 14-6 overall, and 1-4 against ACC teams.

Virginia is 2-10-1 ATS on grass, 2-11-1 overall, 0-7-1 at home, and in non-conference games.

BYU won’t be as great on defense as they were last year, but they should be good enough to handle a mediocre Virginia team even having to travel cross country. I think this game will be low scoring and BYU wins on a late field goal.

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