Pick Six Previews: BYU to keep the Wagon Wheel for good — and do so in style

BYU opened its two-game Mountain West series with a 38-24 win over Wyoming to extend their all-time record to 12-2 against the Cowboys.

In the first half, Wyoming controlled the ball and time of possession (18 minutes to 12 minutes) with the style of play that their head coach Craig Bohl won national titles with at the FCS level with North Dakota State.

 But in the closing minutes of the first half, BYU quarterback Jaren Hall led a masterful touchdown drive to give the Cougars a 14-10 halftime lead.

The second half was all BYU. They flipped back the time of possession, the offense put up 525 yards, and a pair of offensive skill players emerged as potential stars: running back Miles Davis and receiver Keanu Hill.

The 14-point victory may have underwhelmed some expectations, and the referees' odd officiating was a distraction, but most importantly BYU got the win and stayed at No. 19 in the Associated Press poll.

BYU's next Power Five test is on the horizon, as college football blue-blood Notre Dame awaits after the bye week. But first, in-state rival Utah State comes to Provo Thursday night (6 p.m. MDT, ESPN).

Along with state pride, this rivalry has a trophy at stake. Since 1948, the schools have played for the Old Wagon Wheel, a roughly four-foot-tall wooden wheel to symbolize the Mormon pioneers that headed west to Utah in the mid-1800s atop covered wagons.

In the past 40 years, BYU leads the series 27-5.

Game Grader (Opponent-adjusted statistical dominance via Pick Six Previews) 3-Year average 2019-21: BYU 61.0 (16th of 66 Power Five) | Utah State 37.3 (Power Five equivalent: 51st) 2021 Season: BYU 58.1 (24th) | Utah State 53.2 (Power Five equivalent: 29th) 2022 Season: BYU 62.9 (26th) | Utah State 19.8 (Power Five equivalent: 64th)

The Wyoming win boosted BYU up six spots from No. 32 to No. 26 in 2022 Game Grader. Another double-digit win this week will push them into the Top 25 and place them as a slight favorite against Notre Dame (in Las Vegas).

Utah State is a non-AQ team, but their current rating of 19.8 would place 64th of the 66 Power Five teams in 2022 Game Grader. The Aggies opened with an underwhelming 11-point win over UConn, who is widely considered as a bottom-five FBS team.

The season has been in free-fall since then, as Alabama dropped a 55-0 blowout on the Aggies, and then in-state FCS foe Weber State came into Logan and dominated with a 35-7 "upset" win. On Saturday, Utah State opened Mountain West play with a 10-point loss to UNLV.

Utah State with the ball Utah State won the Mountain West last year behind a passing attack that scored 33 points per game. That number has fallen all the way to just 15 points per game this year due to a similar collapse at quarterback.

Utah State with the ball Logan Bonner excelled last year with 36 passing touchdowns and a league-best 8.6 yards per attempt, but in 2022 he has tossed more picks than scores (8 INT and 6 TD), and the per attempt number has dropped to 6.8.

Utah State with the ball BYU's defense bounced back last week after Oregon dominated them in the trenches. They held run-first Wyoming to just 22 rushing yards in the second half and a pair of familiar faces rounded into form. Keenan Pili was a headliner after missing most of the 2021 season; similarly, Micah Harper returned to his 2020 form after missing 2021 with an ACL injury.

Utah State with the ball This upcoming matchup is a decisive advantage for BYU. The goal is to build a sizable lead to allow starters to rest up in the fourth quarter, as the roster has taken some wear and tear here in September.

BYU with the ball After being held below 3 yards per carry against Power Five opponents Baylor and Oregon, BYU got the ground game going in Saturday's win. Christopher Brooks and Lopini Katoa had split the carries, but now a new potential star emerged. Davis rushed for 131 yards that was capped off by a 70-yard touchdown run.

BYU with the ball In the process, Davis turned the position into a so-called "committee" approach and head coach Kalani Sitake stated the team would go with "the hot hand" Thursday night and beyond.

BYU with the ball Quarterback Jaren Hall dazzled again. With a season stat line of 291 yards per game, nine touchdowns (just one interception), and a 71.5% completion rate, Hall is not getting the national buzz he deserves.

BYU with the ball Similar to their offensive struggles, the Utah State defense is allowing 36 points per game (117th nationally), which is a full two touchdowns worse per game compared to their 2021 title team. They allow 200 or more rushing yards per game, and I expect each of BYU's backs to have success Thursday.

Game prediction The Old Wagon Wheel game holds a bit more importance this year because the winner will hold the trophy for the foreseeable future. Once an annual matchup, the rivalry's future games were canceled as a result of BYU joining the Big 12 next season. 

Game prediction Utah State has been clear it hopes to pair up with BYU in the future, but the nine-game Big 12 slate puts new constraints on BYU's nonconference scheduling.

BYU will keep the wheel for good — and do so in style. No. 19 BYU 45 | Utah State 17

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