TUCSON, Ariz. – Kevin Sumlin will make his debut as coach at Arizona when the Wildcats host BYU in the season opener Saturday night. Sumlin was hired in January after spending the past six seasons as coach at Texas A&M, where he posted a 51-26 record.
TV: 10:45 p.m. ET, ESPN. LINE: Arizona -11.5
Sumlin inherits one of the most electrifying quarterbacks in college football as Khalil Tate has already put his name in the hat for Heisman Trophy consideration. Tate threw for 1,591 yards as a sophomore last season and ran for another 1,411 yards, including an FBS quarterback record 327 against Colorado after entering the game for the injured starter in the first quarter.
Tate will have some inexperienced blockers in front of him, as the Wildcats lost three offensive linemen to graduation, left tackle Layth Friekh is suspended the first two games and center Nathan Eldridge is struggling with a recurring knee ailment.
BYU kicked a 33-yard field goal with four seconds left to beat Arizona 18-16 in the season opener two years ago, and the Cougars return seven starters from a defense that held seven opponents to 21 points or fewer and limited the opposing run game to 3.7 yards per carry last season.
ABOUT BYU (2017: 4-9)
Tanner Mangum won a tense competition against freshman Zach Wilson for the starting nod at quarterback in the season opener, and the senior hopes to replicate his 2015 season, when he passed for 3,377 yards and 23 touchdowns.
The Cougars will mostly rely on their defense, and they've got some big players in the trenches, namely 6-foot-4, 340-pound defensive tackle Khyiris Tonga, who is difficult to move, even with a double team. Anchoring the defensive end positions are brothers Corbin and Devin Kaufusi, who not only have the size to cause problems, but the length.
ABOUT ARIZONA (2017: 7-6)
Tate was the leading rusher for the Wildcats last season, but they also return their top running back in sophomore J.J. Taylor, the co-offensive player of the year among Pac-12 freshmen last season. Taylor set out to improve his speed in the offseason and getting around the corners against BYU would help Arizona overcome its size disadvantage in the middle.
The player who's expected to back up Taylor and get meaningful carries as well is sophomore Gary Brightwell, who played slot receiver last season but is shifting back to his natural running back role.
1. Arizona PK Lucas Havrisik sent 63 of his 93 kickoffs into the end zone last season, fifth-best in the nation.
2. Sumlin has had only one losing season in 10 years as a head coach.
3. BYU is coming off its worst season record-wise since 1970.
PREDICTION: Arizona 35, BYU 24