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Staff Picks: Arizona Wildcats (0-0) vs. Utah Utes (0-0)

Ana Beltran
Christian Roland-Wallace (4) trying to get rid of a block from Utah.

The Pac-12 football season is back in action this Saturday, Nov. 7. And with that comes our first edition of Staff Picks as the Daily Wildcat sports desk gives their predictions for this weekend’s matchup between the Arizona Wildcats and the Utah Utes.

Jacob Mennuti – Loss (Arizona-30 Utah-38) 

I actually think this can be a pretty winnable game for Arizona. Utah is having to replace its former starting quarterback Tyler Huntley as well as former work horse and now NFL running back Zach Moss. The Utes also lost a ton of starters on defense — particularly in the secondary where they are having to replace Julian Blackmon, Jaylon Johnson and Terrell Burgess. The Wildcats are certainly playing this team at the right time as the Utes should expect to be a bit rusty with all of its new starters. However, whether Utah decides to throw out Jake Bentley, Cam Rising or Drew Lisk at quarterback this Saturday, all of them are solid options and I fully expect a team coached by Kyle Whittingham to be prepared for all sorts of adversity. Both teams have some question marks on defense so I wouldn’t be surprised to see a shoot out in this one. I think Arizona covers the 14-point spread but falls a bit short in week one.   

Ari Koslow – Loss (Arizona-20 Utah-30)

I believe that both teams are going to get off to somewhat of a sloppy start given all of the time they have had off dating back to the end of last season. We have seen time and time again in the early part of this season with teams, especially on the offensive side of the ball struggling out of the gate after an unusual off-season. Look at Michigan State turning over the ball seven (!) times in their opening loss against Rutgers at home. 

If Arizona is to pull off the upset, they are going to need to get Gary Brightwell going early on to open up the play-action passing game for Grant Gunnell and company. The Utes lost a lot on the defensive side of the ball, including Bradlee Anae, the program’s career sack leader, but they should still remain one of the conference’s most physical defenses nonetheless. The Wildcats offensive line is going to have to step up against this Utes defensive line and protect Gunnell. 

All in all, I believe Arizona will keep it close most of the way but Utah will pull away late. As of when I am writing this, Utah is a 14-point favorite. I believe the Wildcats will just barely cover that spread, but it will be very close.

RELATED: Litwin’s Locks: Pac-12 Week 1 and NFL Week 9

Austin Wales – Loss (Arizona-21 Utah-35)

Arizona hopes to start out this season with a strong performance against a very good Utah team on the road. The Wildcats, who offensively are looking fully functioning on all cylinders will be the driving force of this team. Grant Gunnell is coming into his sophomore season looking to be as good as he was in the latter half of last season, where the more experience he had the better he got. Arizona’s leading receiver, Brian Casteel will be looking to continue his lead for this young receiving corps. Arizona’s defense will be the thing to watch this year and will make or break this team. Losing former Arizona linebacker Tony Fields II and Colin Schooler to the transfer portal were huge hits, but Anthony Pandy will look to lead this Wildcat team on the defensive side of the ball. 

Utah is looking to start out their season well at home vs. Arizona, yet they have lost many weapons compared to the Utah team that played in Tucson last year. The Utes, who lost quarterback Tyler Huntley and running back Zack Moss to the NFL Draft, will look to make up the lost skill in the dynamic duo. One solid piece that is still in play for Utah is Brant Kuithe, their tight end who had six touchdowns and over 600 yards receiving last year. Utah’s current quarterback is Drew Lisk, who beat out transfer Jake Bentley from South Carolina. Utah’s defense will be led by Devin Lloyd, who had 91 tackles last year. 

Ultimately this game is going to come down to the solidarity of defense, and with half of Arizona defense not really having played together that much, they’ll make some mistakes in the beginning half of this game that’ll cost them to get behind early. Grant Gunnell will come out slinging left and right, will most likely get intercepted in the first half, but will keep the Wildcats in the game till Utah pulls away in the second half. 

Ryan Wohl – Loss (Arizona-27 Utah-34)

When first looking at this matchup, I thought to myself; this will be a single digit game for either team. But then I saw that the Wildcats were two touchdown point underdogs and I was shocked. 

Utah lost their best running back and offensive player in Zack Moss and come into the 2020 season with a lot of uncertainly on that side of the ball. Head coach Kyle Whittingham said he still doesn’t know who will start at quarterback on Saturday for their first game. With the Utes, you can always rely on them to come out on defense ready to go and to be physical from the start of the game. 

What we have been talking a lot of this offseason is, the Wildcat defense and how they will look after losing a few key starters before the return to camp. I believe they have a ton of upside for the future but will struggle early on in this short season giving up tons of big plays in the passing game. 

Let’s talk about the most exciting part of this Arizona football team, the offense led by quarterback Grant Gunnell. This is how they will win games this season, by putting points on the scoreboard early in games and Gunnell leading this offense, showing everyone that he is the real deal.

This game will be a high-scoring, close game, but I believe that the Utah Utes will pull it out at home as the Wildcats’ young defenders will struggle. 

Kaitlyn Van Lone – Loss (Arizona-17 Utah-35)

With the upcoming game for Arizona football against Utah, I looked to last year’s face-off to gain a feel for what can happen this Saturday. Arizona was outplayed both offensively and defensively in last year’s game. Utah having the number one defense in the Pac-12 made it difficult for Arizona to get on the scoreboard. It was not until the end of the fourth quarter they were able to get their first and only touchdown of the game. However, looking at what Arizona has to offer this year, we can expect Grant Gunnell to start. If he has that crucial connection with key offensive players like Gary Brightwell, Stanley Berryhill and Boobie Curry, Arizona might be able to pull through on the offensive side. With Utah’s new quarterback, there is almost less of a threat considering how strong their quarterback was last year. Nonetheless, there are some very capable offensive players making the decisions easy for their quarterback. On the defensive side, Arizona took a hit in losing some essential players like Colin Schooler and Tony Fields II. With these newer players just now gaining game experience, my prediction is that Utah will take the win. Making improvements from last year, I think Arizona will be able to score more in this game making the score closer to probably 35-17.

RELATED: Across the Press Box: The Daily Utah Chronicle’s Sammy Mora

Devin Homer – Loss (Arizona-28 Utah-38)

The Arizona Wildcats football season opens up against the Utah Utes. Arizona’s offense will come out looking better than last year but the Utes will be firing on all cylinders for all 60 minutes. The game will be close going into the fourth quarter, but the Utes will pull away and the Wildcats will fall to 0-1 at a score of 38-28. 

C.J. Lala – Loss (Arizona-17 Utah-27)

Arizona does not start the season with a favorable matchup against the reigning Pac-12 South Champions, the Utah Utes. But the game may be closer than some might think. Utah once again will be looking to contend for the Pac-12 championship, but they will be without their starting quarterback and leading rusher from last season as Tyler Huntley and Zack Moss moved on to the NFL. Utah is projected to start redshirt senior Drew Lisk at quarterback, in which this would be his first start in his college career. Arizona’s defense will be presented a great opportunity to force Lisk into creating turnovers if they can get to him early due to his lack of experience. For Arizona, Grant Gunnell will begin his first season as the undisputed starter. In his freshman season, Gunnell completed 65.2% of his passes for 1,239 yards with 9 touchdowns to one interception. On the other side of the ball, Arizona lost two starting linebackers and their starting safety on transfers over the summer. Ultimately, Arizona’s lack of depth on defense will come back to hurt them especially early on in the season, that along with the overall strength of Utah is why I’m taking Utah to win 27-17. 

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