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Friday, September 3, 2010

Game Preview: BYU Cougars vs. Washington Huskies

The Brigham Young Cougars will kick off the much anticipated 2010 season Saturday against the Washington Huskies in Provo, Utah. This game has many sub plots that will impact what will happen on the field. The last time these two teams met, the game ended with BYU blocking an extra point attempt with one second left after a controversial penalty on Washington quarterback Jake Locker. That blocked extra point gave BYU the victory. Since that game in early 2008, Washington hired Steve Sarkisian, former BYU quarterback, as head coach. Washington and BYU also went head-to-head in 2009 recruiting super prep Jake Heaps. Heaps chose the Cougars over his home town Huskies, and he is expected to play in this game--his first collegiate game.

Additional history makes this game more intriguing. Coming off their most successful season in over a decade, BYU opened the 1997 season at home against Washington. It was the year after Sarkisian graduated, and BYU had two quarterbacks battling for the starting spot. The competition was very close and both quarterbacks ended up playing. The result was an embarrassing 42-20 loss. The 2009 campaign was BYU's most successful in over a decade. Max Hall just graduated and the top two candidates to replace him are expected to play.

Then again, the saying goes that when two teams get on the field, all the history disappears and it is only the present that matters. At present, Washington has a quarterback that many believe is the best in the nation. Washington has Chris Polk at running back, fresh off a 1,000 yard season. Sarkisian took Washington from 0 wins to 5 wins in his first season, and everyone is filled with optimism for year two. The Huskies are poised for a break out year.

BYU, on the other hand, is replacing one of the nation's best quarterbacks from 2009, as well as a 1,000 yard rusher and almost all of the front seven on defense. What BYU lacks in experience they make up for with talent. The new players have more talent than BYU is accustomed to having. However, BYU does have experience where it may matter most: the offensive line and the defensive secondary.

This game should be a hard fought game that goes down to the wire.

Things to watch for:

  1. How will BYU's two quarterbacks play? Riley Nelson is making his starting debut at BYU, and Jake Heaps is making his collegiate debut. They will split time guiding the offense. Apparently, each quarterback has his own play packages tailored to his strengths.
  2. Will the defensive front seven contain Jake Locker? Locker gave the BYU defense trouble in 2008 running for 62 yards and 2 touchdowns while passing for 204 yards and one TD. Two years later, BYU is much more athletic up front. With the secondary being the strength of the defense, forcing Locker to try and beat BYU with the pass would be a huge accomplishment.
  3. Is having a great offensive line all it is cracked up to be? BYU may have its best offensive line of the Bronco Mendenhall era this year. That is comforting with Max Hall and Harvey Unga gone. Last year, the offensive line was a big part of the opening game upset against Oklahoma. Many experts feel that teams can get by with inexperience at running back and quarterback if the offensive line is strong. Saturday is our first chance to put this theory to the test.
  4. How many freshman will see the field? Quarterback Jake Heaps probably won't be the only one. Kyle Van Noy, Joshua Quezada, and Zac Stout all figure to get reps as well. What about Ross Apo, Cody Hoffman, and JD Falslev?
  5. Will the announcement this week that BYU football will go independent next year affect this game? This was definitely a distraction for fans and the media this week. What really matters for the players is the game on the field. Let's hope they have kept their heads in the sand on this issue.
  6. Will Bronco Mendenhall get win number 50? Bronco is 49-15 in five years at BYU. A win in the opener will give him an even 50 wins.
Kickoff: 5:00 pm (MDT)
TV: CBS College Sports Network
RADIO: KSL 1160 AM, 102.7 FM

For this week's Reaction to the Rankings click here.
For the results of last week's opinion poll click here.
For this week's flashback click here.
For this week's trivia question click here.

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