BYU vs. Oregon State: Five Things to Watch For

The Brigham Young Cougars have had some big games so far this season, but none as much in the national spotlight as this weekend's game against the Oregon State Beavers. Big games bring big questions. This week's Five Things to Watch For focuses on BYU and Oregon State's quarterback situations, the effect of the blackout homecoming game and the legitimacy of the Beavers' top 10 ranking.

1. Who will be under center for BYU? Not just to start the game, but to finish it.

Is anyone tired of this question yet? I know many of us would like to have a solid answer week in and week out, but the fact is, this is the number one question on everyone’s mind when BYU takes the football field.

This week however, it isn’t Taysom Hill and Riley Nelson we’re wondering about, it’s Riley Nelson and James Lark. On the third to last play of the game against Utah State, Hill suffered a knee injury and is to undergo surgery this week.

At the post-practice press conference on Monday, Bronco Mendenhall said Nelson took all the reps in practice on Monday and should be good to go for Saturday, but if not, Lark is the guy.

I think Riley should be ready to go now, which will be good for the Cougars. When he has been healthy, he can be dangerous. One of the best games of his career was against Oregon State last year, a feat he can hopefully duplicate.

But will he stay healthy all game? One big hit from behind and he could be back to the bench. Fortunately for Cougar fans, Nelson has come back from injury before and performed well. Last season, after cracking his ribs, he came back in the Hawaii game and played great football. We can only hope for the same result tomorrow.

2. How good is Oregon State?

Oregon State is ranked no. 10 in this week’s AP Poll. There are a few things that make it hard for me to believe there are only nine teams in the country who are better than the Beavers.

First of all, Oregon State’s rankings in statistical categories don’t add up to a top ten team. They are 93rd in the country in scoring (23.5 points per game), 105th in rushing yards (120 yards per game) and 112th in pass defense (288.5 yards per game).

Second of all, they are squeaking out wins against overrated teams. People were very impressed with the Beavers’ win over No. 13 Wisconsin to start the season. But Wisconsin barely held off Northern Iowa and Utah State in Madison. So how impressive was that win really? UCLA was ranked in the top 20 when Oregon State beat them, but last week, UCLA lost to Cal in a beat down. Before Pac-12 play, Arizona found themselves in the top 25, but since have gone 0-3.

While it is impressive to beat teams who have numbers in front of their names, those numbers don’t mean anything if they aren’t in front of a team’s name at the end of the season. Early season rankings can really skew the perception of how good a team was when an opponent played them.

Thirdly, Oregon State has only played four games. There are eight to go on its schedule. They have played decent teams up to this point, but I don’t see them remaining undefeated for very much longer. Hopefully even by this weekend.

Lastly, Oregon State’s quarterback Sean Mannion is hurt as well. Mannion was having a great season, and was Oregon State’s bright spot on offense. Now they have to go to backup Cody Vaz, who hasn’t taken a snap since 2010 in some garbage minutes.

The fact remains, however, that they are winning games, and that is the number one secret in how to get ranked high. I am interested to see where Oregon State’s ranking ends up in December.

3. Can BYU keep their No. 1 ranking in run defense, and improve on its ranking in scoring defense?

As Blue Cougar Football pointed out on Saturday night, BYU is currently ranked first in the country in rushing defense. They are also third in the country in scoring defense behind Alabama and Notre Dame.

Out of the 124 teams in FBS college football, Oregon State ranks 105th in rushing yards per game with 120 yards per game. While this is twice as much as BYU has been allowing, opponents have been well under their season averages when facing the Cougars this year. Before last week’s game, Utah State had been averaging 191 yards per game on the ground, but ended with only 41.

As far as scoring goes, Oregon State ranks in the bottom 25th percentile. Oregon State’s lack of offensive production, plus BYU’s solid defense could keep the Cougars ranked high in these defensive categories.

4. How much impact will the Blackout have?

As far as the players go, once the game starts, I don’t think they will be paying attention to what color their jerseys are. But the fans get excited about these sorts of things. I think the blackout, combined with it being homecoming, playing a top ten team and being on national television will make the home crowd a little louder than usual, which will help BYU’s highly ranked defense, and hurt Oregon State’s replacement quarterback, even more.

5. Will BYU pull off the upset?

I believe they will. Before it was even announced that Mannion was not going to play, BYU was listed as a three point favorite. ESPN analysts all said they thought this would be a tough game for Oregon State to get past, some even predicting the Cougars to win. Now, with Mannion out, Riley back and healthy (hopefully), BYU playing in a homecoming game, the excitement with new uniforms, the fans being excited about the black out, playing a top 10 team and being nationally televised, I see things swinging even more BYU’s way. I predict a win for the Cougars, 17-13. 

The Editor appreciates all feedback. He can be reached via email at


  1. He is a 6th question to consider: Would a win over no. 10 OSU today be enough to get a 5-2 BYU team back into the rankings, even after those two ugly games earlier this season?


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