Bag's Prediction Gold (PG)-13 for 2003

<b><i>2nd in a series</i></b> <P> 1. <b>First things first: BYU will win the MWC conference outright. </b> <P> We'll know in three weeks how realistic this statement is, but BYU's performance in Albuquerque will be a huge indicator of who is and who isn't a power in the MWC. After the BYU-Colorado State game, we'll know who this year's conference champion is. I'm picking BYU victories for both games.

2. The offense will spread the field.

Despite the loss of Cody "The Fly" Fonnesbeck, BYU will have enough downfield speed to demand the respect of the safety. Rod Wilkerson's catching ability improves and Chris Hale adds another deep threat. If teams ignore Wilkerson and Hale, which is entirely possible early in the season, Matt Berry will find them deep. After getting burned deep a couple of times, opponents will realize defending BYU in 2003 won't be anything like defending BYU in 2002.

3. Fans will enjoy watching a diversified offense.

Barring injury, Marcus Whalen is a lock to run for 1,000 yards. However, opponents cannot key on Whalen without getting burned by BYU's mid-range to deep passing ability I believe is much more of a strength this year than last. There is no Reggie, Mike or Roy Williams at receiver, but a solid group that can compete and produce. The running game and passing game will feed off of each other.

4. Utah will lose to Air Force and Colorado State AGAIN.

Not really BYU related, but it's starting to become a guilty pleasure for me. Last year, BYU fans were reminded how much it hurts to get swept by the Colorado State team. Imagine how much it hurts to be swept every year—home or away. The Utes haven't had a win against either team since 1999. The Cougars are a lowly 2-4 against our Colorado foes this century, but we haven't lost a home game to either of them since 1994. As we all know, they come to LES this year.

5. Scott Young and Paul Walkenhorst redshirts open new doors.

Having these two players back for the 2004 season would be huge. Missing them during '03 is starting to sound less important. According to reports, BYU can count on Levi Madarieta to cover for Walkenhorst. Ofa Mohetau's emergence at offensive guard makes Young much less of a necessity this season. Young would easily win the starting guard spot on the '04 team and work his way into an NFL combine tryout – where he can show off his impressive strength. Walkenhorst would also have an easy time winning a linebacker spot or perhaps even defensive end.

6. BYU will have its revenge on New Mexico, Air Force, Colorado State, UNLV and Utah.

Fans of these schools will go home lamenting another loss to the Cougars, rekindling their hatred at the same time. After last season, some fans of these schools have been talking like BYU is finished. They are happy to see us as conference bottom-feeders. Instead of hating us, they've switched to laughing. Once we sweep through them, they'll hate us again and their inferiority complexes will be on the rebound. On top of that, BYU will make believers out of another BCS conference team: Georgia Tech.

7. If the OL can keep him from getting killed, Matt Berry will have a promising sophomore season.

When it comes to escaping injury against USC, Berry will have his work cut out for him. If Berry can come out of this game healthy, he'll go on to have an excellent year. Hype will surround his junior and senior years, and he'll still have to fend off John Beck for the starting job.

8. Manaia Brown will become a household name.

(Like he hasn't been hyped enough, right?) Around Utah dining rooms, Brown's dominating defensive play will become a regular topic of discussion. Brown's play will help the team prevent games at New Mexico, UNLV and Wyoming from slipping away. Playing at Wyoming is often tough. Not having anyone who can block Brown will keep the Cowboys at bay.

9. The media will finally recognize Aaron Francisco as the best safety in the conference.

Francisco has some heady competition to overcome –not in skill, just hype – but he will carry the title of MWC top safety. Francisco should be used all over the field like the conference's glamour safeties and therefore able to produce some more of the high profile numbers, which is all the media looks at anyway. In any event, Cougar fans know he is the best.

10. Opponents will have better luck running than passing on BYU.

And I don't think they'll have much success running it. With our corners and pass rushers, throwing to wide-outs isn't going to be easy. Not having seen our new defense play, I can't predict what will work against them. However, I feel fairly safe in saying that between Jernaro Gilford, Brandon Heaney, Brady Poppinga, C.J. Ah You and Bill Wright, teams won't pass with much success no matter what defense we're running.

11. By midseason, the team will convert the pessimists to optimists.

A lot of the fans not expecting much from this year's team will be converted, corrected or quieted. Either that or they'll post "I told you so" a lot. Just FYI, fans who say "I told you so" are annoying, especially among pessimists, and should keep their thoughts to themselves.

12. Todd Bradford's recruiting influence in the South will pay off.

2004's recruiting class sees Todd Bradford land one surprise speedster to fit into Bronco Mendenhall's defense. This speedster will show up for fall practice.

13. The injury bug will be kind to us this year.

For my other 12 predictions to come true, it has to.

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