BCS "Big-Boys" Aside, BYU Preps for MWC Foes

Now that BYU's high profile out-of-conference games are mostly done, it's time to look at its Mountain West Conference games this fall and boldly predict my projections.

BYU @ New Mexico - Saturday, Sept. 13

This should be a really good defensive battle – if you think the BYU offense is no better than last year. We all know that New Mexico head coach Rocky Long has virtually all his defensive team back this year. They will, of course, have a new defensive coordinator with Bronco Mendenhall's departure.

BYU's offense has improved substantially this year and should have fewer fits against the now-familiar 3-3-5 defense. Look for Long and Bronco to try and outsmart each other with various variables of an uncommon defensive scheme they are both disciples of. More importantly, we'll find out how their offense reacts and responds to BYU's version of the 3-3-5 defense.

Prediction: BYU 28 - UNM 17

Air Force @ BYU - Saturday, Sept. 27

Will this be the payback for the payback? BYU faced tough conference rivals Air Force, Colorado State and Utah on the road. This year, they visit the friendly confines of LaVell Edwards Stadium.

It was obvious to the most casual observer that Air Force head coach Fisher DeBerry was upset at BYU's Gary Crowton for the 2001 shellacking in Provo. He was apparently miffed that Crowton returned a starter late in the blowout game to set a record. Consequently, BYU scored a touchdown they didn't need. DeBerry was outraged. Last year, the AFA starters were still on the field long into the fourth quarter even though they had a monster lead on the Cougars.

Now it's payback for the payback. AFA quarterback Chance Harridge was particularly condescending and offensive to Cougar players with long memories. Crowton won't have any of this revenge talk, but you can bet some BYU players are still simmering on this one. The woodshed door is wide open awaiting Air Force's arrival.

Prediction: BYU 45 – Air Force 17

BYU @ San Diego State – Saturday, Oct. 4

The Ohio State Ohio State and USC (BYU) games were "coulda" games for both teams. This game with the Cougars will be the Aztecs first conference game of the year. They will have played UTEP, Samford and UCLA in that order before hosting BYU. Putting points up on the Aztecs will not be easy. Keeping them out of the end zone may seem easy at first glance, but don't count on it. The most important factor will be how healthy they are after their UCLA game.

Prediction: BYU 28 – San Diego State 17

Colorado State @ BYU – Thursday, Oct. 9 (homecoming)

This is another payback game for BYU. Over the last three years, this game has gone to the home town team. The Cougars will be looking to get even for some major hurt caused by the Rams last season. CSU started the season with a close loss to Colorado and a close win over California.

Colorado State will have completed home games against Weber State, Miami (Ohio), Utah and Fresno State before hitting the road for their second out-of-state game of the year. They played Colorado in Denver and California in Berkeley.

As in the game with Air Force, this is another woodshed game for the Cougars, except the Rams will be tougher. They are led by returning star in quarterback Bradlee Van Pelt. He threw for 317 yards and ran for 60 yards against California, but his Rams barely won by two points, 23-21.

Prediction: CSU 23 - BYU 19. (It hurts to even type this score!)

BYU @ Wyoming – Saturday, Oct. 18

This far into the season and BYU will only be the second Mountain West team Wyoming will have played. They will have played Montana State, Oklahoma State, Kansas, Air Force, and Boise State before Utah State.

Wyoming has one of the weakest benches in Division I football. They should not be any match for most MWC teams. But BYU is the team every MWC team, especially Wyoming, loves to hate. When there is that much hate, you always have to be careful.

Prediction: BYU 35 - Wyoming 13

BYU @ UNLV – Saturday, Oct. 25

UNLV beat BYU in Provo last year for the first time in decades. Gone is quarterback Jason Thomas. Kurt Nantkes, a former professional baseball player, now guides the Rebel reins as the starting signal caller. He surprised everyone when he led the stunning Rebels to an upset of Colorado State in Fort Collins, Colorado. At 24, he is married with one son. He sounds like he belongs in Provo. Nantkes walked on at UNLV in time for the 2000 fall camp. Their big weapon on offense is running back Larry Croom. This is a hard team to read. Up high for one game, rock bottom the next.

Prediction: BYU 28 - UNLV 20

Utah @ BYU

This game will be for the MWC title – not for Utah, but BYU. I will wait until the week prior to preview this special rivalry game. BYU should be ready to take the trip to the Liberty Bowl in Memphis -- if they take care of the Utes.

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