WHY BYU WINS:
1) Gary Crowton: Say what you will about Crowton, but give him at least this: his teams have looked awfully good in the first game of his three seasons at BYU. Georgia Tech (last year) was a pretty good team. I don't think folks realize how big a win that was for BYU. Crowton has got a good formula for the first game of the season. Look for it to continue.
2) LaVell Edwards Stadium (LES): While LES can get pretty quiet at times – often the team needs to lift the crowd, it can also be a very difficult place to play (ask Miami, Penn St., Texas, Texas A&M, Syracuse, Georgia Tech, etc.). With the combination of pent-up frustration, the anticipation of seeing new players, and a nationally televised night game against Notre Dame to open the season, I expect Cougar fans to be loud and provide a big lift to the Cougars.
3) Heat and Altitude: It cracked me up to read a practice report on the Notre Dame website on TheInsiders.com last week commenting how hot it was in northern Indiana ... a whopping "mid-80s." Notre Dame is lucky the kickoff is after sunset. They'll still find their lungs burning and legs cramping as the game moves into the second half. If the Fighting Irish are going to win this game, they'll need to do it in the first half.
4) No true freshman starters on offensive line: They are bound to be better just from the extra reps during spring, summer and fall camp.
5) Todd Watkins and other newcomers: Even if I personally discount much of the hype surrounding Watkins and whatever Watkins is/isn't ... he is an unknown to Notre Dame. In fact, much of our starting offense will be unknown to the Golden Domers. Hype aside, it is abundantly clear we will have more depth and athleticism at wide receiver.
6) John Beck: I don't expect Beck to dominate the game. In fact, I suspect he will struggle against a very good Notre Dame defense. From all accounts, Beck has become the offensive "leader," a role that has been sorely lacking since quarterback Brandon Doman left. At some point in the game, I expect Beck to "make a play" that will provide enough momentum for the offense to win the game.
7) Manaia Brown: I specifically watched Brown play last year. When he played, he was dominant. That is not hype. If healthy and ready to go, Brown presents a huge problem for the Notre Dame running game. Without a running game, the Fighting Irish "west coast offense" loses its effectiveness. I don't think Notre Dame can throw 40 times and win.
8) Julius Jones: I thought Jones was the straw that spurred the Notre Dame offense last year. His talent dictated defensive strategy and opened up the passing game for them. I know the Fighting Irish have other fine running backs, but I expect none will be as good as Jones. I think BYU's defensive line, anchored by Manaia Brown, can contain the Notre Dame running game and make them one dimensional. If that happens, watch out for Bronco Mendenhall's blitz packages!
9) Michigan: Notre Dame's big rivalry game is next week against Michigan. I think it is naïve to think that Notre Dame will overlook BYU, but it's also naïve not to know they have spent a lot of time thinking about Michigan this summer and during fall camp. This Saturday's game is a bigger game for BYU than it is for the Fighting Irish.
10) Pressure on Notre Dame: Both Gary Crowton and Ty Willingham appear to be on the hot seat this season, but Notre Dame is favored and is "supposed" to win. I like BYU's underdog role in this game.
… AND THE 5 REASONS WHY BYU WON'T WIN:
1) Superior athletes: Notre Dame has better team speed and athletic ability. That can compensate for a lot.
2) Defense: The Fighting Irish return most of their front seven on defense – and it was a very good defense last season. It should be better this year.
3) Coaching: Don't let the Notre Dame media circus fool you; Ty Willingham is a very good coach. He will have a good game plan for BYU and will have his team ready to play.
4) Turnovers: BYU traditionally has trouble with turnovers; last year was the nadir in this regard. In the two full practice scrimmages, BYU's "1s" gave up four interceptions, which is not an encouraging sign. Whether it's bad throws or bobbled catches, Notre Dame will punish BYU if they turn the ball over.
5) Injuries: BYU is fragile in the depth department at a few key positions; probably more so than Notre Dame. Injuries to key players could alter the game in their favor.
BOTTOM LINE PREDICTION: Both teams will struggle in the first half. Notre Dame capitalizes on a big play (turnover, special teams) to take a 10-3 half time lead. In the second half, the altitude kicks in. BYU's defense starts to dominate and the offense makes some key plays. Late in the game, John Beck evades a blitz and hits Todd Watkins on a post. BYU wins 23-17.
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