Gary Crowton retaining a perfect 4-0 record in season-openers at Provo."> Gary Crowton retaining a perfect 4-0 record in season-openers at Provo.">

BYU's Hour of Gridiron Redemption is Nigh

<B><I>EDITOR'S COMMENTARY</B></I> <p> <b>FIRST THINGS FIRST</b>: If BYU scores on its first offensive possession Saturday night, they will wallop Notre Dame … but good. If not, look for a close game with the Cougars emerging victorious with a much-needed "W" – and BYU head coach <b>Gary Crowton</b> retaining a perfect 4-0 record in season-openers at Provo.

Since my neck is already stretched pretty far out, let me journey where no man has gone before (I am a closet Trekkie) and state – while I'm still delirious – that the 2004 BYU Cougars will come closer to resembling the No. 1 ranked offensive Cougar juggernauts of 2001 than the shell-shocked, injury-plagued pretender BYU squad from last season.

Who? What? Where? Why? When? How?

For the Cougars, it all comes down to two simple but extremely loaded words: OFFENSIVE CONFIDENCE. After their impressive early-season showings against a solid Georgia Tech team and the men of Troy at the Los Angeles Coliseum last season, BYU's foibles and fortunes turned sourly southward and they lost games they should have won against Air Force, Stanford and Wyoming.

Bottom line: If the John Beck-led Cougars can move the chains in their first possession and top it off with a scoring drive, their nine-month, pent-up, non-verbalized feelings and emotional burden of offensive insecurity will be lifted early from their sizable shoulders. That's it! Game over … I wish.

Back to reality: My feet are firmly planted on the green, green grass of home (LaVell Edwards Stadium – and, yes, singer Tom Jones' sob story ditty was another childhood favorite). But I digress. I'm doggedly sticking by my predictions above and below for no other reason than I BELIEVE

I BELIEVE BYU's defense will overwhelm and dominate Notre Dame's offensive line and backfield, harrying and hurrying sophomore quarterback Brady Quinn to gridiron oblivion.

I BELIEVE John Beck will counter Notre Dame's powerful and vaunted "front seven" with quickly-executed and planned rollouts, quick passes, field-stretching bombs and timely hand-offs to his running backs and his relatively little-known, super-sized, 265-pound defensive end-turned-fullback who was Nevada's Gatorade High School Player of the Year as a tight end.

I BELIEVE BYU's suspiciously thin secondary will surprise the Golden Domer receivers and tight ends with roughshod on-the-field "physicals" they won't like, appreciate or soon forget. Color me blue and call me "Mr. Buzz Saw."

I BELIEVE the Cougars' no-name front seven – only Brady Poppinga started last season and he's been moved from defensive end to linebacker – has diligently prepared and game-planned for Notre Dame's excellent running attack and are prepared to stuff it.

I BELIEVE the surprise efficiency and effectiveness of BYU's relatively "young and inexperienced" offensive line will stall Notre Dame's hard-chargers long enough for Beck to dismantle their secondary in the air and on the ground.

What do I know and why do I think this? Hey, I live in Las Vegas and what I hear and learn in Vegas stays in Vegas.

That said, I believe BYU is probably a year away from launching their next MWC dynasty run as the perennial conference top-dog contender, but their future clearly begins tomorrow against a dangerous and determined Fighting Irish team.

Neither team will overlook the other even if Notre Dame's players, coaches and fans are actually more excited about playing Michigan next week. Meanwhile, their BYU counterparts are collectively salivating at the opportunity to "warmly welcome" the No. 1 ranked USC Trojans in two weeks to the friendly confines of LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo. NOT.

Simply put, tomorrow's game is a much bigger deal for the Cougars than it is for the Fighting Irish. Regardless what the Notre Dame coach and players are telling themselves and each other, the Cougars are a necessary and mandatory speed bump. They have much bigger fish to fry this season with Michigan, Michigan State, Washington, Tennessee, USC, Boston College and Purdue.

I don't envy Fighting Irish head coach Tyrone Willingham one bit with that schedule. Just two years ago, he was the first Notre Dame coach in history to lead his team to 10 wins in his first season (10-3). He was named ESPN national College Coach of the Year and won the 2002 Sportsman of the Year award from The Sporting News. Last season, he posted a 5-7 losing record and the South Bend, Ind. media pundits are saying he is in jeopardy of losing his job if 2004 is a repeat of last year.

Back to first things first … Willingham and his players are saying all the right things to reporters about no looking beyond the Cougars and Willingham is intimately aware of the pitfalls or "pit" and "fall" BYU represents for his athletes and to his short and long term future.

No knowledgeable fan in Notre Dame-don seriously expects or believes BYU will upset the favored Irish. If Notre Dame loses, calls for Willingham's head will be instantaneous on Internet message boards across the country, radio sports talk shows, and in newspaper columns. It may immediately impair and impact his mental and emotional preparation for Michigan and other gridiron powerhouses on their schedule.

The pressure on Crowton to win tomorrow is nowhere near the expectations heaped on Willingham – as long as the Cougars leave it all on the field in a very close, hard-fought contest similar to their impressive showing against USC last season.

Forget about losing. Forget about injuries. Forget about the youth and inexperience of the Cougars offensive line that returns two starters. Forget about the 35 sacks the Cougars gave up last season. Forget the fact there are only three full-time defensive starters from last year. Forget that BYU's overall offense was ranked No. 102 out of 117 Div. 1 colleges. Forget that the Irish pasted 204 rushing yards on the Cougars in 2003. Forget the fact that Notre Dame embarrassed BYU on NBC-TV nationally by a winning margin of 19 points …

Wait a minute … Don't forget any of it! Tomorrow night is the BYU football Cougars' hour of early redemption.

It's about regaining OFFENSIVE CONFIDENCE early and often. It's about DEFENSIVE PRIDE. It's about seamless EXECUTION. In the final analysis, it's all about WINNING, plain and simple.

PREDICTIONS: BYU 38 – Notre Dame 14 or BYU 28 – Notre Dame 24.

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