An early preview of the season opener: BYU

BRIGHAM YOUNG hung their hat on their defense last year and 2012 promises more of the same. So what will happen when the Air Raid and the BYU defense collide on Aug. 30 in Provo?

BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall was originally a disciple of the 3-3-5 but has since switched his base to a 3-4. They look to funnel to their linebackers, again projected to be the best unit on the BYU defense in 2012.

They play very physically, and they should be particularly stout against the run. In 2011, they ranked No. 13 nationally in total defense, No. 19 in rushing defense and No. 32 in passing defense.

But they have been below average in generating a pass rush the past two seasons and their secondary is expected to have the most weak spots on defense in 2012. They return seven starts on defense -- but some of their losses are key tacklers and playmakers.

The key here will be if BYU can generate enough of a pass rush to offset coverage issues – and/or, if WSU is able to effectively gain air yards in the face of pressure.

You never know for sure how polished a team will look in an opener but that said, WSU should be able to find enough pressure points and execute well enough to have a good day offensively.

Over on offense BYU was decidedly average last year -- and they lose three of the their best four running backs for 2012.

They do have a senior quarterback in Riley Nelson, and BYU has had good luck with seniors. Nelson climbed over "can't miss" QB Jake Heaps last season, taking back the job he lost to Heaps in 2010. It eventually resulted in Heaps' transfer to Kansas.

Nelson is an undersized QB, checking in a 6-0, 196. But he can make plays with his feet, which helps him make more plays with his arm. The question is if he's ready to make a big step from last year or if it's more of a continuation.

BYU doesn't have a lot of home-run threats in the receiving game, with Cody Hoffman a possible exception. BYU instead tries to nickel and dime you to death, with sustained drives wearing down the opponent. It's a brand new day at WSU with Mike Leach but it's still worth noting Wazzu has not fared well defensively against those types of teams in recent years.

BYU was good, not great, on offense in 2011, ranking No. 41 in the nation in total offense, (WSU was no. 33).

In addition to the questions at running back, (they'll head into fall camp with the dreaded "running back by committee" mindset), there are questions on the o-line.

BYU had eight injured or limited o-linemen in their spring session. They were banged up enough they chose not to hold a spring game/scrimmage at the end, with health-related absences to a good-sized number of 2012 projected starters. Indeed, there was very little full contact work this spring overall at BYU.

The good news for BYU fans is that nearly all of the spring's walking wounded are expected back for the start of fall camp. But they will have some rust to shake off.

BYU has 10 or more wins in five of the last six seasons. And that's impressive.

And on any given week, BYU is more than capable of punching someone in the mouth. They manhandled a Pac-12 team in Oregon State last year.

Then again, it's all relative.

It could be said that in the voters' eyes, BYU regularly doesn't play tough enough competition. Last year, win No. 10 wasn't enough to get them into the AP Top 25, (they did finish ranked No. 25 in the Coaches' Poll). Twice in six years, despite 10 wins, they've finished out of the AP Top 25.

And as good as they looked in 2011 against OSU in Week 7, BYU got absolutely rolled over by Utah 54-10 in Week 3.

Still, it's hard to win in Provo, as BYU's record attests over the years. And WSU has plenty of question marks, most notably on the defensive side of the ball.

A matchup between the Air Raid and a defense built to stop the run however should work in the Wazzu's favor… if the Cougs execute. The team BYU has had the most trouble with in recent years is TCU, a program turning more and more to the short passing game.

The first test for the Cougs in the Mike Leach era at Washington State comes at BYU on Aug. 30 in a nationally televised game on ESPN.

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