The Calm Before the Storm



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The Cougars yesterday won their first of two tune-up games for the Air Force-Utah double-dip to end the season, whipping up on Wyoming 52-0, the Pokes' worst shutout loss since a 59-0 pasting at the hands of the Cougars back in 1985.

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BYU will waltz to another win next week at New Mexico, before hosting the Cadets and Utes to conclude the Cougars' 12-game campaign--games that could either keep the Cougs in the conference title chase, or at the very least help secure a fourth consecutive 10-win season.

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Utah's game at TCU next Saturday night will go a long way to determining the stakes for the Cougars' closing home stand. An expected TCU win, and both the Cougars and Utes will be playing for runner-up status and bragging rights. A Ute uspet, and BYU could be playing for a tri-championship.

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Since the BYU-New Mexico Lobo game will be devoid of drama, let's take a quick look at next week's national "game of the week."

Everything I've seen from TCU says the Frogs beat the Utes in Fort Worth, but you can't discount the Utes, for the following reasons, among others:

-the Utes have yet to lose a regulation game to TCU in MWC play, with three wins in a row over the Frogs--including a game TCU had won last season, and lost.

-23, 7, 20 and 10. Those are the point totals Utah has allowed to TCU in their four meetings as Mountain West foes. Kyle Whittingham has found a formula for slowing the Frogs down. This season, the Utes have allowed more than 17 points in a game only once. A low-scoring game means Utah stays in the game, and as we've seen, the Utes are a big-play group.

-Eddie Wide. Six straight 100-yard plus rushing games gives the Utes a rush element teams absolutely need to keep the Frogs' defense on the field and take time off the clock.

-a revitalized offense under freshman QB Jordan Wynn. The kid clearly has captured the attention of his coaches and teammates, and offers the Utes a figure around whom the team can rally. Now, starting a true freshman against TCU' fearsome defense wouldn't appear to be the best idea, but I think he gives the Utes a better chance to win than Terrence Cain.

-Kyle Whittingham's ability to get his team "up" to play the Utes' biggest games. The Utes rarely fall flat in the most pressure-filled games. It's a remarkable team quality, and it can't be discounted in a game a big as the one the Utes will play next Saturday. Whittingham's teams just somehow find a way to win games--some they should probably lose, and the TCU game could just be the next one of those.

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Having said all of that, TCU will be favored and should win the game, if for no other reason than the game is bigger for the Frogs than it is for the Utes; one win should secure the Frogs' BCS bowl bid.

Clearly, Utah's BCS hopes are alive with a win in Fort Worth, but the Utes still have BYU to face on the road, while TCU finishes at Wyoming and home to New Mexico (possible combined score: 110-6). It is quite literally a "60 minute season" for Gary Patterson's club.

I won't be surprised if TCU wins and wins big--but if Utah manages to win, it won't have been a complete stunner; the Utes are 8-1, after all.

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So, what's better for BYU: a TCU win, or a Utah upset? Well, if it's about the MWC earning an automatic two-year bid to the BCS, you want TCU to run the table and make it into a BCS bowl game. If it's about tying for a conference championship, you want the Utes to win next Saturday. So, which benefits BYU most? I think it's clear that a shot at being an auto qualifier trumps a shared conference crown, but I may be in the minority on that.

A shared conference championship is nice for the resume, but it won't get BYU a better bowl destination, or more money, or more national prestige.

However, having an MWC team in a BCS bowl game for a second straight season, while keeping three league teams in the BCS Standings, represents important milestones in the four-year fight to earn auto-qualifier status as a conference.

In the long run, the MWC needs a Top 5 team in a BCS bowl game, with at least two other league teams finishing as high as possible in the BCS Standings. TCU finishing 12-0, Utah finishing 9-3 and BYU finishing 10-2 would be an ideal MWC scenario for this season.

You would wish the bottom part of the league were stronger, and the lack of good teams after the "Big Three" may ultimately doom the MWC in the long run, but if TCU is to beat Utah next Saturday, the conference will have the national flag-bearer it needs on an annual basis.

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Will the MWC issue a membership invitation to Boise State, to bolster the league's BCS case? The Broncos' consistent annual profile and high BCS Standings results would be another arrow in the quiver for the MWC in this four-year evaluation period, and I wonder if the league will hit a "tipping point"--a point at which it believes BSU's inclusion would give the MWC the numerical and statistical strength it needs to help secure auto-qualifier status.

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BYU continues to lead the nation in 3rd down conversion pecentage (59%).

BYU is in the top 15 in scoring offense (7th), passing (14th) offense and total offense (8th).

BYU QB Max Hall is fourth nationally in completion percentage (70.6%), and second nationally in pass efficiency.

CB Brian Logan leads the country in total passes defended.

O'Neill Chambers is 20th nationally in kickoff return average.

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It was great to see the BYU defense really "get after" someone yesterday. You knew blitzing would be successful against a team like Wyoming, but it was also successful against Oklahoma. Will we see the same aggressive defensive mindset against Utah?

BYU will beat New Mexico no matter what kind of defense the Cougars play, while Air Force is an option/assignment game, for which pressure schemes would not apply. The Utah game will be the next legitimate chance to see if what worked yesterday can work again, and if BYU will treat the Utah game unlike "just another game."

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