NCF Nation: Max Hall
Now that Utah is in the Pac-12, a member of the privileged class, is it going to forget how to properly dislike BYU? Is it going to eyeball the Cougars on Saturday and think, "You know, blue really brings out their eyes!"
This thought vexes the Pac-12 blog, which feeds on the often irrational passion of college football.
"I don't like Utah," former BYU quarterback Max Hall said after the Cougars beat the Utes in 2009. "In fact, I hate them. I hate everything about them. I hate their program, I hate their fans, I hate everything ... I think the whole university, their fans and their organization, is classless. They threw beer on my family and stuff last year, and they did a whole bunch of nasty things, and I don't respect them, and they deserve to lose."
Utes, the Cougars are going to be gunning for you hard Saturday. There's the natural state rivalry, sure, but there's a third, highly-motivating color involved other than red and blue: green.
Green as in the money Utah is soon going to be making in the Pac-12. And green as in the green-eyed monster of jealousy: BYU isn't happy the Utes jumped to the Pac-12 and it wasn't invited.
And, by the way, BYU is pretty darn good, having won at Ole Miss and falling just short at Texas. Ten starters are back on offense, including quarterback Jake Heaps, from a team that went 7-6 in 2010.
Further, this game has been highly competitive in recent years. Five of the past six have been decided by a touchdown or less. Two of those went into overtime. Last year, Utah rallied from a 16-point fourth-quarter deficit to win 17-16. The game was decided when the Utes blocked a 42-yard field goal attempt as time expired.
Utes linebacker Chaz Walker didn't seem too concerned that BYU and Utah fans and players will start palling around. When asked if the so-called "Holy War" was a bitter or friendly rivalry, he spoke carefully but without much ambiguity.
"Probably a little bit on the dislike side," he said. "There's not many BYU players you see hanging out with Utah players."
The feel of the game will be different, though. For one, it no longer counts in the conference standings. In previous seasons, the matchup often had significant Mountain West Conference ramifications. Further, instead of the chill of a season-finale in late November, this one will feature the pleasant weather of mid-September.
For Utah, it also brings the grind of the new Pac-12 schedule front-and-center. The Utes must regroup and refocus after a tough, physical loss at USC. It's likely the bye week that follows will feel pretty good.
Perhaps the Pac-12 blog shouldn't worry. After talking to a few folks on the Utah end of things, it seems clear BYU has the Utes' attention. And always will when they go nose-to-nose.
Said coach Kyle Whittingham, "It's the biggest single sporting event in the course of a year. It's the biggest thing that happens in this state."
She writes about his emergence as the staring quarterback in Arizona, but also tries to go to the root of what has made him such a successful quarterback -- and fiery player. In the article, Merrill talks to BYU quarterbacks coach Brandon Doman, coach Bronco Mendenhall and athletic director Tom Holmoe for some perspective.
Here is an excerpt:
It was the first week of practice. BYU used to host "Thursday Night Football," a scrimmage between scout-team players who had no shot at playing Saturday. And Hall took it so seriously that he started one big skirmish. "Our scout team offensive line wasn't any good," says BYU quarterbacks coach Brandon Doman. "He was getting hit in the back of the head, fumbling the ball and getting beat up. Next thing we know, we're having a full-out brawl in practice, and it's him in the middle of it. Then he gets back up and throws a touchdown, and we're like, 'Holy … we haven't had a scout-team scrimmage like this ever.' "And all it took was one guy, this one guy who walked out on the field and took a complete commanding role."
A couple of days into Hall's first season in 2006, when he had to sit through his transfer year, coach Bronco Mendenhall pulled Doman aside and predicted that Hall would "win a ton of games for us."
With the way this season has gone for BYU, fans already know how much the Cougars miss their all-time winningest quarterback.
It's about something that has been doing a perhaps surprisingly good job making Locker's life difficult the past few weeks: The Washington defense.
I know. No way. The Huskies lost their two best defensive players -- linebacker Donald Butler and end Daniel Te'o-Nesheim -- to the NFL from a unit that ranked eighth in the Pac-10 in total defense (389.5 yards per game) and ninth in scoring defense (26.7 ppg).
But the Huskies defense has consistently hinted during fall camp that it's not going to be the weakling counterpart to what should be an explosive offense.
"They've caused us some problems on offense," said coach Steve Sarkisian, who calls the offensive plays. "They've caused turnovers. They've gotten after the quarterback."
Foster, a senior and all-conference candidate, said the young guys who were forced into action last year are in far better physical condition. Along those lines, Sarkisian noted that junior noseguard Alameda Ta'amu is no longer just a massive mound of inert space filler -- who at his best is merely hard to move. After dropping 30 pounds to 330, he's a guy who can get into the backfield and make plays.
The secondary also appears significantly improved with corners Desmond Trufant and Quinton Richardson and safeties Nate Fellner, Nate Williams and Will Shamburger. The apparent successful return of end Everrette Thompson from a torn Achilles should bolster the pass rush.
But it's not just about maturing physically, getting healthy and conditioning better. A year ago, coordinator Nick Holt was only that slightly menacing guy who was always barking at them about not understanding what it takes to play great defense. Now the defensive guys and Holt are playing the same tune, one that probably sounds a bit like Rage Against the Machine.
"They've got a real mentality right now," Sarkisian said. "What I like most about it is they've really adopted Nick's personality. They are aggressive. They are tough. They are smart."
Of course, this also merely could be preseason optimism (or maybe the Huskies offense won't be all that potent). The unit certainly will be tested at BYU on Saturday. Sure, the Cougars only have 11 starters back and are replacing quarterback Max Hall. But they have won 43 games over the past four seasons: They are fairly close to the proverbial "reload not rebuild" category.
While there may be some sentiment about the trip for Sarkisian -- he was BYU's quarterback in 1995-96 -- the Huskies players probably don't look too fondly at the Cougars. In their 2008 game in Seattle, Locker scored what appeared to be a game-tying touchdown in the waning moments -- pending the PAT -- but he was flagged for a celebration penalty after flicking the ball into the air.
Just about everyone thought the penalty ridiculous, at least outside of Provo. Of course, barely anyone would remember the call if the Huskies hadn't blown the extra point and subsequently lost 28-27.
That was about as close to respectability as the Huskies would come during an 0-12 season that ended the Tyrone Willingham Era and brought in Sarkisian.
Moreover, one of BYU's quarterbacks -- it appears two will play versus the Huskies -- is true freshman Jake Heaps, a product of Washington State powerhouse Skyline High School. He picked BYU over Washington last winter, and there are just a few whispers that some of the Huskies might be eager to make him feel like he made a mistake.
"I didn't even really know he was from around here until a couple weeks ago," Foster said. "That's going to make it a little more exciting -- a big-time recruit from the state of Washington that went to another school and will play as a true freshman. It's going to be fun to get a couple of hits on him."
The Huskies -- suddenly -- have high expectations. Only two years removed from an 0-12 season, they are thinking about more than just earning their first bowl berth since 2002.
"It's a total turnaround," Foster said. "No more losing every game. The mindset is different. We're really looking forward to coming out in competing at the top of the conference this year."
A total turnaround likely would make Locker a leading Heisman Trophy candidate.
But that's not going to happen if the defense can't make stops.
He knows it is unprecedented at BYU. A school steeped in quarterback tradition playing two? In the same game?
Coach Bronco Mendenhall knows all this, and yet he acknowledged that very possibility if he cannot come to a conclusion in his four-way quarterback battle to replace Max Hall.
“Playing two wouldn’t be my first preference nor would it be my ideal,” Mendenhall said in a phone interview. “But until there is one who had an upper hand, I think it would be the fair thing to do.
“This is a very unique situation. The good news is they’re all very good. Because it’s BYU and we have a good team and a good program we happen to attract good players at that spot. Now we have four. It’s going to be quite a challenge.”
Mendenhall would like to narrow the field down to two early on in camp and then go from there. The two likeliest candidates seem to be the highly touted Heaps and the junior Nelson, who served as the backup to Hall.
Munns and Lark have recently returned from missions, so they are not only working on getting into physical shape, but learning to get to know their teammates and the playbook as well.
If the focus is on Heaps and Nelson, the two could not be more different. Nelson is a running quarterback who transferred in from Utah St. following his mission. He has game experience, but he is not what you would call your prototypical BYU quarterback.
Heaps is. At 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, he has spent his entire life preparing to play football. He enrolled at BYU in the spring and went through practice, impressing his coaches. At one point, Mendenhall says he has to remind himself that Heaps should be finishing up his senior year of high school.
So what will go into his decision on who should start? Mendenhall lists various factors, from the ability to move the ball on the field and be a team leader. There also is one intangible he must consider as well -- being able to shoulder the pressure that comes with playing quarterback at BYU.
“Sometimes the pressure in the community can really affect how a player plays on the field,” Mendenhall said. “The maturity level and watching how the players handle it during fall camp, seeing how it’s affecting their presence and their confidence and their personality -- because it’s going to last their entire career here. They have example after example of tradition in front of them, being at the pinnacle of quarterback play.”
Hall certainly must be considered one of the BYU greats, having set the Mountain West Conference career passing yards record (11,365), and breaking Ty Detmer’s career wins record with 32.
BYU has more to replace than just Hall on offense. Leading receiver Dennis Pitta is gone, along with leading rusher Harvey Unga. On the plus side, four starting linemen return.
There is plenty of work to do on defense, too, where six starters are gone, including three starting linebackers. BYU was picked to finish third in the MWC because some deem this to be a rebuilding year. The front part of the schedule is loaded, too, beginning with the home opener against Washington, then road games at Air Force and Florida State.
“We’ll still demand a lot with this team, but our intent is to build the confidence, build team chemistry,” Mendenhall said. “Not that we’re conceding a championship or a top-20 year, but we’ll have to be different in the way we handle them because of our inexperience.”
“In the past, I’ve really liked to have a starter by the end of spring practice so they can develop leadership through their own workouts during the summer,” Mendenhall said.
Three players -- junior Riley Nelson, freshman Jake Heaps and sophomore James Lark -- battled to win the job during spring practice. Mendenhall said Nelson and Heaps had a slight edge over Lark when spring practice ended last week. But Lark, who returned to BYU in December after a two-year LDS mission in St. Petersburg, Russia, remains very much in the hunt.
“I expected Riley to be clearly ahead of the other two, but the other two have surprised me,” Mendenhall said.
Nelson was Hall’s backup in 2009 and played in seven games, completing seven of 10 passes with one touchdown. Before transferring to BYU, Nelson started the final eight games at Utah State in 2006, completing 55 percent of his passes for 925 yards with six touchdowns. He also ran for 290 yards.
“One of Riley’s great strengths is just his grit and determination,” Mendenhall said. “He’s very comfortable running the football, throwing on the run and is a scramble threat.”
Heaps, from Skyline High School in Sammamish, Wash., was one of the country’s most recruited quarterback prospects. He was also recruited by Washington, Tennessee, LSU, Notre Dame and California, before enrolling at BYU in January. Heaps guided Skyline High School to three state championships while compiling a 40-2 record as a three-year starter. He passed for 9,196 yards with 114 touchdowns and only 18 interceptions during his high school career.
Lark, from St. George, Utah, was the state’s 3A MVP as a senior at Pine View High School in 2005. He redshirted at BYU as a freshman in 2006, before leaving for his two-year mission. Lark was recruited by most Pac-10 schools and Utah before signing with the Cougars.
“[Heaps and Lark] are probably more similar to each other,” Mendenhall said. “They’re more of a prototype BYU quarterback, but that doesn’t necessarily give them an advantage. Lark’s conditioning and grasp of the offense exceeds what I thought it would be at this point.”
Another freshman, Jason Munns, joins the quarterback competition this fall. Munns, from Southridge High School in Kennewick, Wash., redshirted at BYU in 2007, before leaving for a two-year LDS mission in Mexico.
Munns will have to make up a lot of ground this fall to catch the other three BYU quarterbacks.
“They’re all three really talented,” BYU running back Harvey Unga said. “Riley definitely brings a different aspect to the game with his running ability, but all three of them throw the ball well. To be honest, the young guys have been a pleasant surprise. They’ve definitely picked up the offense quicker than people thought they would.”
Regardless of which player wins the starting job this fall, Mendenhall said he hasn’t eliminated the idea of playing more than one quarterback this coming season.
“I wouldn’t rule it out,” Mendenhall said. “I’d prefer to have a single quarterback and single starter, but I couldn’t rule it out.”
Two years ago, the Cougars watched MWC rival Utah finished unbeaten and upset Alabama, 31-17, in the Sugar Bowl.
BYU hasn’t been perfect over the past four seasons, but the Cougars have been about as consistent as any team in the country. Since finishing 6-6 in Mendenhall’s first season in 2005, the Cougars are 43-9 and have won at least 10 games in each of the past four seasons. Only four NCAA FBS teams -- Boise State, Florida, Ohio State and Texas -- have won more games than BYU since 2006.
“It’s about as close as you can get,” Mendenhall said. “I’m very pleased with the progress and consistency. Until we have that signature season, we’ll just keep rattling off as many wins as we can. I don’t really view us as one of those teams looking from the outside in. I view us as one of those teams that are waiting to be recognized.”
The Cougars’ good work has hardly gone unnoticed. Among Boise State, BYU, TCU and Utah, the Cougars are the only team that finished each of the past four seasons ranked in the coaches’ Top 25 poll. BYU was the only school from a non-BCS conference to accomplish that feat the past four seasons.
Still, the Cougars’ accomplishments have largely been overlooked by Boise State’s undefeated seasons in 2006 and ’09; Utah’s perfect season in 2008; and TCU’s breakthrough performance last year.
“It’s a credit to those teams,” BYU running back Harvey Unga said. “They’ve got great teams and deserve credit for the seasons they’ve had. I don’t think we’re far away from doing it. There are things to work on, but I don’t think we’re too far away.”
If the Cougars are going to break though during the 2010 season, they’ll have to replace record-setting quarterback Max Hall and star tight end Dennis Pitta. Six starters must be replaced on defense, including All-MWC defensive end Jan Jorgensen.
A year ago, BYU replaced seven offensive starters, including All-America receiver Austin Collie, and four defensive starters. The Cougars finished 11-2 and were ranked No. 12 in the country at season’s end.
“I think every year we’re getting better and closer,” BYU safety Andrew Rich said. “We’ve been close the last couple of years. I think it’s one or two games where we’ve stumbled. But it’s hard when you play teams like TCU and Utah. It’s not so much what we’re doing as what other teams are doing. TCU and Utah have put together really good teams.”
So have the Cougars, who open the 2010 season against Washington at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Sept. 4. BYU also plays at Florida State on Sept. 18, at TCU on Oct. 16 and at Utah on Nov. 27.
“We have to get back to winning our conference before we start worrying about the other stuff,” Rich said. “We have a lot of great teams in our conference. I guess the perception of the Mountain West has been elevated over the last couple of years because of what Utah has done and what TCU has done. We can’t worry about that. We have to worry about what we’re doing.”
BYU running back Harvey Unga is working toward sharpening his blocking skills.
UNLV coach Bobby Hauck still remembers the lessons he learned while visiting troops in Iraq.
Former BYU quarterback Max Hall disputes claims that Tim Tebow never offered a prayer before the Wonderlic test at the NFL Combine.
UTEP’s new linebackers coach Robert Rodriguez helps the new defensive scheme take shape.
Finding a replacement for four-year center Jake Seitz has not been an easy task for UAB.
The Sporting News did a nice Q&A with Houston quarterback Case Keenum.
Receiver Tyler Mason tries to make a name for himself at Middle Tennessee.
BYU quarterback Riley Nelson, last year’s backup, hopes to win the starting job for 2010.
New Louisiana-Monroe coach Todd Berry tries to remain patient as he installs his new system this spring.
New UNLV coach Bobby Hauck is trying to bring a sense of excitement and urgency to spring football.
Former BYU quarterback Max Hall gives his thoughts on the Cougars quarterback race.
With that in mind, it’s hard to pinpoint just 10 moments that made up the 2009 season, but here’s a look back at some of the moments that shaped the year.
1. TCU and Boise State both make the BCS: For the first time in the history of the BCS system, two non-AQ teams were selected to play in a BCS bowl in the same year.
2. BYU beating Oklahoma to open the season: The Mountain West needed a statement win after spending most of the offseason fighting for BCS equality. BYU's big win over the Sooners gave the conference a measure of validation.
3. The punch heard round the world: Boise State’s win over Oregon was exactly what the Broncos needed to start the season off right, but it was quickly overshadowed by Oregon running back LeGarrette Blount's sucker punch of Boise State defensive lineman Byron Hout.
4. Barnes makes history: Bowling Green receiver Freddie Barnes had been plagued with injuries most of his career, but had a breakout season that included 22 catches for 278 yards and three touchdowns against Kent State. Barnes went on to set the FBS single-season receptions record.
5. SMU ends 25-year drought: SMU defeated Tulane in the final regular-season game to secure the school’s first bowl berth since 1984. The Mustangs went on to defeat Nevada in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl and notch eight wins for the first time since that 1984 season.
6. Hall lashes out: After defeating Utah in a dramatic overtime game, BYU quarterback Max Hall soured the win with a tirade that degraded Utah and its fans and added more fuel to an already tense in-state rivalry.
7. Idaho’s two-point conversion: Robb Akey’s call for Idaho to go for two and the win with a few seconds remaining in the Humanitarian Bowl gave the Vandals their first bowl win since 1998.
8. Navy beats Notre Dame -- again: The Mids’ 23-21 win over Notre Dame was the second in the past three seasons and might have been the final nail in the coffin of Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis. Prior to the last two wins, Navy hadn’t beaten Notre Dame since 1963.
9. Nevada’s three 1,000-yard rushers: Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick and running backs Luke Lippincott and Vai Taua became the first trio in NCAA history to each rush for 1,000 yards in the same season.
10. Houston beats three AQs: Houston was the only team this season to defeat three teams from automatic qualifying conferences during the nonconference season. It kept the Cougars in the national rankings almost the entire season.
Other notable moments: Fresno State offensive lineman catches a pass and scores a touchdown to beat Illinois; Central Michigan quarterback Dan LeFevour sets passing and scoring records; Troy notches its fourth consecutive Sun Belt title; Middle Tennessee becomes the first Sun Belt team to win 10 games in a season; Temple wins nine consecutive games this season and goes to its first bowl since 1979; Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs sets record for touchdowns by a quarterback.
But there were some good things that shouldn't be overlooked.
Best performance, defensive player: Oregon's undersized but quick defensive end Kenny Rowe set a Rose Bowl and Oregon bowl record with three sacks in a losing effort against Ohio State. He finished the season with 11.5 sacks, which led the Pac-10.
Best performance, offensive player: In his final game in a USC uniform, receiver Damian Williams caught 12 passes for a season-high 189 yards in the Trojans' 24-13 win over Boston College in the Emerald Bowl. It's fair to say that Williams was USC's most consistent player over the entire season.
Worst performance, period: There was nothing good about Arizona's 33-0 loss to Nebraska in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl. Nothing. Feel free, though, to look at this box score and try to find something.
Best play: With UCLA trailing Temple 21-20 in the fourth quarter, and the Owls pinned on their 8-yard line, Bruins outside linebacker Akeem Ayers -- after falling down on his initial pass-rush burst -- leaped into the air and intercepted Vaughn Charlton's pass and gamboled 2 yards into the end zone.
Worst play: Trailing 19-17 in the Rose Bowl, Oregon faced a second-and-2 from Ohio State's 18-yard line. A huge hole opened. But running back LeGarrette Blount couldn't handle a high handoff from quarterback Jeremiah Masoli. The Buckeyes recovered the fumble and dominated the rest of the game.
Worst play, II: After BYU tied Oregon State 7-7 in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas, the Beavers took over at their 40-yard line. On second down, running back Jacquizz Rodgers couldn't handle a backward pass from Sean Canfield, and Matt Bauman returned the loose ball 34 yards for a touchdown. That was the first fumble of Rodgers' career, and the Cougars dominated the game from then on.
Best performance under tough circumstances: Oklahoma knew Stanford had no passing offense without quarterback Andrew Luck. So it ganged up on running back Toby Gerhart. Nonetheless, the Heisman Trophy runner-up rushed for 135 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries in a rugged effort in the Sun Bowl loss.
Worst pass defense: California made Utah true freshman quarterback Jordan Wynn look like an All-American in the Poinsettia Bowl. Against what was supposed to be one of the nation's best secondaries heading into the season, Wynn completed 26 of 36 passes for 338 yards with three touchdowns. He shook off an early pick-six to run the Bears ragged.
Best second-half defense: UCLA held Temple to 41 yards and zero points in the second half of the EagleBank Bowl.
Worst performance you didn't see coming: Canfield, Oregon State's quarterback, earned first-team All-Pac-10 honors this season. He has been invited to the Senior Bowl and is going to have an NFL career. Nonetheless, he had a horrible Las Vegas Bowl and was outplayed by BYU's Max Hall, who threw three touchdown passes. Canfield completed just 19 of 40 passes for 168 yards with an interception and no touchdowns, and he seemed completely befuddled by a strong wind and the Cougars' secondary.
Best unsung performance: USC fullback Stanley Havili always seems to sneak up on folks. In the Trojans' win over Boston College, he caught six passes for 83 yards with two touchdowns, including a 53-yard jaunt on a screen pass. He also had a critical tackle after one of Matt Barkley's two interceptions.
Oregon State's Sean Canfield isn't exactly a rookie. He'll be making his 24th start against the Cougars.
That experience probably means neither figures to get rattled.
"The chances of rattling [Hall] are tough," Beavers coach Mike Riley said. "You're talking about a guy who has been through a lot in his career and played a lot and has been productive as heck. It's just like we said with Sean. The best thing that happened for Sean is to play for a long time in one stretch and grow and gain the confidence."
Quarterbacks -- duh -- are always important, but these two are their offenses' engine, though Hall is probably a bit more critical to the Cougars.
Who has the edge?
- Hall finished ranked third in the nation in passing efficiency. Canfield ranked 15th. It's fair to counter, however, that Canfield faced more talented secondaries in the Pac-10.
- Canfield completed 70 percent of his passes for 3,103 yards and 21 touchdowns with six interceptions. Hall completed 68 percent of his passes for 3,368 yards with 30 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Those interceptions might catch your eye, but Hall only threw four in the final seven games.
- Both pass defenses are questionable. Oregon State ranked 60th in the nation in pass efficiency defense; BYU was 40th. The Beavers will be missing starting cornerback Tim Clark, while the Cougars will have a speed disadvantage in the secondary.
- Canfield is a higher-rated NFL prospect, in large part because Hall lacks ideal size. Mel Kiper rates Canfield the fifth-best senior quarterback.
- Neither defense had a lot of sacks in 2009. BYU ranked 53rd in the nation with 24; Oregon State 106th with just 15. BYU's offense gave up 21 sacks, which ranked 54th in the nation. Oregon State surrendered 29, which is 87th.
- Both quarterbacks have help. Canfield has the Rodgers brothers, receiver James and running back Jacquizz. Hall has All-American tight end Dennis Pitta and running back Harvey Unga.
So, who has the edge?
Too close to call. The game sets up as though both offenses will move the ball well and both quarterbacks will have time to distribute the ball to their playmakers.
Canfield's key is to get the ball to the Rodgers brothers in space so they can stress the Cougars with their speed and elusiveness.
Hall didn't play terribly well in the Cougars rivalry-game victory over Utah to conclude the season -- he completed just 12 of 32 passes -- but he kept his cool and threw the game-winner in overtime. He needs to stay in rhythm and take what the defense gives him.
Both veteran quarterbacks figure to play well. The one who plays better, however, likely will lead the winning team.
The WAC hasn’t gotten off to a good start this bowl season.
Florida Atlantic is sitting at home while five of its 2009 opponents are playing in bowl games.
Nevada plans to bring just about 100 fans to the Hawaii Bowl.
Central Michigan recruits remain sold on the Chippewas despite coach Butch Jones’ departure.
Oregon State is using tonight’s game as a stepping stone while BYU is looking for respect.
Former Utah offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig still has a special place for Utah.
New Buffalo coach Jeff Quinn has some big shoes to fill with Turner Gill’s departure.
UCF made $82,000 off of the St. Pete Bowl.
1. Stop the run: It seems like a simple enough suggestion, but few have been able to stop Oregon State’s running game and most of the time it’s led to a loss. Jacquizz Rodgers is fast and he’s small, which makes him hard to find. He’s had a touchdown in all but one game and had seven 100-yard rushing games this season. BYU has been pretty stout against the run, allowing an average of 112 yards, and the Cougars allowed more than 200 rushing yards just twice.
2. Get Hall in a groove: BYU quarterback Max Hall seems to be at his best when he can get into a rhythm early and gain some confidence. That will be key against an Oregon State passing defense that hasn’t been great this season, but stiffened a bit at the end of the year. The Beavers allow 238.67 passing yards per game and they allowed two or more passing touchdowns in seven games this season. Look for tight ends Dennis Pitta and Andrew George to be top targets in this game.
3. Don’t forget the other Rodgers brother: Jacquizz Rodgers is a great running back, but his brother, receiver James Rodgers, might be the best player on the team, period. Rodgers ranks first on the team in receiving yards with 1,004 and nine touchdowns on 87 catches, and he’s second on the team in rushing with 289 yards and a score. He’s a great vertical threat and will be one of the toughest receivers (if not the toughest) the Cougars have faced this season. Look for BYU to double Rodgers and force quarterback Sean Canfield to find other options.
WHO TO WATCH: Max Hall, QB, BYU
All season the Cougars have been as good as quarterback Max Hall and it will be no different in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas. Hall should have some success against an Oregon State secondary that is allowing 238.67 yards per game. However, the Beavers stiffened against the pass late in the season. They did not allow more than 201 yards in any of the final four games of the season.
WHAT TO WATCH: The front seven
BYU’s defense has been criticized for its lack of speed and it will be tested against Oregon State running back Jacquizz Rodgers, who ranks 17th in the country with 114.75 yards per game. Rodgers might be the smallest back the Cougars have faced this season and he’ll be tough for BYU’s bulky interior to find and keep up with.
WHY TO WATCH: BYU has thrilled before
The Cougars have a flair for the dramatic. In the first game of the season, they upset Oklahoma at the new Dallas Cowboys Stadium. At the end of the regular season, they defeated Utah in an overtime thriller. Since this is the only game outside of the BCS bowls with two teams ranked in the top 20, it promises to be yet another late-game thriller.
PREDICTION: Oregon State is going to bring more speed than BYU has seen most of this year and that’s going to be a problem for the Cougars defense. The Beavers combine a talented running game with a decent passing game and that will keep BYU off guard. While this will basically be a home game for the Cougars, I think Oregon State takes it 35-24.
WHO TO WATCH: This is a primetime matchup of skill players. BYU will offer up quarterback Max Hall, tight end Dennis Pitta and running back Harvey Unga. The Beavers will counter with quarterback Sean Canfield and the Rodgers brothers, running back Jacquizz and receiver James. The difference for the Beavers is speed. The Rodgers brothers have it, while the Cougars are mostly about power. Canfield has been accurate all season, and if he can distribute the ball in space to the Rodgers brothers, all three could have a star turn.
WHAT TO WATCH: The Beavers pass defense. Starting cornerback Tim Clark broke his leg in the season-finale vs. Oregon, so an already thin crew is even thinner -- said coach Mike Riley, "We're thin. We're absolutely thin.'' Even with Clark, the Beavers ranked sixth in the Pac-10 in pass defense and pass efficiency defense. They surrendered 20 TD passes -- only Washington State surrendered more -- and their eight interceptions were tied for second fewest in the conference. Moreover, they only recorded 15 sacks, which ranked ninth in the conference, six fewer than No. 7 Stanford. Hall and BYU rank 12th in the nation in passing and have accounted for 31 TD passes.
WHY TO WATCH: It's the first matchup of ranked teams in the bowl seasons, and it's always interesting when the Pac-10 and Mountain West square off. The MWC annually wants to prove itself vs. BCS conferences -- perhaps paving the way for it to become one? -- while the Pac-10 doesn't want to endure dismissive sniffs from its BCS conference brethren. As for the game itself, there will be a lot of playmakers on both sides of the field. Jacquizz Rodgers, for one, could make a statement for the 2010 Heisman Trophy race, while Canfield could improve his already blossoming NFL draft prospects.
PREDICTION: BYU 33, Oregon State 30. So much of a bowl game is about which team is more motivated. Last year, Oregon State also lost a Civil War rivalry game with Oregon that knocked it out of the Rose Bowl, but the Beavers got blown out and embarrassed and wanted to exorcise that memory -- particularly the defense -- in the Sun Bowl. They were motivated. This time? They lost a heartbreaker. That's a different sort of touchstone. As for BYU, sure the Cougars are playing in their fifth consecutive Las Vegas Bowl. But they are riding high after a win over Utah in their rivalry game and surely will recall that they were out-hustled by Arizona in the bowl last year. That will be a lesson, and they will be plenty motivated this time to take a Pac-10 scalp.