Game day is upon us, and it's time for our picks for the game tonight, so let's do this:
Washington St. goes to Provo to take on BYU this Thursday in the season opener. Washington St. has a new, familiar coach in Mike Leach taking over the squad. We all know his offensive mind should help the Washington St. offense grow and improve... eventually. Right now, however, in the very first game of the season with a new coach, on the road, against a tough BYU defense, I don't expect that Washington St. will be able to recreate that firepower that Leach consistently showed us at Texas Tech. Senior Jeff Tuel is the strength of the offense at QB, but he has young talent surrounding him at WR and it will probably take some time before they are firing on all cylinders. The Washington St. defense has recently switched to a 3-4 due to the lack of talent on the defensive line and I expect BYU to exploit that. BYU should rush for 200+ yards and control the ball for the majority of the game. Final prediction: BYU 38, WSU 17
I would love for this to be the barn burner that everything thinks this game might be but the first game of the season is always a little slow out of the gate. The first few series will yield few points and both teams will have miscues. After a Riley Nelson interception that will lead to the entire west side of the stands calling for Taysom Hill, BYU will bounce back and have a 14-10 lead at half. BYU will hold the lead and the "Air Raid" offense won't fully click for the Cougars in red. Final Prediction: BYU 28, WSU 17
Even though Washington State has spent recent seasons in the cellar of the Pac-10/12, I've heard a lot about the other Cougars' offense. Their offense was actually good, and they went out and got one of the best offensive minds in Mike Leach. He's a great coach and all, but how much could he possibly improve an offense - by Week 1, mind you - that was already good last year? My guess is not much. It's a complicated offense that takes time to master. And as good as their offense is, I think BYU's defense is better. And BYU's offense? Much better than WSU's defense. Our offense isn't typically explosive during the first game of the season, but it will get the job done. I think the running game will play a larger role than people think. In fact, we might semi-rely on it to get the offense going. Final Prediction: BYU 34, WSU 20
BYU beats the Mike Leach-led Cougars, 27-17. Leach, offensive wizard that he is, hasn't had enough time to get things going well enough to overcome BYU's stout defense. My guess is that Mike Leach forgot there was a thing called defense, and BYU, despite significant rust, is able to move the ball on Riley Nelson's sheer force of will. Alisa will score, Nelson will score, and Cody Hoffman will have touchdowns. Kyle Van Noy will grind the bones of Washington State running back Carl Winston to make his bread.
Based on recent history, this is a pretty optimistic prediction. After all, remember what we were all saying at this time last year? ("Jake Heaps has had a full summer as the starter. The offense is going to be ridiculous. We're going to hang 50 on Ole Miss.") The fact of the matter is, BYU has developed a nasty habit of starting sloppy (with a few exceptions) in the Mendenhall era. And for some strange reason, I'm actively deciding to ignore all that precedent with this prediction.
I do think that Wazzu will be able to score some points and have some success with their new "Air Raid" system. They have talented receivers and a solid quarterback, and they'll chuck it enough times to break open some big plays against a still-unproven Cougar secondary. However, this will still be their first game under Mike Leach and there will likely be several kinks to be ironed out, which should limit their effectiveness -- not to mention that BYU's front seven should wreak absolute havoc in the backfield and in the flats. They'll have to throw it deep, and they will -- I just don't believe they're quite ready to do it consistently enough.
On the other side of the ball, I'm choosing to believe in Riley Nelson and Company. There's simply too much depth and talent at the receiver position for Wazzu to realistically bottle up BYU's passing game, and if the running backs can establish themselves early as well, look out. I simply don't believe the Pullman Cougs will be good enough defensively to contain what should be an athletic, experienced, and much more self-assured BYU offense in its second year under the leadership of Nelson and Brandon Doman. And if Leach's "Air Raid' isn't quite off the ground yet, that should result in a win (albeit possibly a close one) for our guys. Final Prediction: BYU 34, Washington State 28