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Dick Harmon: Cougars have chance for credibility, Utes look to avoid 0-5 start in Pac-12

Cougars seek credibility against TCU

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 26 2011 8:19 p.m. MDT

So, is Nelson going to go into Texas and lead the Cougars to victory? He's facing Gary Patterson's defense, and Patterson is a guy who will dissect every sway of Nelson's shoelaces the past five games and have an answer for it.

Utah faces an OSU offense that scored 21 points, plus a Nelson pick six (28) on BYU's defense that is ranked 32nd nationally. The Beavers can pass the ball and did so against a Cougar pass defense ranked 51st. Utah's pass defense is ranked 75th (disparity in competition should be noted).

In other words, if Utah can't find some firepower and avoid turnovers, OSU's offense is capable of scoring if Kalani Sitake's defense can't take a break and rest on the sidelines. Can Utah's offense give Sitake that?

BYU's defense has been stout all year, but TCU is averaging 44 points a game, albeit against the likes of Louisiana-Monroe, Portland State and New Mexico.

Riley Nelson has been spectacular in BYU's five-game win streak. He's made defenses look inept. A guy with questionable arm strength has a very impressive 174.46 pass efficiency rating. But can he run against TCU? To say Utah's offensive coordinator Norm Chow has had a challenging first year is akin to saying UCLA's Rick Neuheisel can't run for mayor of Westwood.

Hays didn't ask for the grief he's getting. With teams stacking the box, they're taking away his single-barrel run threat and daring him to beat them with his arm. He is 53 of 92 with three TDs and seven interceptions for 630 yards. Hays' pass rating is 110.

Can Hays do more against OSU's defense than Beaver freshman quarterback Sean Mannion against the Utes with his 130 rating on 1,964 yards with nine TDs and 10 picks?

Well, Hays needs to. He faces a far tougher defense in practice every day.

And BYU's Nelson and his nifty legs? He'd better be Tim Tebow incarnate Friday night.

BYU has a chance to prove itself. Utah gets an opportunity to defeat a Pac-12 team that the Cougars have already dispatched.

Big? Very big weekend, Halloween candy aside.

This week's picks:

Notre Dame 35, Navy 17: The Fighting Irish are a few plays away from getting ranked until USC exposed some weaknesses others could not. The Golden Domers return to winning on Saturday.

California 33, UCLA 21: The Bears showed a little fur against Utah last week and the Bruins are a team on the edge of imploding.

Washington 28, Arizona 14: Steve Sarkisian's multi-faceted offense is good enough to hide some defensive warts. Huskies roll.

Oregon 44, Washington State 14: The only question is what Nike outfit the Ducks will quack with.

Stanford 34, USC 24: Game of the week in the Pac-12. Look for Andrew Luck to dice up the Trojans.

Arizona State 38, Colorado 10: Is there a sorrier Pac-12 team than the Golden Buffs? The Sun Devils will romp over the rookie in the league.

Oregon State 21, Utah 20: One has an offense, the other needs to keep defenses from loading the box with an unresolved QB threat. If the Beavers can patiently hold on and gain turnovers from the Utes, they have enough offensive firepower to get the job done against a tough but tiring Ute defense.

TCU 28, BYU 20: The Frogs will take Riley Nelson's legs away and dare him to beat them over the top like SMU and Baylor did. Fail. Cougars cannot afford any turnovers Friday night.

Last week 5-4, 48-17 overall (.738)

email: dharmon@desnews.com

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