PROVO — Riley Nelson can disprove a theory his critics regularly throw at him — that he is not physically capable of leading BYU's offense to a win over a quality, ranked, respected opponent when the Cougars host No. 10 Oregon State on Saturday.
If Nelson leads BYU to a win this weekend, he can make pumpkin faces at those doubters.
He'll never get a better chance according to Las Vegas odds-makers, who have made the Cougars a 5- to 6-point favorite over the Beavers. If Nelson can come off a back injury and pull this off, it will make history. I don't think BYU has ever been favored over a top-10 team.
To pull off this victory, offensive coordinator Brandon Doman, and Nelson himself, can ill-afford to have Nelson get hurt. Again.
And to do that, they'll have to buck their own intertwined injury history. As a running quarterback, Doman finished his senior season banged and ineffective in Luke Staley-less losses at Hawaii and a bowl game against Louisville. Running Doman's offense, which incorporates the QB draw and option plays, Nelson missed games due to injuries against Florida State in 2009, Idaho in 2010 and Weber State in 2012.
This year, Doman has seen his quarterbacks seriously injured an average of about every two games. Nelson played injured in BYU's third game at Utah and got pulled during a loss at Boise State. His replacement freshman Taysom Hill was hurt at the end of his second start, a win over Utah State.
At this rate, if the same attack is deployed, Nelson, the expected starter against OSU, could give way to senior James Lark by the time BYU leaves Notre Dame in South Bend or in Atlanta against Georgia Tech the following week.
That might sound gloomy, but it is the trend. And it fits with a principle Doman has endorsed, that an organization (team) is perfectly designed to get the results that it gets.
With Hill's injury and Riley's expected return against OSU, Doman was asked if he'll change the offense now that Nelson is fresh off an injury.
"Yeah, well, we'll have to be a lot smarter in how he (Nelson) handles himself and I'll be able to coach him on how to protect himself better," Doman said. "I don't know if I can stop him from scrambling around but he's hoping that we can keep him healthy."
Not unlike QB issues at Utah and OSU, the position is a valued commodity. Running a QB is risky, albeit a key to the success at TCU, Florida State, Florida and last year at Baylor. But aside from a kicker or punter, a QB is probably the least prepared to absorb hits.
Waiting behind No. 2 Lark at BYU is junior Jason Munns. Behind him is sophomore scout team QB Ammon Olsen and Doman has an option of switching freshman QB Alex Kuresa back from his receiver position.
The Cougars have had more fodder at the QB position, athletes who saw the Riley/Jake Heaps hurdle in 2009 and 2010 and decided to depart for better opportunities. Among them are 6-foot-5, 230-pound Southern Utah senior Brad Sorensen, brother of current safety Daniel Sorensen, and former Timpanogos star Christian Stewart now a star at Snow College.
In 2010, Sorensen set a SUU season passing record with 3,163 yards and 21 touchdowns. In five games this season, including bouts with California and USU, Sorensen is 115 of 194 for 1,218 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Stewart, a one-time discouraged BYU walk-on, ranks third in the NJCAA with 18 touchdown passes and is 85-for-168 for 1,346 yards, eight yards per attempt and 224.3 yards per game. He is a redshirt sophomore at Snow.
In December, BYU will welcome back another QB who, like Stewart, would like a look after his mission service. He is 2009 5A Alta All-State QB Jordan Brown (6-3, 185) who amassed 2,848 yards passing on 182 of 259 throws with 23 touchdowns before his church service.
It looks like Doman will need all the QBs he can muster.
This week's predictions:
UCLA 24, Utah 17: We don't know if Utah is headed for a quarterback change to get to the future faster, but after the Bruins lost to Cal, the Utes could be in for a fired-up crew in Westwood.
Utah State 28, San Jose State 24: Watch for Gary Andersen to make a run at the WAC title and it all starts with this contest.
Nevada 38, UNLV 19: In this battle of the brothers, Reno easily has the upper hand over Little Brother.
California 34, Washington State 21: The Bears have shown they have a Jekyll-Hyde face to their program, but they will deliver Mike Leach a setback this week.
USC 37, Washington 24: The Trojans will have little trouble with the Huskie defense.
Notre Dame 24, Stanford 14: Defense rules for the Fighting Irish.
BYU 14, Oregon State 7: OSU is without its staring QB and BYU will roll out the recovered version of Riley Nelson. The difference will be the Cougar defense, which hasn't allowed a touchdown in 13 quarters.
Last week 6-2; Overall 29-14 (.674)
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