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Dick Harmon: BYU, Utah have huge gridiron opportunities Saturday

Published: Tuesday, July 28 2015 11:06 p.m. MDT

BYU's Bronson Kaufusi, shown here celebrating after sacking Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees during the Cougars' game in South Bend, was a key contributor for BYU on the gridiron. (photos by Scott G Winterton, Deseret News, Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) BYU's Bronson Kaufusi, shown here celebrating after sacking Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees during the Cougars' game in South Bend, was a key contributor for BYU on the gridiron. (photos by Scott G Winterton, Deseret News, Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

One last chance.

Utah is in Pullman, Wash., to face Washington State. The Utes have an opportunity to keep their bowl hopes alive in a game that screams for Ute coach Kyle Whittingham's motivational skills.

BYU is in South Bend, Ind., to face Notre Dame. The Cougars have one final opportunity to make noise on a national stage, something the third-year independent school failed to do two weeks ago at Wisconsin.

We could blow all this up and say it's a must-win weekend for the two rivals. These are big games.

The Utes stand 4-6 overall and 1-6 in the Pac-12. Whittingham’s squad has to beat Mike Leach's team to remain mathematically capable of winning six games and finishing bowl eligible.

The Cougars will face extreme weather conditions in the Midwest, where forecasted snow and a chill factor near 10 degrees are expected in a region that just witnessed rare tornadoes striking the ground. Then there’s the fact that they're facing the Fighting Irish on their senior day.

Utah's Lucky Radley takes a hand off from quarterback Adam Schulz as Utah and Oregon play Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013 in Eugene. Oregon won 44-21. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) Utah's Lucky Radley takes a hand off from quarterback Adam Schulz as Utah and Oregon play Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013 in Eugene. Oregon won 44-21. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

The Utes, with all their offensive woes, now face a Cougar team under Leach that surprised many in the cannibalizing Pac-12 by defeating Arizona 24-17 last weekend, a team Utah lost to 35-24. Leach's players, too, have their senior day.

The Cougars have seven victories. If they win out and capture a bowl victory, a 10-win season looks nice, although that Virginia setback leaves a scar no makeup can cover.

The Utes are better than their record shows. Once again, misfortune, QB issues, a struggling O-line, an inability to play well outside the state and a lack of takeaways have all contributed to a disappointing league record and four-game losing streak.

So, there’s plenty of room for heroes to emerge.

Looking for possible candidates? Consider the quarterbacks.

Former Ute walk-on quarterback Adam Schulz can blow up the weekend if he can avoid turnovers and accurately utilize Utah’s talent. His chances are enhanced with the return of injured tight end Jake Murphy. If Schulz can involve playmakers around him, stay in a pocket that his hogs can protect, and not try to take it all on himself, picking up a win is a possibility because Kalani Sitake’s defense is capable of putting Leach’s offense in a lockbox.

BYU’s chances begin and end with its quarterback. It’s been almost a month since Taysom Hill lit up Boise State for 400 yards total offense and four TDs. This guy needs to surface in South Bend while he still has receivers. In Provo, they’ve been dropping like leaves. The last time any Cougar turned heads at Notre Dame was in 1994 with John Walsh. Hill has more tools than Walsh.

For the Utes and Cougars, this weekend is clearly a vital one.

This week’s picks:

Washington 28, Oregon State 21: Steve Sarkisian’s squad is 24th in passing, 22nd in rushing and averages 36 points a game.

Southern Cal 21, Colorado 9: USC’s talent is rising in November.

Baylor 38, Oklahoma State 32: Bears make a case for BCS championship.

UCLA 24, Arizona State 21: In a great matchup, go with Westwood magic.

Utah State 21, Colorado State 17: Ram defensive giving up 31 a game.

Stanford 38, California 10: Bay Area. Who partied less?

Washington State 24, Utah 21: Except in Provo, Utes don’t do roadies well.

BYU 24, Notre Dame 21: Can Cougars let another opportunity slip away? Taysom settles down Saturday.

Last week 6-2; Overall 76-24 (.760)

Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at dharmon@desnews.com.

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