PROVO - Chuck Cutler looks at the hands that have caught a touchdown pass in every BYU football game this season and does an objective self-assessment.

"I haven't got great hands," he says, "But I do have expensive hands."Both thumbs have been broken - in the same game last year at Hawaii - his right hand has six screws in it and a metal plate on top, and at the end of this football season he'll most probably have another operation on his left thumb, making it six for his career.

"Fifteen thousand dollars worth of medical attention, easy, so far," says Cutler. "Maybe twenty thousand. If I hadn't had insurance I'd be working the rest of my life just paying off the bills."

Cutler laughs. He doesn't take all of this any more seriously than he takes himself, which is probably the reason he's still playing football and not sitting in a psych ward somewhere trying to figure out why him? "Well, there was a time, just after the fifth operation, that I seriously thought about quitting," he says. "I started to question if it was all worth it. But I don't know, you do tend to forget the pain."

"Besides, if I had given it up," he says, "It would have been a shame. Because then I wouldn't have known that any of this was going to happen."

What's happened is a senior season of remarkable proportions. As BYU's starting wide receiver, Cutler has caught 46 passes in eight games for 723 yards to date. Not only does that rank him as the No. 14 receiver in the nation, but his habit of catching at least one touchdown pass per game through eight games has tied an NCAA record.

If he gets a TD pass Saturday at San Diego State he'll (obviously) set a new record.

Cutler has become the Jerry Rice of college football.

With hands of pins and plates and broken bones.

Not that it doesn't fit the Improbable College Career of Chuck Cutler. This is a wide receiver with ordinary speed (Here's another objective Cutler self-assessment: "They've never clocked me in the 40 . . . I guess because they don't want to know and neither do I."), who wasn't recruited by any major colleges out of high school (Alta High in Sandy), who played for a year at Snow Junior College, who then went on a 2-year Mormon mission to Ecuador, who came back with a hernia because he tried to get in football shape prior to his return, who walked onto the BYU team, and who somehow, between first the hernia operation and then the hand problems, has stuck.

He has also, in the meantime, gone to class, gone to the library, become a first team academic All-American, lost his memory, and settled down. Well, sort of.

The last three years, since he became a Cougar, haven't been what you'd call conventional. Counting the operations and everything else, there have been a series of rather unusual incidents.

The most famous, as in national press attention famous, was the Amnesia Incident.

The Amnesia Incident occurred near the end of Cutler's sophomore season in 1986, when he was dinged by a tackle in a game against Air Force and suffered a loss of memory that blotted out a two-week span of time. During that span, Cutler had proposed to his fiancee, Michelle Maxfield. Or so Michelle, to this day, insists.

No problem. Cutler proposed again, and he and Michelle were married later that winter. Just two weeks ago they had their first child, a boy named Dallin Charles Cutler. Because Chuck had a road trip to Hawaii the weekend Dallin was supposed to arrive, the doctors induced labor so Chuck could see the birth and still make the Hawaii game.

It was a memorable occasion, although Cutler concedes that it gives his wife even more ammunition against him.

"She's always on me about being this jinxed guy who does everything odd," he says. "Then even the pregnancy wasn't normal."

Last winter, it was Michelle who had to open the ketchup bottles, and the pickle jars.

Her husband, the hotshot end, had casts on both hands.

Now, with those same hands, he's on the verge of doing something nobody's done in the history of the college game.

Providing, that is, he makes it past the airport metal detector.