Robert W. Grover,
Once the rhythm comes, the confidence increases. —BYU QB Tanner Mangum

Ty Detmer and his BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum can go a long way to proclaim to teammates and all of Cougardom that they’ve made progress fixing things for Saturday in Fresno.

The Cougars play the Mountain West’s surprise comeback program of the year on ESPN2. The Bulldogs have become a solid all-around team during a portion of BYU’s schedule that is supposed to be more manageable.

In September and most of October, BYU fought through a seven-game losing streak and looked like that family on vacation where everything goes wrong from a flat tire, blown head gasket to misread maps and sick kids. Cue Chevy Chase.

But playing against the two worst defenses in the country back-to-back, the Cougar offense, which ranked among the worst in FBS, averaged 513 yards and 29 points a game against ECU and San Jose State.

That is progress.

Or is it?

Saturday will be the game of truth.

“Once the rhythm comes, the confidence increases,” Mangum told the media this week. “There were some good throws, and I saw some bad ones after watching film. I just want to keep the momentum going.”

Mangum is a great guy. You want to see him step up and deliver. Nobody doubts his work ethic and desire. But this season has been a jigsaw puzzle for the junior.

The Cougars could lose to Fresno State but make it competitive and close and one might see progress. BYU could upset FSU and make an open and shut case for progress and consistency. But if this game turns out to be one of those games where the Cougars run about 49 plays, miss converting third-downs and score about 14 points, then it would be difficult to argue progress has been made.

Fresno State will throw a Top 20 defense at the Cougars. The Bulldogs can pressure, cover, blitz, tackle and stop both the run and pass game.

“In all phases, offense, defense and special teams, on film they are the most sound football team we’ve faced this season,” commented assistant head coach Ed Lamb.

If that is the case, the Cougars, the poster team for inconsistency on both offense and defense, are in trouble.

Unless a perfect travel plan is executed from top to bottom.

It seems a little ironic that BYU’s success going down the stretch is dependent on how it competes against a MWC team that was 1-11 a year ago. But that is where BYU football is right now.

A fascinating aspect of this game is how the Cougars are managing injuries. Nearly 25 walk-on athletes (nonscholarship players) saw playing time in the win over SJSU last Saturday. Kalani Sitake has a team that’s had 34 players in the two-deep miss games this season, several with season-ending injuries. And Mangum is one of those. How backups have progressed since seeing playing time is as crucial as anything Sitake is counting on in this weekend’s battle.

While it is uncertain if backup quarterback Beau Hogue will see playing time now he is healed from an injury in the Utah State game, he is available if Detmer wants to shake things up on FSU’s defense with a QB that can execute the read-pass-option and zone read.

For Mangum, it is a game in which he can go a long way to establishing himself as the team leader and playmaker.

But it won’t be easy. The ‘Dogs are not SJSU fodder.

FSU was a surprising loser at home to UNLV last week and is the only remaining opponent on BYU’s schedule with a winning record. This means something. It is a game that carries weight. Also, a bowl invitation is on the line.

Now, on to this week's picks:

Wisconsin 35, Indiana 21: Badgers strong down home stretch.

Penn State 38, Michigan State 31: Nittany Lions bounce back from OSU loss.

Washington State 37, Stanford 34: Mike Leach's Cougars have too much firepower.

Oklahoma State 42, Oklahoma 38: Cowboys win instate battle.

TCU 31, Texas 28: Does Gary Patterson still own the state?

Washington 33, Oregon 28: Huskies hold off upstart Beavers.

Arizona 35, USC 31: Look for Wildcat upset.

California 24, Oregon State 10: Bears do a little snacking.

Army 38, Air Force 28: Tougher, more focused team wins.

Utah State 28, New Mexico 24: Aggies rally for MWC win.

UNLV 31, Hawaii 28: Rebel run game is clicking.

Fresno State 27, BYU 24: Bulldogs more consistent.

Last week 5-6: Overall 74-34 (.685)