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Times reporter Bob Condotta keeps the news coming about the Montlake Dawgs.

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September 5, 2008 4:44 PM

The pick --- BYU

Posted by Bob Condotta

After I published my pick last week, someone wrote in that I should include an "Intangibles'' category, as well, when doing my position-by-position comparisons. I never have because, for those who only read the blog, the comparison chart I put on here is the same one we use in the paper -- guess I could add to it, but for simplicity's sake, just never have.

Intangibles may never be more important than this week, however, considering all that is swirling about this game. For UW, some are portraying this as a win-or-else game for coach Tyrone Willingham, and who can really know how that will impact the players? On a team of 100 or so players, I imagine they all process that differently. For some, it may not go through their mind at all, preferring to instead just stay in the moment.

What may be more relevant is their confidence, which has to have taken a big hit after the disaster of last week. Having won just 12 games since 2004, how easily can the Huskies get back to the point of believing they can win this kind of game?

BYU, meanwhile, has won 12 games since the start of the 2007 season so it's confidence in general should be sky-high. What BYU hasn't done, however, is win a non-conference road game since 2002, what many view as its biggest hurdle to achieving its stated "Quest for Perfection'' this season.

The contrasting mental states of the two teams figures to make the start of tomorrow's game especially important --- should UW get down early, who knows if it could get back up? If UW gets ahead early, maybe then all those past road failures start to creep into BYU's collective head.

As for the position breakdowns, here's how I graded them:

QUARTERBACK --- BYU. A really tough call here. But while we all know Jake Locker has immense talent, he has yet to master UW's system, something that can't be said of Max Hall, who appears on his way to being yet another in the great line of BYU QBs. The two are vastly different -- Hall pretty much just a drop-back guy. But before dismissing Hall as a system QB, keep in mind he spent a year at ASU in 2004 and some thought he was ahead of Rudy Carpenter at the time. Locker's health also still may be an issue. It was last week, obviously. If he's back to 100 percent, however, this is a check mark that could go UW's way by game's end.

RUNNING BACK --- BYU. Another one that's a little hard to read. Chris Polk is a lot better than he looked last week, and if he gets more time to run, he should break out. But Brandon Johnson's injury means there will apparently be no one experienced behind Polk. For BYU, Harvey Unga is a proven commodity (1,227 yards last season). A slight edge to the Cougars based on experience.

RECEIVER --- BYU. This checkmark is a little more bold than the others as the Cougars have a lot of experience here led by WR Austin Collie (116 catches for his career) and TE Dennis Pitta (11 catches last week). Collie was the MVP of the Vegas Bowl win over UCLA last year. UW's receiving corps got valuable experience last week and may look a lot better against a secondary that won't be anywhere near as good as it faced at Oregon.

OFFENSIVE LINE --- Tie. Okay, so I kind of took the easy way out on this one. This would have gone UW's way before last week when the line turned in a performance that leads to some serious wondering about whether it's been a little overrated. And remember that stat last week about offensive line starts being a key indicator of success with anything over 75 being good? BYU has 102 out of its four returning starters, the lone newcomer being freshmen left tackle Matt Reynolds, a 2005 Parade All-American who sat out since while on a mission. BYU has a veteran, experienced group up front that is the key to its offense.

DEFENSIVE LINE --- BYU. It's been well-noted that BYU loses eight defensive starters. But two of those return on the team's three-man defensive front, including the team's best defensive player, end Jan Jorgensen, who figures to be a key in containing Locker. I thought the UW defensive line had some promising moments last week, but it wore down late, which could be a problem again today.

LINEBACKERS --- UW. Despite the subpar performance of last week, this looms as an edge for the Huskies. BYU has just one returning starter among its four LBs, senior SLB David Nixon. This is an area of BYU's defense the Huskies will have to exploit with power running and speed.

SECONDARY --- BYU. Another tough call. There's definitely part of me that wonders about the difference in speed and athleticism between the Pac-10 and the MWC, something that often is most pronounced in this area. Just hard to give UW the edge over anybody in this area after what we saw last week, and last year, and especially considering the matchup today of UW's secondary against BYU's receivers. But this sounds like the biggest question mark on BYU's team.

SPECIAL TEAMS --- Tie. UW's special teams weren't very good last week, but it's also hard to get a read on BYU's sophomore PK Mitch Payne has never made an FG longer than 42 yards and had a PAT blocked last week and the returnees are unproven. UW simply has to be better than it was here last week.

Add it up, and it looks like a fairly dominant win for BYU. What's always hard to tell, however, is how much of BYU's numbers --- and hence, its perceived ability --- is due to the schedule. Is there still a big talent difference between MWC and the Pac-10?

I'm thinking there still is a little, which to me evens out things here a little bit. So does the home-field advantage and the fact that UW simply has to be able to play better than it did last week.

I think UW will get the offense going a little bit, maybe get a big play or two on special teams, and will keep this close throughout. But ultimately, I see the visitors using their experience to take home a much-desired win, 38-34.

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