Posted by Jerry Hinnen
BYU WILL WIN IF: Riley Nelson is who we think he is. The Cougar junior quarterback took over with his team down late (and down big) to in-state upstart Utah State Sept. 30, engineered a dramatic last-minute comeback, and never looked back. Over BYU's final eight games Nelson threw 16 touchdowns to just 5 interceptions, averaged a sterling 9.1 yards an attempt, and added an average 5 yards per his 75 rushing attempts for good measure. The catch is that he did this against the weaker two-thirds of the Cougar schedule; only two of those eight games came against competition outside the WAC or FCS, and one of those two -- vs. TCU -- was Nelson's worst outing of the season (51.7 completion percentage, 2 picks). The good news for BYU is that on paper, Tulsa's closer to the Idahos and Hawaiis of the world than TCU. The Golden Hurricane finished 118th in the FBS in pass defense, and though some of that was a schedule that handed them games against Landry Jones, Kellen Moore, Brandon Weeden and Case Keenum, much of it was also allowing 10 yards an attempt to North Texas and more than 9 to UCF. If Nelson is the quarterback he appeared to be over the closing stretch of the season, there's going to be plenty of opportunities for the Cougars to rack up major yards -- and points -- through the air.
TULSA WILL WIN IF: they can put a metric ton of points on the board. Who has the better defense in this matchup isn't really much of a question -- BYU's D ranks 16th, Tulsa's 89th -- but the Golden Hurricane have played a much tougher schedule and still boast the better offense at 454 yards per game and 6.18 per-play. Though the Hurricane defense has had its moments in 2011 (holding SMU to a single touchdown in a 38-7 laugher, most notably), the formula for Tulsa is the same as it's been ever since Gus Malzahn dropped in in 2007--ride the no-huddle offense to 35-45 points, and dare the opposing offense to execute well enough to do the same. And solid Cougar defense or not, with quarterback G.J. Kinne (2,859 yards, 8.0 YPA, 25-to-12 TD-to-INT ratio) and the tailback tag-team of Ja'Terian Douglas and Trey Watts (1,744 combined yards), the Hurricane have the horses to make it happen. This game isn't likely to become a slugfest, and if it somehow is, it's even less likely Tulsa wins it. But the Golden Hurricane proved over the course of whipping their first seven Conference USA opponents that a shootout tilts the odds heavily in their favor instead.
THE X-FACTOR: This doesn't shape up as the sort of game that would become a field goal kicking contest, but if it does, BYU's the team more likely to suffer for it. Sophomore Justin Sorenson hit just 14 of his 24 attempts this season while Tulsa boasts one of the nation's best placekickers in senior Kevin Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick was named first-team All-C-USA after connecting on 15 of his 17 attempts, and if the game hangs one kick, seems a much better bet to pull through than Sorenson.