BYU-Notre Dame Game Day Odds and Edges

BYU is chock full of players with unproven talent on the field. But don't underestimate the word "talent" because I don't use it haphazardly. I have witnessed the most significant upgrade in talent and overall athleticism during fall practice I have ever seen during the preseason at BYU.

This is especially evident in the wide receiver and defensive end positions. BYU's talent in these positions could dominate Notre Dame advantage at other positions and should pave the way for a Cougar victory.

DEFENSIVE TACKLES:

BYU
Daniel Marquardt is healthy and will anchor the middle of BYU's front line. Marquardt, 6-2, 315 pounds, has two years experience at the position and is very consistent. He has one of the strongest lower bodies on the entire team, an important requirement for success in plugging and dominating the middle front. He will not be pushed around easily.

Backing up Marquardt will be junior college All-American Vince Feula. At 6-0 and 300 pounds, Feula, a freshman DT starter at the University of Arizona before academic deficiencies forced him to enroll at a JC, is a prototype defensive tackle "wide body" playing his first game as a Cougar. He is exceptionally strong. Feula came on toward the end of fall camp and saw a lot of reps with the first team. He held his own.

Although Manaia Brown is listed as the starting left end for today's game, he will likely see a fair number of game snaps as a second defensive tackle if linebacker Brady Poppinga lines up in a three-point stance alongside him.

Notre Dame
Their primary defensive tackles will consist of 6-6, 295 pound senior Greg Pauly, a part-time starter last season, joined by Derek Landri (6-2, 275) and Trevor Laws (6-0, 285) a junior and sophomore respectively, and relatively inexperienced. EDGE: BYU. Daniel Marquardt is a proven commodity and Vince Feula's upside is tremendous. DEFENSIVE ENDS:

BYU
Manaia Brown (6-4, 315) being moved to defensive end is a testament to his overall athleticism, quickness and speed. Brown has been hampered by injuries since he transferred from Nebraska, but has been unblockable in practice this fall. With his reported 4.8/40 speed and exceptional lower body strength, is upside is possibly greater than any defensive lineman on the field for both sides.

Brown will have Shaun Nua (6-5, 270) playing the opposite side alongside Marquardt. Like Brown, Nua was also consistently unblockable during fall camp. The co-starter on Nua's side is John Denney (6-6, 275), who has played extensively over the past two seasons and even yielded several interceptions last year. Michael Marquardt (6-4, 260) will back up Brown.

Notre Dame
The Irish boast All-American candidate Justin Tuck (6-4, 265), whose 13.5 sacks last season is mightily impressive. He is their lead defensive lineman and probably best defensive player. Tuck is as good as they come and BYU's offensive line will have their work cut out for them blocking against this ferocious pass rusher.

Alongside him are returning starters Kyle Budinscak (6-4, 275) and Victor Abiamiri (6-4, 269), who has as much upside as Tuck. EDGE: NOTRE DAME. The Irish defensive ends have proven themselves on the field. BYU may prove to be equal or better at this position today, but until they do, the edge goes to Notre Dame.

LINEBACKERS:

BYU
Three new linebackers will start for BYU – Cameron Jensen (6-2, 230), Brady Poppinga (6-3, 257) and Markell Staffieri (6-3, 230) or co-starter Justin Luettgerodt (6-4, 240), a JC All-American last year.

Jensen has been solid throughout fall camp and Poppinga was BYU's most impressive defensive lineman last season.

Notre Dame The Irish are very strong at linebacker, returning two starters and another who played prior to the 2003 season They are Mike Goolsby (6-2, 242), Brandon Hoyte (5-11, 231) and Derek Curry (6-3, 235).

EDGE: NOTRE DAME. Based on experience alone, the Irish have a clear advantage.

SAFETIES:

BYU
Aaron Francisco (6-2, 215) leads this group for Bronco Mendenhall. Francisco is as good as they come at manning the middle and can pack a wallop. He'll be flanked by the very experienced and steady Jon Burbidge (6-0, 200) and Spencer White (6-1, 185).

Notre Dame
Leading the Irish will be free safety Quentin Burrell (6-0, 195), who started the latter half of the season for Notre Dame and had four interceptions. He'll be joined primarily by sophomore Freddie Parrish (6-0, 202), who saw time as a nickel back last season as a freshman.

EDGE: BYU. Experience again gets the nod.

CORNERBACKS:

BYU
The Cougars rely on Brandon Heaney (5-11, 185), a battle-tested senior with frequent shoulder problems during the past two seasons. He is a great cover corner and a quiet inspirational leader of the defense.

On the opposite side will be track speedster Nathan Soelberg (6-0, 170) and veteran Micah Alba (5-8, 165), who both saw playing time last season. Kayle Buchanan (6-1, 194) will be Heaney's backup.

Notre Dame
Preston Jackson (5-9, 180) is Notre Dame's most experienced corner and is joined by Dwight Ellick (5-10, 185). Carlos Campbell (5-11, 195) will man the other side.

EDGE: BYU. Brandon Heaney is the main reason why.

OFFENSIVE LINE:

BYU
The Cougars return only one fulltime starter in Jake Kuresa (6-4, 340), who was switched to right tackle where he's flanked by former JC All-American defensive lineman Scott Young (6-5, 312). Young is unquestionably the strongest man on the team. Lance Reynolds, Jr. (6-3, 293) mans the center position for the first time after getting switched from linebacker.

The left side has 2003 part-time starter Eddie Keele (6-5, 285) at tackle and Brian Sanders (6-3, 316) at guard.

Notre Dame
The Irish offensive line returns four starters from a year ago. They are left tackle Ryan Harris (6-5, 279), who started as a freshman last year; Bob Morton (6-4, 300), who slides over after starting at center last season; right guard Dan Stevenson (6-5, 293) and right tackle Mark LeVoir (6-7, 310). The only returning non-starter is center John Sullivan (6-3, 295).

EDGE: NOTRE DAME. Experience counts.

TIGHT ENDS:

BYU
Daniel Coats (6-3, 250) leads the Cougars after a breakout freshman campaign. Coats' backup is true freshman Dennis Pitta 6-5, 220) and Jeremy Gillespie (6-5, 230).

Notre Dame
The Irish are lead by Billy Palmer (6-3, 256), who has seen playing time in 26 games. He'll be backed up by Anthony Fasano (6-4, 249).

EDGE: NOTRE DAME. Experience again rules the day – at least prior to kickoff.

WIDE RECEIVERS:

BYU
A lot of unproven talent highlights BYU's receiving corps headlined by JC All-American Todd Watkins (6-3, 195), the talk of BYU's camp since he arrived this past spring. He'll be joined by Jason Kukahiko (6-2, 190), who has been plagued by injuries the past couple of years; true freshman Austin Collie (6-1, 185); and Chris Hale (5-9, 175), BYU's second most productive receiver last year.

Supporting them will be former starter Rod Wilkerson (6-2, 190), Antwaun Harris (6-0, 195), a true freshman game breaker, B.J. Mathis (5-7. 170) and JC transfer Riley Weber (6-1, 185).

Notre Dame
The Irish return two excellent receivers in Rhema McKnight (6-1, 215), a speedster who was very productive a year ago. He'll be joined by Maurice Stovall (6-5, 227) on the opposite side. Converted quarterback Carlyle Holliday (6-3, 215) and Jeff Samardzija (6-5, 220) will be the backups.

EDGE: NOTRE DAME. You haven't proven anything until you show it on the field of play.

RUNNING BACKS:

BYU
Naufahu Tahi (6-0, 230) and Curtis Brown (6-0, 205) will be BYU's primary running backs. Both have experience and are solid. They'll be backed up by a couple of freshmen speedsters in Raymond Hudson (5-8, 185) and Bryce Mahuika (5-10, 185).

Notre Dame
The Irish will be led by Ryan Grant (6-1, 218) and fronted by fullback Rashon Powers-Neal (6-2, 243), a returning starter from a year ago.

EDGE: NOTRE DAME. They already have a 1,000 yard runner.

QUARTERBACKS:

BYU
John Beck (6-2, 205) took tremendous strides during the off-season and has the full confidence of his coach and teammates.

Notre Dame
Brady Quinn (6-4, 225) was a late starter last season taking over for Holliday and ended strong.

EDGE: NOTRE DAME. Experience.

SPECIAL TEAMS:

BYU
Matt Payne, an All-American candidate, is as good as they come both in place kicking and punting the football. He's one of the best in the nation.

Notre Dame
D.J. Fitzpatrick averaged over 36 yards per punt last season and also handles the place kicking responsibilities.

EDGE: BYU. Hands down.

FINAL SCORE PREDICTION: BYU 31 - Notre Dame 23

Keys of the game for BYU:

* The Cougar offensive line's ability to contain Notre Dame's exceptional defensive ends on passing plays. If they can give Beck time, he should be able to exploit a weak Irish secondary.

* If BYU wide receivers hook up with Beck early to open up underneath patterns and the running game, watch out for some Cougar fireworks. BYU didn't have a consistent and effective deep threat to speak of last season as defenses bottled up the Cougars offense effectively. Watkins, Harris and Collie must spread the field, beating Notre Dame deep – opening up other key facets of BYU's offense.

* Limiting turnovers: With so many first-year offensive players, it becomes a concern. If BYU hangs on to the ball, they should win.

* Running the ball effectively in short-yardage downs and the red zone. This was an area of extreme frustration last season. BYU must prove it can run the ball in key short yardage situations.

* Bottling up Notre Dame's potent running attack. Look for Notre Dame to try and pound the ball off left tackle often since that is their strength of their offensive line. Conversely, BYU's right side defensive front is not as strong as the left side where Manaia Brown and Brady Poppinga roam. Shawn Nua, John Denney, Markell Staffieri and Justin Luettgerodt must step up to meet the challenge.

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