Here’s our game preview box that will publish in tomorrow’s newspaper, taking a look at each position and offering a final score prediction.
WASHINGTON HUSKIES (8-4, 5-4 in Pac-12) vs. BRIGHAM YOUNG COUGARS (8-4, Independent)
6:30 p.m. Friday, AT&T Park, San Francisco; TV: ESPN; radio: 950-AM
THE MATCHUPS, THE EDGE
QUARTERBACK: Keith Price is wrapping up a senior season in which he threw 20 touchdown passes and only five interceptions, and has so far compiled the second-best single-season completion percentage in UW history (Price also has the No. 1 spot). BYU’s Taysom Hill is much more of a dual-threat, and leads his team in rushing with 1,211 yards. Hill, a sophomore, has also thrown for 2,645 yards this season, but completes just 54.1 percent of his passes. If you’re talking total package, Hill might be the more valuable player, though Price has him beat as a passer. THE EDGE: Washington
RUNNING BACKS: BYU probably gets the edge here against most teams, as Jamaal Williams averages 100 yards rushing per game and 5.9 yards per carry. But UW junior Bishop Sankey is the nation’s third-leading rusher and owns UW’s single-season record with 1,775 yards this season. Sankey gets the edge over nearly everyone. THE EDGE: Washington
RECEIVERS: Senior Cody Hoffman is Hill’s top target, leading the team with 45 catches for 727 yards and five touchdowns despite playing in only 10 games. Skyler Ridley (35 catches, 412 yards) and JD Falslev (30 catches, 280 yards) have been solid, too, though Mitch Mathews (23 catches, 397 yards) was lost for the season after nine games. The Huskies spread it around a little more, with Jaydon Mickens and Kevin Smith leading the way. Austin Seferian-Jenkins is a factor, too, as well as freshman Damore’ea Stringfellow, who has impressed during increased playing time since Kasen Williams went down for the season with a broken leg. THE EDGE: Washington
OFFENSIVE LINE: BYU has allowed 33 sacks this season, and is tied for 104th nationally in sacks per game. UW didn’t fare much better, allowing 30 sacks. Both teams block well for the run, though – BYU averages 5.3 yards per rush, with UW close behind at 5.1. These groups seem pretty even, but we’ll give a slight nod to BYU for being able to consistently open holes for the Cougars’ diverse rushing attack. THE EDGE: BYU.
DEFENSIVE LINE: BYU ranks 55th nationally in rushing defense, allowing 157.4 yards per game – but that number is a tad misleading, because the Cougars yield just 3.8 yards per rush, which is pretty solid. Senior nose tackle Eathyn Manumaleuna anchors a three-man front that also includes sophomores Bronson Kaufusi and Remington Peck. The Huskies aren’t quite as good as BYU against the run, but Hau’oli Kikaha leads a defense that has racked up 36 sacks this season – the majority of which have come from the defensive line – which is tied for 10th-most in the country. BYU has only 24. THE EDGE: Washington
LINEBACKERS: BYU starts a junior and three seniors at its four linebacker positions, including Kyle Van Noy, who was named to a few All-America teams the past two seasons. He will be the biggest obstacle for Sankey and UW’s running game. The Huskies are stout here, too, with Shaq Thompson, John Timu and Princeton Fuimaono combining to form a pretty formidable trio. But BYU’s experience, led by Van Noy, wins the slight edge here. THE EDGE: BYU
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Washington has the edge in interceptions (15 to BYU’s 12), and the Huskies also rank slightly higher in passing efficiency defense (UW ranks 11th, BYU 21st). The Cougars’ defensive backfield is experienced – all of their starting DBs are upperclassmen – but with playmakers like Marcus Peters and Sean Parker, this feels like a better UW group. THE EDGE: Washington
SPECIAL TEAMS: Travis Coons has been solid both punting and kicking all season – he’s fourth in the nation in made field-goal percentage – and hasn’t seemed to have any drop-off despite adding kickoff duties back to his job description. BYU kicker Justin Sorenson has also been solid, making 18 of his 22 attempts this season. UW has been a little better in punt coverage, and BYU has been a little better in kick coverage. BYU also ranks 12th nationally in kickoff returns. THE EDGE: BYU
INTANGIBLES: BYU is making its ninth bowl appearance in nine seasons under coach Bronco Mendenhall, and the Huskies are trying to pull together under interim coach Marques Tuiasosopo before Chris Petersen takes over.
THE PICK: Bowl games are often decided by which team wants to be there most. Is that Washington? The Huskies have a handful of seniors – Price, Parker and Smith among them – who want badly to win one last time, and for the ninth time this season, to prove the program is trending upward. BYU is trying to win its ninth game, too. Here’s a guess that Price gets it done for the Huskies. The pick: Washington 38, BYU 31.
Christian Caple can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @ChristianCaple