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Y. hoping to shock Trojans

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PROVO — BYU tight end Daniel Coats relishes the underdog role. Good thing, because No. 4 Southern California is a three-touchdown favorite against the Cougars Saturday in Los Angeles.

"I love it," said the freshman from Layton. "It's great when there are no expectations and everything's a shock."

Can BYU shock USC?

"I think we will," Coats said. "If everyone thinks we're going to come down and get worked by 30 (points), we're going to shock some people. We're definitely not going there to lay down for nobody. We expect to win."

It's not often that the Cougars are 21-point underdogs. To open the 2000 season, then-No. 2 Florida State was a 24-point favorite against BYU in the Pigskin Classic in Jacksonville, Fla. The Seminoles won by 26 points, 29-3.

The Cougars have not fared well against nationally ranked opponents in recent years. They have lost seven of their last eight games against top 25 foes, dating back to 1998. Their lone victory during that span came against then-No. 23 Colorado State in 1999.

Saturday's contest marks the second time since 1997 that BYU has faced a top-five opponent. That season, BYU fell at home to then-No. 4 Washington, 42-20.

Since Gary Crowton took the helm of the program in 2001, the Cougars have played only one ranked team — then-No. 11 Louisville in the Liberty Bowl. The Cardinals won, 28-10.

Crowton isn't surprised USC is heavily favored. "They played so well against Auburn, I expected it," he said. "I think it's a good opportunity for us."

Said center Scott Jackson: "No one's expecting us to win, except ourselves. If we believe it, we can make it happen. We're not going in there to have a good showing. We're going there to win."

"They're definitely beatable," running back Reynaldo Brathwaite said of USC. "This is our chance to put the Mountain West on the map and BYU on the map. We're taking this as a once-in-a-lifetime chance."

CHOW TIME: USC offensive coordinator Norm Chow is doing his best to downplay his first meeting against his former team.

"We're looking forward to playing BYU. People can say what they want, but the fact that BYU is on the schedule as the home-opener makes it a critical game for us," Chow said. "We realize it's going to be an awfully tough one. Trying to figure out Bronco (Mendenhall)'s defense has kept us up late at night."

Chow said he didn't spend time planning for the Cougars during the off-season. "All summer long," he said, "our thoughts were strictly on Auburn."

Though it's been three years since Chow left BYU, he still has plenty of connections to the Cougar program. Chow spent 22 seasons as a BYU assistant under LaVell Edwards and he coached with several current staffers: offensive line coach Lance Reynolds, co-offensive coordinator Robbie Bosco, linebackers coach Barry Lamb and cornerbacks coach Brian Mitchell.

Chow was involved in recruiting BYU starting quarterback Matt Berry. A handful of other current players were at BYU during Chow's tenure, including Jackson, who redshirted as a true freshman in 1997.

"I thought he'd be a part of my life for a lot longer than he has been," Jackson said. "He's a great guy. I wish the best for him, though not on Saturday. He's very intense, meticulous about some things. I remember some of his phrases. I remember how he'd yell at some of the guys. I still remember how to block some of his plays."

BYU ON ABC: ABC-TV will broadcast Saturday's BYU-USC game to a split-national audience. ABC will carry the broadcast on the West Coast as well as in Utah, Idaho, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, northwest Nebraska, northern Iowa and northern Wisconsin. Keith Jackson will call the action with former NFL star Dan Fouts doing color analysis.

NOTES: USC's record in home-openers is 83-18-7. . . . The Trojans are 10-3-1 all-time against MWC teams, including 6-3 against Utah. . . . BYU is 27-49-1 all-time against the Pac-10. . . . USC and Stanford are the only Pac-10 teams that the Cougars have never met before in football. BYU hosts Stanford on Sept. 20. . . . The Cougars have won three straight games against Pac-10 teams. They beat Washington and Cal in 1999 and Cal in 2001.

E-mail: jeffc@desnews.com