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Chance for MWC to show its stuff

LOS ANGELES — Tom Holmoe grew up in these parts, and the former University of California football coach knows the Coliseum like his Provo garage.

Now an assistant athletic director at BYU, Holmoe returned home this week to peddle Cougar Club memberships in the shadows of the place where O.J. Simpson and Marcus Allen once romped.

Holmoe once recruited this city like a telemarketer on steroids, from the haunts of Inglewood, Hawthorne and Long Beach to the Orange County coast towns that stretch toward San Diego.

Holmoe knows USC's thin and loaded days of football. He knows today the Trojans "have filled in the holes," and the monster has been set loose.

"When Paul Hackett was here, there were holes in his recruiting because USC lost some of their best local athletes to the Big Ten and Big 12. But in his last year, he started to turn it around and now, three years later, the Trojans are getting the top 10 or 12 players in the city to stay here and play — and boy can they play," Holmoe said.

This USC emergence catches BYU in the cross hairs today in the famed Coliseum. The Trojans were struggling back in the mid-90s when then BYU athletic director Rondo Fehlberg decided the Cougars needed a West Coast fix every year, one way or another, so Cougar salesmen like Holmoe could work over an alumni base in these parts.

Well, the fix is on today. No. 4-ranked USC has got BYU in its home opener here, and experts are predicting the Cougars will be spanked by at least 22 points.

Today's game headlines a rare weekend of MWC matchups with BSC teams. All eight MWC schools will face non-conference foes in what may be the biggest week of football the league has ever faced in its battle for respectability.

Can the Cougars defeat the rising Trojans here? Of course — if all the USC starters came down with food poisoning this morning.

Seriously, BYU has a small chance.

BYU is no talent-laden Auburn, a 23-0 loser to the Trojans last week. But BYU will throw a far more diverse schematic war plan at USC today. On offense, Auburn's vanilla "Bubba go right, Billy Joe go left" approach last week worked right into USC's defensive strength. BYU will spread out the Trojans, and the pass will be more effective.

Defensively, Auburn did nothing last week to confuse USC's young sophomore quarterback, Matt Lenart. BYU's defense, if it can be successful at stopping the run, will sack and force Lenart to make mistakes.

But will it be enough to get the job done? Here are this week's predictions:

SOUTHERN CAL 31, BYU 17: Cougars may beat the spread and make this interesting, but QB Matt Berry's hesitancy at making decisions and deliveries will lead to turnovers and Trojan momentum. Against these guys, slow is poison.

OHIO STATE 38, SAN DIEGO STATE 14: The Aztecs will lose by whatever score the Buckeyes decide is enough, and the Big Ten bully will immensely enjoy this second of five consecutive home games.

AIR FORCE 33, NORTHWESTERN 31: The option has it. The MWC's best chance at delivering a BCS victory comes in this matchup in Illinois.

CALIFORNIA 24, COLORADO STATE 21: The Ram pass defense got exposed by an average Colorado attack last week in Denver.

TEXAS TECH 28, NEW MEXICO 9: Watch the Red Raider air show bury the Lobos for the second year in a row.

UNLV 33, KANSAS 24: John Robinson needs a win to keep the attitude of his troops in tune for a race at the MWC upper echelon.

OKLAHOMA STATE 24, WYOMING 10: The Cowboys are undermanned against these 'Pokes.

TEXAS A&M 28, UTAH 24: Utah will give the Aggies a run, but these Texans are used to pounding it around with the likes of Brandon Warfield. Unless Utah hatches out an effective passing game, it will be a long trip home.

SOUTHERN UTAH 24, WEBER STATE 21: Quarterback experience is the difference in this in-state battle of the only schools left within Beehive boundaries this weekend.

NEBRASKA 45, UTAH STATE 10: Just take the money and run out of Lincoln.

Last week: 7-1; overall 7-1


E-mail: dharmon@desnews.com