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Provo • Although BYU football coaches have not officially acknowledged it, indications are strong that senior James Lark will be the Cougars' starting quarterback on Saturday in the regular-season finale against New Mexico State.
Lark has taken most, if not all, of the reps in practices this week as starter Riley Nelson recovers from a rib cartilage injury he suffered in last week's 20-14 loss at San Jose State.
Tuesday, the last day that BYU allowed media members access to players and coaches, Lark said getting his first career start after five years in the program would mean a lot to him.
"I am not letting myself think much about that. I am just preparing to play. If I got the start, I would love it. I am ready to play. I have been ready to play every week. So it would mean a lot, but right now I am focused on just getting ready, if the opportunity comes," he said.
Of course, Lark has been in this situation before. With Nelson having suffered fractures to several vertebrae in his back against Weber State, Lark took all the reps in the practices leading up to the Utah game, only to learn hours before kickoff that coaches were going to stick with Nelson.
"I have been waiting for this for quite a while, for the opportunity just to get in and sling it around in practice," Lark said earlier this week. "We are not dwelling on the loss we just had. Guys came out and worked hard."
Even last week, Lark was warming up and ready to enter the game late as Nelson writhed on the bench in pain. But after the Cougars recovered an onside kick against the Spartans, Nelson grabbed his helmet and ran back into the game.
Nelson is "probably the toughest kid I have ever seen on the football field. That kid will go in with a broken back, hurt ribs, whatever it is. He is in there playing, and he's not going to come out. He's one of the toughest kids I've known, and so I am impressed by him," Lark said.
Offensive coordinator Brandon Doman said coaches were hoping to have a decision regarding the starting quarterback made by the middle of the week.
"We have been a little up and down [offensively]," Doman said. "I would like to see us have a consistent week of practice, and I would like to see us have a consistent game. And whether we moved it or not or have great success, as long as we are consistent and secure the football, I will feel like it was a successful Saturday."
Receiver Cody Hoffman suffered a slight AC joint strain in his shoulder against the Spartans, but practiced all week and should play against the Spartans.
"I would say by Saturday he will be good to go," said BYU head athletic trainer Jeff Hurst.
Senior center Braden Hansen missed two games after suffering a groin tear against Notre Dame, but played against San Jose State. He is also expected to play against NMSU.
New Mexico State coach DeWayne Walker spent one season at BYU (1994) as a secondary coach. ... The Cougars are 4-3 in regular-season finales under coach Bronco Mendenhall. ... BYU is 23-8-1 in games played in the state of New Mexico.