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Provo • The only defender among BYU's projected starting 11 against Washington State on Thursday night who has not started or played significantly in a college football game is Jordan Johnson, the redshirt sophomore from Springfield, Mass., who BYU basketball legend Danny Ainge helped steer to BYU.

Naturally, the 5-foot-10, 185-pound Johnson will stare across the line of scrimmage at WSU's best player, 6-4 receiver Marquess Wilson. A few days ago, ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit put Wilson fifth among his "best-kept secrets" in the country at receiver. Wilson, a junior, caught 82 passes for 1,388 yards last year, and should be utilized even more this year in new coach Mike Leach's "Air Raid" attack.

Johnson, one of the more confident Cougars, says he is ready for the challenge.

Wilson is "pretty tall," Johnson said. "I am 5-10, and he's got a few inches on me. But that's the way I like it. I have a [good] vertical [leap]. I can jump a little bit. So it will be fun going against him, come Thursday."

The Cougars almost always play zone in the secondary, but Johnson said he is ready to go one-on-one with the potential All-American.

"I feel like I can play him man-up," Johnson said. "And our defense, we have some schemes [to cover Wilson]. … So I will be good."

BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said "just the number of times the ball goes in the air, and the number of snaps you have to defend," is what concerns him most about the Air Raid.

"We think they will be good with it the very first game," he said of Leach's newly installed offense.

Both Cougars have tough opener

In the Pac-12 coaches' teleconference on Tuesday, Leach was asked about playing a "tough" team such as BYU in the opener, instead of a cupcake.

"I haven't spent much time thinking about it," Leach said. "I don't have any control over it. You line up and get as good as you can each day and go out and get it done, ya know."

Mendenhall said Monday that he is not sure when BYU will make the trip to Pullman, Wash., but acknowledged scheduling as an independent pretty much ensures the Cougars will always have difficult games in late August and September.

"We are still looking for as much balance as we can get on our schedule. We also like good opponents to come to Provo and play. More of them are willing early than late, and so that helps," he said.

Everybody will be watching

Viewers on Thursday should get ready for the scheduled 8:15 p.m. BYU-Washington State game on ESPN to be joined in progress, because ESPN is also televising the 5 p.m. (MDT) South Carolina at Vanderbilt game. Mendenhall says there is a reason the clash of Cougars was picked up by ESPN.

"I don't think it is random, and I don't think it is by accident," he said. "I don't think they had a blindfolded executive at ESPN that threw a dart at 123 teams and just happened to hit BYU. I think it was well-thought out and planned, and that's an honor."


BYU leads the all-time series 2-1, with the blue Cougars having won 38-36 at the 1981 Holiday Bowl and 50-36 in Provo in 1990. Washington State beat BYU 46-41 in Provo in 1989 as the teams combined for 1,036 total yards. … With backup mike linebacker Zac Stout nursing an Achilles injury, Mendenhall said Uona Kaveinga's backup will likely be Oregon State transfer Uani Unga on Thursday.

Twitter: @drewjay