You can just imagine the fun local radio DJs in Tucson and Provo might be having right about now, cuing up some vintage Stray Cats tracks or Ted Nugent’s annoying “Cat Scratch Fever.” Anything that might playfully tease the nerve-wrenching excitement building up in both college towns for the season opener between these former Cat vs. Cat┬árivals, right?

Seriously. Check out the fan message boards for the BYU Cougars and Arizona Wildcats. You can literally feel the pressure cooker of expectations fans have heaped upon Mike Stoops and Bronco Mendenhall and their troops to finally turn the corner and bring more than just respectability back to their once revered programs.

Both coaches will tell you that this game is not the end of the world if it gets chalked up in the loss column. They each respect the other’s rebuilding efforts and the strategies deployed to get the most mileage out of their own talent. The truth is, though, it will be difficult for either Mendenhall or Stoops to conjure up a moral victory out of defeat this weekend. Not when the line is tilted just slightly over six points toward AZ. That’s a spread the Wildcats are counting to defend and the Cougars are poised to bend. They won’t settle for anything less. Neither will their fans.

Arizona is expected to have one of the stingiest defenses in the West this year and BYU sports its most potent offense since the Doman and Staley Show in 2001. Conversely, the Cougar defense is just as suspect as ever (until proven innocent) while the Wildcats’ offense will benefit from having Willie Tuitama at the helm from the get-go this season.

Yep, the oddsmakers’ six-plus on Arizona looks pretty solid, but is there anything we can learn about this game from the numbers in the past? Perhaps. If not, they’re always fun to noodle around, especially before the bullets start flying in this Wild West shootout.

To begin with, the rivalry that used to exist between these schools didn’t really begin until 1962 when they both were members of the old Western Athletic Conference. Prior to that, three games had been played in 1936, 1957 and 1959–all hosted by Arizona–resulting in one win, one loss and one tie for each program.

The next five games were also road trips for Brigham Young, something unheard of by today’s Division I scheduling standards, with Arizona rolling off three consecutive wins (1962-64) followed by BYU’s own three-game win streak from 1965-67. From thereon, the Cougars were actually allowed to be the home team on occasion and the series went 4-6 in favor of the Wildcats, which brings us to the present day where the series now stands at 8-10-1 for the Blue and White, or 10-8-1 for the Blue and Red, however you prefer.

The Cougars’ two greatest all-time coaches both managed .500 win-loss records against Arizona. Tommy Hudspeth was 4-4 and leading the charge when his squads rolled off three straight conquests over the ‘Cats. LaVell Edwards’ boys went 3-3 against AZ, but clearly turned the corner on the rivalry with two utterly explosive and dominating wins in 1974 (37-13) and 1977 (34-14).

After the 1977 spanking, the Wildcats were more than happy to associate their litter box with the former Pac-8 Conference. How could they possibly move their program forward if they were going to be tarred and furred regularly by a lowly WAC school they had once seemed to dominate?

Yes, the Lavell Edwards era was the turning point in this rivalry and, of course, Edwards established how BYU’s Cougars would come to be recognized in post-1970s college football lore. Prior to Edwards’ reign, Arizona held an 18.6 to 16.8 scoring average over BYU. Under the stoic, pass-happy Master, the Cougs held a 21.8 to 20.6 scoring advantage, thanks to a five-point jump in offensive output in six years. For you non-statsmeisters, that’s a huge turnaround by any method of measurement.

So, that’s the table Edwards & Co. set for this week’s renewal of the rivalry. Twenty-nine years have passed since their last clash with Arizona, but the handoff given to Coach Mendenhall is a two-game winning streak and the potential to return to the glory days of the past.

Is there anything to make of the numbers we can cull from last year? Absolutely. Here’s the key numbers that will most likely decide this contest:

Arizona returns its top four receivers from last year — Anthony Johnson, Syndric Steptoe, Mike Thomas and Brad Wood (2005 output: 148 receptions, 1,987 yards and 15 TDs) who should thoroughly dominate BYU’s back four. Folks, it probably won’t be pretty. Remember the Notre Dame game last year? Enough said. Sophomore QB Willie Tuitama has five games under his belt. He’s big, accurate and can scramble for yardage if need be. If he stays healthy, he’s easily a Heisman candidate his next two years in the desert.

The Wildcats’ defensive backfield is led by veterans Antoine Cason, Michael Johnson and Wilrey Fontenot (nine interceptions from this trio in 2005). These ‘Catbacks will be playing lockdown Air Traffic Control on BYU’s passing game. It will be a bloody miracle if the Cougars can go deep vertical on this crew. Don’t bet on it happening.

On Brigham Young’s part, there are three keys to win this game, and trust me, this is not rocket science strategy. It’s all about prevailing in smash-mouth trench warfare. The Cougars have to win this game on both sides of the line and through special teams play. Solid line play on defense will force the Wildcats away from their gameplan and help to mask some of BYU’s DB weaknesses. That’s a lot to ask from a d-line sadly lacking game-time experience.

The Y offensive line has to give Curtis Brown (5.3 yards per carry and 14 TDs in ’05) and bruiser-cruiser Fui Vakapuna some consistent shafts of daylight to roll up the yardage on the ground and wear down Arizona’s front seven. John Beck must play mistake-free and use the short passing game with his tight ends to keep Wildcat linebackers from crowding the box. Special teams have to convert every field goal opportunity and create either turnovers or huge field position shifts with their kicking and coverage game.

What if BYU manages to pull off the upset in Tucson this weekend? Well, as Keith Jackson used to exclaim, “Katie, bar the door!” These Cougars just might have started cat-dancing their way far beyond what most number-crunchers are predicting for them in 2006.