Well, with all the Independence talk, the football season actually snuck up on me. So, without further delay, here is my BYU Season Preview.
Everyone made a big deal about BYU’s crumbling O-line at the beginning of last season. They were young and they were few. A year later, with a healthy, and now experienced OL, I look for this to be the key to offensive success this season. With a new starter (or 2) at QB, a solid offensive line is a must, and the Cougars have it. Matt Reynolds will be covering the blind side, and even I would have a shot at being a decent QB with him there.
Also in good shape on offense is the wide receivers. BYU is returning stars McKay Jacobson and O’Neill Chambers (both Juniors) as well as Spencer Hafoka and Luke Ashworth. A talented and experienced receiving crew should make the QB situation that much easier.
On defense, the secondary should set the tone, as it is returning starters Brandon Bradley, Brian Logan, and Andrew Rich. They have been described as the deepest secondary in Coach Mendenhall’s tenure. This group had the fourth best total defense in the MWC last year, and I expect them to have an even better showing this year.
Weaknesses and Perceived Weaknesses
Everyone’s question is, is this a reloading year, or a rebuilding year. The rebuilders point to several key positions that need replacing; Bronco points to his system, and says the players will be able to step up and execute. For now, I’ll share my areas of concern, and time will tell if the weaknesses were real, or just perceived.
The obvious? BYU is replacing the winningest QB in school history, the RB with the most rushing yards in school history, and the TE with most receiving yards and receptions in school history. It sure sounds like you lost a lot when you say it like that.
QB – Jake Heaps was rated by Scout.com as the #1 QB prospect in the incoming class. Riley Nelson was a starter at Utah State before jumping ship to BYU and being Max Hall’s backup. Bronco’s move to utilize both QB’s has drawn a lot of criticism. Proponents point to Florida a la Tebow/Leak combination. The move certainly is a good way for Bronco to allow Heaps the ability to earn his place as starter, while still recognizing the talent and dedication that Nelson has shown. Again, only time will tell if the move was genius, or a huge mistake.
With the RB’s, we do have Brian Kariya and JJ Di Luigi returning. If memory serves correctly, these two filled in during Unga’s absence for the Oklahoma and Tulane games, and did so quite convincingly. While teams may not have to prepare for someone of the star caliber of Unga, BYU should be confident in the ability of these seasoned RB’s.
The TE position is more difficult to predict. There is no immediate replacement for Pitta or George. Coach Mendenhall said in his press conference today that if the TE’s aren’t able to execute as well as expected, we may see the slot receiver position taken over by someone from the WR group, maybe Chambers.
On defense, five of the front seven of BYU’s 3-4 scheme were replaced, leaving behind Jordan Pendleton and Romney Fuga. Returning from a mission though, is Sophomore Eathyn Manamaleuna, who was responsible for blocking the UCLA’s game-winning field goal attempt in the 2007 Las Vegas Bowl. This group, while not starters, is made up of a good group of upper classmen, and ought to be solid for the Cougars, especially later in the season.
Season Prediction (10-2 Overall, 7-1 MWC)
Most BYU projections are not as rosy as what I have shown here. I have seen some as low as 6-6 overall. I don’t feel that the weaknesses others see will translate to losses. I think Florida State will still be too much for us this year, as well as TCU. I really thought last year was our year to beat TCU, and Bronco said he felt that they were as prepared as he thought they could have been. I’m picking TCU to win the conference, with BYU 2nd. Somehow, the Cougars will land in the Las Vegas Bowl. It doesn’t seem reasonable to pick anywhere else. The Pac-10 is very muddled this year, and despite USC not being bowl eligible, I think Stanford could end up finishing behind the Oregon schools and Arizona. UW may be more likely, but I’d only want to see them again this season if we need a rematch (like UCLA 2007).
Sept. 4 – Washington – W 24-17
Sept. 11 – @ Air Force – W 28-14
Sept. 18 – @ Florida State – L 35-17
Sept. 25 – Nevada – W 38-21
Oct. 1 – @ Utah State – W 42-14
Oct. 9 – San Diego State – W 24-7
Oct. 16 – @ TCU – L 42-35
Oct. 23 – Wyoming – W 49-6
Nov. 6 – UNLV – W 38-0
Nov. 13 – @ Colorado State – W 45-10
Nov. 20 – New Mexico – W 35-3
Nov. 27 – @ Utah – W 31-28 (OT)
Las Vegas Bowl Dec. 22 – Stanford – W 38-17