2011 BYU Preview
BYU LB Jordan Pendleton
BYU LB Jordan Pendleton
Posted May 18, 2011

The schedule has a slew of road landmines to deal with, and consistency is still a question in several areas, but BYU has all the makings of a team you need to watch out for. Unlike last year, the Cougars are loaded with depth, experience, lots of talent, and now as an independent and with a slew of new coaches, a renewed energy.

BYU Cougars

Preview 2011 

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Bronco Mendenhall
7th year: 56-21
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 31, Def. 29, ST 6
Lettermen Lost: 13
Ten Best BYU Players
1. OT Matt Reynolds, Sr.
2. QB Jake Heaps, Soph.
3. NT Romney Fuga, Jr.
4. RB J.J. Di Luigi, Sr.
5. OT Braden Brown, Jr.
6. LB Jordan Pendleton, Sr.
7. LB Brandon Ogletree, Jr.
8. C Terence Brown, Sr.
9. WR Cody Hoffman, Soph.
10. S Daniel Sorensen, Soph.
2011 Schedule

Sep. 3 at Ole Miss
Sep. 10 at Texas
Sep. 17 Utah
Sep. 23 UCF
Sep. 30 Utah State
Oct. 8 San Jose State
Oct. 15 at Oregon State
Oct. 22 Idaho State
Oct. 28 TCU (in Dallas)
Nov. 12 Idaho
Nov. 19 NMSU
Dec. 3 at Hawaii

There's an old adage that when a team is struggling, you can't fire the players so you start firing coaches, but BYU's change in attitude came from out of left field and might have been a preemptive strike that should work.

Even with a disastrous start losing four of the first five games and five of the first seven, head coach Bronco Mendenhall was under no pressure whatsoever. After starting out his coaching career going 45-15 and with the glory starting to be restored, there was no hot seat to worry about in what everyone knew was a rebuilding and reloading season, but that didn't matter.

Forget that the Cougars were forced to break in a true freshman, but supremely talented, quarterback in Jake Heaps, and forget that the offense lost two superior tight ends in Dennis Pitta and Andrew George, and forget that the offensive line wasn't quite jelling. Also forget that the defense had a hard time finding a groove against strong offenses like Air Force, Florida State, Nevada, and TCU, and forget that everything was going to be fine over the second half of the year when the schedule got nice and breezy. Mendenhall didn't like the team's attitude, and he came out and said he didn't like the "energy," so over the course of a few months he started to change things up.

Out went defensive coordinator Jaime Hill and in came Mendenhall himself to fire up the D. Out went offensive coordinator Robert Anae to Arizona, and in this January came former BYU star quarterback Brandon Doman to run the attack. Mendenhall also brought in a slew of new assistants like Joe DuPaix to handle the running backs and former defensive star Kelly Poppinga to deal with the linebackers, and now the program is full of new ideas, new energy, and new talents just in time for the big move.

BYU becoming an independent didn't exactly send Nebraska-to-the-Big Ten shockwaves through the college football world, but it did provoke a slew of head scratches. For a variety of reasons, from certain research and educational factors to the religious aspect, BYU wasn't going to be invited into the Pac-12. When that became apparent and Utah got the call to go into the big leagues, BYU had to do something major (but, as rumor has it, there was no interest in the Big East). However, instead of becoming an anchor and a big fish for a Mountain West that appeared to be just this close to becoming a BCS-level conference, with Boise State coming in and with TCU, before later signing on with the Big East, BYU bailed and went on its own as an independent. It's early, but the desired effect appears to be achieved.

It's becoming a big deal that BYU is scheduling several big games down the road, and it gets to pick and choose its dates to create a nice slate tailored around becoming a bigger national player, but more than anything else, it all comes down to the team's play.

After the struggles of last year, everything now appears to be in place to come up with a huge season. Heaps has matured, and now the nation's No. 1 recruit of 2010 knows what he's doing, and he has a loaded offense to work with highlighted by a tremendous line and a deep group of skill players. Under the eye of Doman, the offense started to click this offseason, and after a fantastic second half of last season, expect the explosion to come.

The defense that wasn't up-to-snuff last year against the better offenses might not be a killer, but it's full of veterans and has the depth needed to keep a rotation going at every position. The front three gets tackle Romney Fuga back from a knee injury, safety Daniel Sorensen appears ready to have a special season after coming back from a church mission, and the linebacking corps has playmakers across the board. Add the good special teams and strong kicking game, and BYU appears ready to be BYU again.

Some of the previously great BYU teams were mirages, with pumped up great records and big stats with one or two strong wins to hang their hat on. This team is different. It's deep, it's talented, and it could be very, very good. If it can come up with road wins at Ole Miss and Texas to start the season, this whole independent thing might not be so bad after all.

What to watch for on offense: The offensive line. Led by All-American Matt Reynolds, the line was fine last season. Right tackle Brandon Brown and center Terence Brown earned all-star honors, and guard Braden Hansen wasn't far off, but it struggled a bit early on and found its stride over the second half of the year. Now, assuming the right guard situation sorts itself out, the line should be a rock. That means that sophomore QB Jake Heaps should get two days to work, and the quick, talented slew of running backs should be able to crank out big yards on a regular basis. Of course, that means that offense should blow up like Cougar fans are used to.

What to watch for on defense: The front three to be impenetrable on the inside. The pass rush will likely come from outside linebackers Brandon Ogletree and Jameson Frazier, and the secondary will do its part to get into the backfield from time to time, but it'll all revolve around a big, deep front three. Ends Matt Putnam and Eathyn Manumaleuna are built for the 3-4, and the return of Romney Fuga from a knee injury should be a huge boost for the run defense. The back eight might not be full of big talents, but everyone will fly around because the line will do its job.

The team will be far better if … the running game works. Conveniently, the offense worked against the weak and the sad on the schedule, with all due respect to Washington in the opener, and it died against the better teams. Yeah, hanging up 144 points in three weeks against UNLV, Colorado State, and New Mexico looks splashy, but being held to 16 points against Utah, three against TCU, and a total of 37 points against Air Force, Florida State, and Nevada was more indicative of the offense. The addition of Brandon Doman should help the cause, and it'll help if he can get the ground game going. BYU shocked San Diego State 24-21 after running for 271 yards and three scores, and went 6-1 on the season when running for 200 yards or more. In the seven wins, BYU ran for 16 touchdowns, and ran for just seven in the six losses.

The schedule: The new independent slate is certainly interesting. The key will be to get off to a hot start, being tested at Ole Miss and Texas before the rivalry date against Utah that normally comes late in the year. Dealing with Conference USA power UCF won't be a layup, but if the Cougars are good enough to beat Texas, they'll be able to handle the Knights. There are some landmines over the second half of the year with a trip to Oregon State and a date against TCU in Arlington, but there are enough layups against the San Jose States and New Mexico States of the world to get by. BYU will go bowling, but closing out the regular season at Hawaii is a nice bonus for the players.

Best offensive player: Senior OT Matt Reynolds. A star for the Cougar line for years, he's among the nation's best all-around collegiate blockers. The 6-6, 322-pounder will play at the next level, but he doesn't have the feet to be a pro left tackle and will make his money on the right side or at guard, but for now, he'll keep Jake Heaps upright and clean. As good as Reynolds is, the goal and the hope will be for Heaps to be the team's signature star early on. That'll happen if and when Reynolds does his job as expected.

Best defensive player: Junior DT Romney Fuga. It's a positive that BYU doesn't have any one defensive player who stands out. Players like linebackers Brandon Ogletree and Jordan Pendleton, rising safety Daniel Sorensen, and any one of a number of other players could turn out to be the team's top defensive star, but it's Fuga who should be the key piece of the puzzle. The 6-2, 307-pound rock of a nose tackle is strong, quick, and able to be the one the entire defense works around.

Key player to a successful season: Sophomore QB Jake Heaps. There's experience and depth on defense, the offensive line should be great, and there are enough good skill players to make the offense explode. Now Heaps has to live up to the billing. Considered by many to be the nation's top recruit last year, or at the very least the top quarterback, he's not all that big and he doesn't have a cannon, but he could be a perfect fit for the Brandon Doman offense. He'll dink and dunk teams to death, and if he can make a jump up in his play, which he appears ready to do after a strong offseason, the season has the potential to be special.

The season will be a success if … BYU wins ten games. Beating TCU in Arlington will be tough, and it's asking a lot to beat Texas on the road, but every other game is winnable for a veteran team like this. A 9-3 regular season and a bowl win isn't too much to ask for, but several key parts of the equation have to improve after an inconsistent 2010.

Key game: Sept. 3 at Ole Miss. A few losses are expected and acceptable, but one can't come right out of the shoot. Going independent should bring BYU a little more national notoriety because now it can play a truly national schedule, and it'll make the program a boatload of money. However, this only really works if the wins come, and if the Cougars lose the season opener against Ole Miss, it'll take wins over Texas, Utah, and later Oregon State and TCU to get on the national map. Beat an SEC team, even a mediocre one like Ole Miss, and the respect will start to come.

2010 Fun Stats:
- First Quarter Scoring: BYU 121 – Opponents 47
- Fourth Quarter Scoring: Opponents 86 – BYU 55
- Time of Possession: BYU 31:15 – Opponents 28:45

- 2011 BYU Preview | 2011 BYU Offense
- 2011 BYU Defense | 2011 BYU Depth Chart
- BYU Previews  2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006