2012 BYU Preview - BCS Or Bust
BYU QB Riley Nelson
BYU QB Riley Nelson
Posted Jun 12, 2012

CollegeFootballNews.com Preview 2012 - BYU Cougars.

BYU Cougars

Preview 2012 

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Bronco Mendenhall
8th year: 66-24
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 26, Def. 24, ST 5
Lettermen Lost: 24
Ten Best BYU Players
1. WR Cody Hoffman, Jr.
2. LB Kyle Van Noy, Jr.
3. OT Braden Brown, Sr.
4. OG Braden Hansen, Sr.
5. LB Brandon Ogletree, Sr.
6. S Daniel Sorensen, Jr.
7. CB Preston Hadley, Sr.
8. QB Riley Nelson, Sr.
9. LB Uona Kaveinga, Sr.
10. DT Romney Fuga, Sr.
2012 Schedule

Sept. 1 Washington State
Sept. 8 Weber State
Sept. 15 at Utah
Sept. 22 at Boise State
Sept. 29 Hawaii
Oct. 5 Utah State
Oct. 13 Oregon State
Oct. 20 at Notre Dame
Oct. 27 at Georgia Tech
Nov. 10 Idaho
Nov. 17 at San Jose State
Nov. 24 at New Mexico State

Just when things couldn't get any darker, the dawn arrived.

Coming off a tremendously disappointing 7-6, 2010 season, even with a blowout over UTEP in the New Mexico Bowl, the Cougars needed to come out roaring. Instead, they didn't get any offense in a one-point win over Ole Miss and a one-point loss to Texas. And then came the low point – a 54-10 home loss to archrival Utah for a 1-2 start.

With no conference title to play for, life as an independent didn't seem like it was all that much fun and there wasn't exactly anything left to get pumped up about with the bowl tie-in to the Armed Forces Bowl already set. But then a funny thing happened.

The schedule got easier.

Yes, Riley Nelson stepped in at quarterback and the offense started to move, and yet, the defense did a great job after the debacle against the Utes, but the answer to the turnaround really was as simple as a lighter slate. It took minor miracles to get by UCF and Utah State, but those two weren't exactly BCS powerhouses and the offense didn't exactly light them up like a Christmas tree.

The Cougars closed out the season going 9-1, but the one loss was to the one strong team left to play after the game against Utah, TCU, and there were only two wins on the season over teams that went to bowl games – and one game over Tulsa in the bowl.

So which is it? Is BYU a mirage that came up with an overinflated 10-3 season beating a bunch of schlock, or was last season a stepping stone to bigger and better things?

The problem for BYU as an independent is that it's BCS or bust now – there are no bigger and better things without going at least 11-1. No one goes into a season hoping to end up in the Poinsettia Bowl.

As an independent, BYU has to start being honest with itself. Sure, it wants to build things up to be at a BCS title level, and the coaching staff appears to be in place to continue to do bit things and put up nice records, but ever since beating a terrific Utah team late in the 2009 season, followed up by Las Vegas Bowl win over Oregon State, 12 of the last 17 wins came against teams that didn't finish with a winning record with lots and lots of beating up on the weak and the sad. However, this year's Cougars might just turn out to be good enough have a great record and some more wins over the better teams.

Maturity is never a problem for BYU thanks to all the church missions, but this season there's a great blend of talent and experience to go along with the age. Enough key starters return to demand even more production on an offense that was way too hit-or-miss last year. Nelson is firmly entrenched as the starting quarterback, and he has nice weapons to work with led by rising star Cody Hoffman. The line should be even stronger despite the loss of mainstay left tackle Matt Reynolds, and the running back by committee approach should be solid.

The defense has the potential to be phenomenal. Again, the schedule had a lot to do with last year's stats, but the Bronco Mendenhall-led D really was that good at times despite the lack of a steady pass rush and without enough takeaways. The linebacking corps will be a disruptive force while the front three is a massive wall that should be tough to get through. If the pass rush is any better, the veteran secondary should come up with a repeat of last year's good performance. Throw in the special teams that welcomes back all the parts and everything is there for another ten-win season, or better.

No, no one dreams of the Poinsettia Bowl, but with the right upset and the right exposure that will come from playing Utah, Boise State, Georgia Tech and Notre Dame, the opportunity is there for BYU to be a truly special independent.

What to watch for on offense: The receiving corps. Michael Alisa is a promising big back who'll pound away on a tough and talented line, but the Cougars will go as far as the receivers can carry the load. Cody Hoffman is a big, tall, physical No. 1 target with dangerous deep speed, while running mates Ross Apo and J.D. Falslev should come up with huge seasons if the quarterback play is solid. With one-time super-recruit Jake Heaps transferring to Kansas, Riley Nelson has to prove he can bomb away a bit more while also showing he can stay healthy. He has the receivers to make the stats shine.

What to watch for on defense: Even more aggressiveness from the linebacking corps. There was an interesting trickle-down effect last season that ended up flatlining for a defense that held its own. There wasn't much of a pass rush when Kyle Van Noy wasn't getting the job done, and that meant the secondary had to work its tail off and that meant there weren't enough picks and other big plays. The Cougars can't sit back and wait to be picked apart by Washington State, Boise State, Utah and Hawaii, and they're going to have to figure out how to generate more pressure into the backfield.

The team will be far better if … it can stay healthy. The team struggled to find a rhythm and consistency this offseason with player after player suffering from one ailment or another – shoulder injuries were particularly popular. As always, BYU has grown men playing college football thanks to all the church missions, but the depth in most spots is sorely lacking. The starting 22 has the talent and experience to beat anyone and everyone on the schedule, but even with a decent rotation expected at running back, defensive end and receiver, a slew of injuries could turn an 11-1 BCS season into a 9-3 Poinsettia Bowl campaign really, really quickly.

The schedule: As long as the Cougars don't gag away the games they're supposed to win, it'll come down to a four game season. Starting off against Washington State as Mike Leach kicks off his era should be fun, and a shootout against Norm Chow and Hawaii will create several interesting storylines, but those two home games are wrapped around road dates at Utah and Boise State. If BYU wins those two and starts out 5-0, it'll be Game On for the BCS discussions. Utah State is going to be a battle, and Oregon State should be better, but both of those dates are in Lavell Edward Stadium before the second key back-to-back road dates to deal with. Can the Cougars go into Notre Dame and make a statement, and then be ready for the Georgia Tech offense a week later? There's only one home game from mid-October to the end of the season – a layup against Idaho – but the final two road games are at San Jose State and New Mexico State.

Best offensive player: Junior WR Cody Hoffman. QB Riley Nelson needs to be the star of the show, and tackle Braden Brown and guard Braden Hansen are All-America candidates, but Hoffman is the burgeoning superstar who showed good resiliency leading the team with 61 catches averaging 15.5 yards per grab with ten scores. He didn't exactly have Tom Brady throwing his way, but he still managed to come through as a top target as well as an elite kickoff returner. At 6-4, 208 pounds he has the size to go along with tremendous wheels.

Best defensive player: Junior LB Kyle Van Noy. Part outside linebacker in the 3-4, part defensive end, all playmaker. A pass rushing terror, he came up with seven of the team's 24 sacks and 15 tackles for loss; only one other Cougar came up with more than six. While he was steady, he only had two double-digit tackling games but one was in the bowl win over Tulsa. Surrounded by veterans, he won't have to do it all himself and he'll get plenty of help.

Key player to a successful season: Senior QB Riley Nelson. Last year he was able to step in for Jake Heaps and be the catalyst during the key middle part of the season and he was terrific late throwing for 363 yards and three scores against Hawaii and 250 yards and three touchdowns against Tulsa. Not all that big, and with his running style, he has to try to stay healthy and he has to try to avoid taking too many big shots. James Lark is a good-looking reserve, but the veteran team needs the senior leadership of Nelson for a full season. His play could be the difference between a good year and double digit victories.

The season will be a success if … Ten wins. The Cougars have hit the double-digit win mark in five of the last six years, and anything less than ten victories will be an utter disaster for this veteran team. 11 wins and a BCS appearance is asking for a bit too much with some question marks about the offense and the lack of a pass rush, especially with road games at Utah, Boise State, Notre Dame and Georgia Tech, but with so much experience and after pulling a 10-3 campaign out of what looked like a disaster last year, this team should be able to hit the mark again. However, this year, 10-3 would be much, much stronger than the mark was in 2011.

Key game: Sept. 15 vs. Utah. Of course beating Notre Dame would be special and handling Boise State would bring a ton of national attention, but without a conference title to play for the annual showdown against the archrival is the game that really, really matters. As if the nasty battle needed any more hype, the 54-10 disaster at home last season should add a little more fuel to the fire. The Utes have won three of the last four meetings.

2011 Fun Stats:
- Time of Possession: BYU 31:40 – Opponents 28:19
- Fourth Down Conversions: Opponents 11-of-19 (58%) – BYU 7-of-14 (50%)
- Passing TDs: BYU 28 – Opponents 13
- 2012 BYU Preview | 2012 BYU Offense
- 2012 BYU Defense | 2012 BYU Depth Chart