CFN Preview 2013 - BYU Cougars
BYU RB Jamaal Williams
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BYU, is this really what you've wanted as an independent?
Head coach: Bronco Mendenhall
9th year: 74-29
Returning Lettermen: 46
Off. 27, Def. 19, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 25
Ten Best BYU Players
1. LB Kyle Van Noy, Sr.
2. WR Cody Hoffman, Sr.
3. S Daniel Sorensen, Sr.
4. LB Spencer Hadley, Sr.
5. CB Jordan Johnson, Jr.
6. QB Taysom Hill, Soph.
7. RB Jamaal Williams, Soph.
8. OT Ryker Mathews, Soph.
9. NT Eathyn Manumaleuna, Sr.
10. OG Solomone Kafu, Jr.
8/31 at Virginia
9/14 OPEN DATE
9/27 Middle Tenn
10/4 at Utah State
10/12 Georgia Tech
10/19 at Houston
10/26 Boise State
11/1 OPEN DATE
11/9 at Wisconsin
11/16 Idaho State
11/23 at Notre Dame
11/30 at Nevada
All preseason analysis always has some line about the Cougars' potential post-season fate if they don't get into the BCS, but that's a tall, tall order considering they're not taking it easy on the schedule and just one slip could be the difference between the Orange Bowl and their tie-in this season with the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. While winning the Mountain West doesn't necessarily bring anything bigger or more important at the end of the rainbow, is this really more fun than shooting for a conference title?
In terms of revenue, sure. BYU gets to keep all of its money and doesn't have to share with the New Mexicos and Wyomings of the world, but being an independent also means that an 1-1 start after playing Virginia and Texas could effectively end the season in terms of national significance before it starts, likely needing to run the table to have any shot at one of the big games. Wouldn't this be a lot more fun if the program was attached to the conference again?
Not if the team goes 10-2 – or better – and with a big, splashy win to hang its hat on.
Notre Dame had a far tougher path to take last year on its way to the BCS championship, and while Notre Dame is Notre Dame and will get every benefit of every doubt because of who it is, it's not entirely crazy to suggest BYU could go on a similar run and at least get it close to the pin.
If the Cougars play up to their potential and get every right break, there are only four true issues for a team that might have BCS dreams: Texas, Boise State, at Wisconsin and at Notre Dame. As shown last season in BYU's 41-17 win, the run defense can handle Georgia Tech, Utah and Virginia still aren't that great, and beating Utah, Utah State and Nevada have to be a given if there's any hope of going to a big money game.
Can BYU go 3-1 against the Longhorns, Broncos, Badgers and Irish? It all depends on if the defense can do what it did last season despite the loss of Ezekial Ansah and Romney Fuga up front and if the offense can be far more consistent and far more effective.
The Cougars finished third in the nation in both total defense and scoring defense highlighted by a brick wall of a run defense that should be almost as good this season. Do you want to take your chances with the Texas, Boise State, Wisconsin and Notre Dame passing attacks if BYU is BYU again at shutting down the run?
The Cougar offense needs the line to be stronger and more consistent, but there are big-time weapons at the skill spots. As long as quarterback Taysom Hill is healthy and upright, and as long as receiver Cody Hoffman does what Cody Hoffman does, the numbers should be better and the production should be there in the clutch more than it was last season in painfully close losses to Utah, Boise State, Notre Dame and San Jose State. A stronger and more mature team would've won those four games, gone 11-1 and been off to the BCS.
The 2013 Cougars probably aren't BCS-good, but don't be totally stunned if they are. And then, independence will be a very, very good thing.
What to watch for on offense: Will the offensive line be better? The quarterbacks took way too many big shots last season, but the situation should be solid with Taysom Hill back and a slew of decent backup options at the ready. The running backs are fine, but they need far more room to move after having problems finding big holes to run through. The receivers are a major strength, with Cody Hoffman an All-America candidate. And then there's the line, which was an inconsistent problem last season even with two fantastic blockers in Braden Brown and Braden Hansen to work around. The Braden's are gone, but there are two nice starters on the left side in tackle Ryker Mathews and guard Solomone Kafu, and there are several more big blockers ready to go, but it has to be a far more consistent group for the mediocre offense to start working.
What to watch for on defense: The play of the defensive front. With Kyle Van Noy and Spencer Hadley back, the Cougars have one of the best outside linebacker tandems in the country. These two can fly into the backfield and be extremely disruptive all over the field. The defensive backs are going to be fine with three returning starters to a group that finished tenth in the nation in pass D. Now the line has to do its job despite the loss of NFL talents Ezekiel Ansah and Romney Fuga from last year's fantastic front three. Eathyn Manumaleuna will move from end to a more natural spot on the nose, while it'll be up to sophomores Bronson Kaufusi and Remington Peck to turn into decent pass rushers on the end.
The team will be far better if … the kickers don't screw up. BYU couldn't seem to get consistent kicking with Justin Sorensen banged up and former punter Riley Stephenson doing what he could, but as a team, there were way too many misses hitting 10-of-18 field goals with the longest shot coming from a mere 35 yards out. That was bad, but the six missed extra points were worse. None of the misses turned out to be that big a deal, but considering four of the first seven games were decided by three points or fewer, and there was a loss to San Jose State by six, the different between 8-5 and 10-3 could be a few good kicks.
The schedule: It's challenging, but there are some extremely well-timed open dates to help the cause getting a week off to prepare for the rivalry game against Utah and another late in the season before going to Wisconsin. There are a few relative cupcakes in Middle Tennessee and Idaho State, but the Cougars aren't taking it easy by any stretch with rough road dates against the Badgers, Virginia and Notre Dame – with a brutal November run of three road games in the final four closing out at Nevada. Home games against Texas, Utah, Georgia Tech and Boise State should make this a fun year.
Best offensive player: Senior WR Cody Hoffman. "The Hoff" had a nice freshman season, closing out with a three-touchdown day in the bowl win over UTEP. He followed it up with a terrific sophomore campaign, closing out with a three-touchdown day in the bowl win over Tulsa. He didn't score in the 2012 bowl victory over San Diego State, but he managed to catch ten passes for 114 yards to close out a whale of a year making 100 grabs for 1,248 yard and 11 scores highlighted by a five-touchdown day against New Mexico State in the regular season finale. Now he's 19 catches, 538 yards and three touchdowns away from being the greatest receiver in the school's amazing history of top targets.
Best defensive player: Senior LB Kyle Van Noy. After a dominant season as a top pass rusher, it seemed like a lock that he'd take off early for the NFL. But even with the best performance of the bowl season – with all due respect to Johnny Manziel – destroying San Diego State in the win, he chose to come back for one more year and now should be on everyone's All-America short list. Lightning fast off the ball, he's a laser into the backfield and is great at always finding his way around the ball.
Key player to a successful season: Sophomore QB Taysom Hill. The Cougars did a nice job of getting by with a shaky and inconsistent quarterback situation last season, and while there are options behind Hill, it would be nice if the speedy sophomore could stay healthy and become a star. Even though he only saw time in six games and got one start before getting hurt, he finished second on the team in rushing and showed excellent upside as a passer. There are several excellent offensive players in place, and as long as Hill does its job, the O can start pulling its weight.
The season will be a success if … it wins nine games. There were so many close games last year that could've gone the other way, an improvement on offense and another big year from the defense could mean a one game improvement as long as there aren't any major gaffes. The Cougars could lose to Texas, at Wisconsin and at Notre Dame and still be in the mix for a nine-win campaign and possible double-digit victories with a win in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl – the team's automatic tie-in if it doesn't go to the BCS.
Key game: Aug. 31 at Virginia. A key game for the Cavaliers after a rough second half of a disappointing season, BYU has to be ready for a rough road game to kick things off. With Texas coming up next and the rivalry date with Utah to follow, coming up with a win right away isn't a must, but it could very, very important with such a rough first part of the year. As an independent, BYU can't afford a loss in August; a defeat to Virginia and a loss to Texas might render the team irrelevant on a national scale.
2012 Fun Stats:
- 2nd Quarter Scoring: BYU 132 – Opponents 30
- 3rd Down Conversions: BYU 87-of-212 (46%) – Opponents 48-of-181 (27%)
- 4th Down Conversions: BYU 20-of-28 (71%) – Opponents 8-of-19 (42%)
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