2014 CFN Preview - BYU Cougars
BYU QB Taysom Hill
BYU QB Taysom Hill
Posted Jun 29, 2014

CollegeFootballNews.com Preview 2014 - Can BYU do enough to be noticed in the big picture? (Getty Images)

BYU Cougars

Preview 2014

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Bronco Mendehhall
10th year: 82-34
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 26, Def. 19, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 24
Ten Best BYU Players
1. QB Taysom Hill, Jr.
2. RB Jamaal Williams, Jr.
3. OT Michael Yeck, Sr.
4. SS Craig Bills, Sr.
5. CB Robertson Daniel, Sr.
6. LB Bronson Kaufusi, Jr.
7. WR Mitch Mathews, Jr.
8. OT De'Ondre Welsey, Sr.
9. OG Solomone Kafu, Sr.
10. OT Ryker Mathews, Sr.
2014 Schedule

Aug. 29 at UConn
Sep. 6 at Texas
Sep. 11 Houston
Sep. 20 Virginia
Oct. 3 Utah State
Oct. 9 at UCF
Oct. 18 Nevada
Oct. 25 at Boise State
Nov. 1 at Middle Tenn
Nov. 15 UNLV
Nov. 22 Savannah State
Nov. 29 at California

BYU continues to be in a really strange spot – but Provo is apparently nice in the spring (rim shot).

It's acting like a big-time, big shot, Notre Dame-like independent, and for good reason, but soon it'll have to make a big decision about how it wants to position itself in the new college football world order.

The move away from the Mountain West has generally worked out fine from a business and scheduling standpoint. There's no problem getting TV exposure, and the brand name is as strong and solid as ever, but now the program has to come up with a big next move.

With the Big Five conferences – ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC, with Notre Dame being brought along for the ride – making the power move further and further away from the pack, and with BYU not associated with anyone in the football world, where is the fit?

Athletic director Tom Holmoe has been among the most progressive and forward-thinking minds when it comes to how to navigate the ever-changing landscape, but from a sheer interest standpoint for the BYU fans, a lot of eggs are being put into the College Football Playoff basket.

Something will end up getting worked out so BYU will be able to be a part of the big bowl games if it's ranked high enough, but as is, the season is basically over – go 11-1 or else it's off to the Miami Beach Bowl against some middle-of-the-pack team from the American Athletic Conference.

It's not like bowl games are the be-all-end-all in terms of prestige, but without a conference title to play for, two losses and that carrot at the end of the stick doesn't seem so appetizing. BYU might not be a superpower of superpowers, but if things break the right way this is a strong enough program with a good enough coaching staff to have everything break the right away some season. But if not, and if a spot in the playoff isn't going to happen, it would be nice if the regular season wasn't just a bunch of exhibitions on the way to Miami.

But that's the bed that BYU has made for itself. It wants the freedom – and the money – from being an independent, and again, it's working out, but at the same time, being a part of the Mountain West, for example, might be enough to push the conference up into Big Five Plus One territory. Of course, trying to get into the Big 12 would work out even better from a football interest standpoint, but it might not make the most business sense, and that's the dilemma Holmoe will have to deal with going forward.

On the plus side, using the Big Five model and demands as a template, BYU could use the new rules to its advantage by deciding to really and truly pay players with a bigger "cost-of-attendance" check. It can utilize and manipulate the system to potentially get any Mountain West-caliber prospect it wants, and it might be able to turn itself into a rogue state that does everything, technically, by the book, only better.

But for this season, it's going to be a grind to do anything better than get a trip to Miami, which isn't actually that bad.

The defense might lose Kyle Van Noy and some key parts to the puzzle, but the secondary should be terrific and the front four, as always, is very deep and very big. Meanwhile, the offense welcomes back the dangerous backfield duo of QB Taysom Hill and RB Jamaal Williams to work behind a veteran line that gets back four starters.

The schedule is a bear, but it's interesting and entertaining. The season has to be both, as well, and even if it isn't, Miami isn't a bad place to close out a campaign.

What to watch for on offense: Can the passing game be more dangerous despite the loss of Cody Hoffman? The running game controlled the offense, even though it was a relatively balanced attack, but the passing attack has to be more efficient and more dangerous. One problem: Taysom Hill needs people to throw to. Three of the top four receivers are gone, with the loss of Hoffman the biggest hit. Mitch Mathews is promising and Terenn Houk and Nick Kurtz are rising prospects, but they'll have to be big-play producers when defenses load up to stop Hill from taking off. The offseason has been focused on Hill being more accurate and more effective throwing the ball, but when push comes to shove, the good line will do the pushing and shoving and the attack will stick with what works.

What to watch for on defense: The line has to come together and be a plus. The secondary loses Daniel Sorensen, but it's fantastic with three returning starters led by safety Craig Bills and corner Robertson Daniel to lock down the D. Combining with the linebacking corps, the back eight should be terrific and active – now the line has to do its job. There's size, and there's depth, but are there any frontline stars? Marques Johnson and Travis Tuiloma are 300-pounders for the nose, and they're both built for the position, but they have to be rocks against the run after being hit-or-miss throughout last year. Remington Peck is an okay pass rusher, but he's hardly a terror, and Graham Rowley is more like a tackle than a true end. No matter what the formation, the front three has to hold its own.

The team will be far better if … the kicking game doesn't stink. The punting should be fine with the return of the solid Scott Arellano, who averaged 41 yards per boot, but the placekicking is a concern after losing Justin Sorensen, who nailed 21-of-26 field goal attempts. Sophomore Moose Bingham and senior Trevor Samson are battling it out for the gig, and neither one has a cannon to hit from deep. Only two games were decided by three points or fewer last season, but the Cougars are going to need an option to hit from 45 yards on a regular basis – there can't be empty trips against the better teams. Meanwhile, the kickoff coverage team has to be far stronger after allowing over 25 yards per pop with two scores.

The schedule: There isn't any one game BYU can't win, but there are enough mid-level, difficult battles to make it a pesky slate with a slew of dangerous landmines. It's not that bad overall, but the road games will make it dangerous with trips to Texas, Boise State, UCF and California four of the biggest dates to deal with. After starting out at UConn and Texas, the Cougars have just the trip to Orlando against UCF between September 11th and late October, and there's time off to rest up before dealing with Nevada and Boise State. No. the Cougars aren't in the Mountain West, but they get their fix with Utah State and UNLV to go along with the Wolf Pack and Broncos. Would 11-1 with this schedule be enough to get into College Football Playoff? Yeah, probably.

Best offensive player: Junior QB Taysom Hill. RB Jamaal Williams is best player No. 1A, but it's Hill who'll be the make-or-break player for the season. He'll get his rushing yards, and he'll have a few big passing days, but he has to be accurate and consistent on the road and he has to be ready to take a beating. It's BYU, so there will always be a passing game, and Hill will occasionally throw 40+ times a game, but the offense really hums when he's taking off making big plays. Of the 19 touchdown passes he threw, two came late in the loss at Wisconsin, and just two were thrown in the other four losses. Even with a revamped receiving corps, he should be in better command of the attack and should do even more.

Best defensive player: Senior S Craig Bills. With Kyle Van Noy and Uani Unga gone from the linebacking corps, and do-it-all defensive back Daniel Sorensen done, the defense needs new leaders, and they're going to come from the secondary with Bills and corner Robertson Daniel two senior keys to the season. Shaky at times, the secondary needs more stops, and these two have to be the main reason for a big improvement. Bills is a strong tackler with good range and playmaking ability when the ball is in the air, and as long as he stays healthy, he should be one of the team's top three tacklers.

Key player to a successful season: Junior WR Mitch Mathews. Cody Hoffman, Skyler Ridley and JD Falsev were the top three receivers last year, but they're all gone and Taysom Hill needs reliable targets to work with. Kurt Henderson, Nick Kurtz and Terenn Houk are all tall, big, promising receivers, but the 6-6, 206-pound Mathews has to grow into a No. 1 main man after catching 23 passes for 397 yards and four scores before getting lost for the year with a shoulder injury.

The season will be a success if … the Cougars beat Texas and are part of the national discussion for College Football Playoff. 12-0 gets BYU in, 11-1 makes it interesting, 10-2 means Miami Bowl. The Cougars have the running game to get by Connecticut, and if they can beat Texas for a second year in a row, all of a sudden things get interesting with four of the next five games at home potentially beef up the record. If BYU loses two games before Boise State on October 25th, national relevance will be out the window.

Key game: Sept. 6 vs. Texas. It was one of the biggest shockers of the season – BYU ripped apart Texas for 550 rushing yards and four scores in a 40-21 win. New team, new coaching staff, new venue with the game being played in Austin, but BYU needs similar results if it's looking for a truly special season. The Cougars could still be in College Football Playoff discussion by going 11-1 with a loss to Texas, but it might be a tough sell.

2013 Fun Stats:
- - Penalties: BYU 102 for 863 yards – Opponents 70 for 530 yards
- Time of Possession: Opponents 32:13 – BYU 27:47
- Fourth Down Conversions: BYU 11-of-21 (52%) – Opponents 8-of-23 (35%)

2014 BYU Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players