Brigham Young Cougars
2011 Record: 10-3 Independent
2011 Bowl Result: Beat Tulsa 24-21 in Armed Forces Bowl
Head Coach: Bronco Mendenhall
Over/Under Regular Season Wins: Over 8 -175 / Under +155
Odds to Win 2013 BCS Championship: 175/1
All Odds Courtesy of Bovada
Last season, BYU left the Mountain West to become an independent. The Cougars, under coach Bronco Mendenhall, finished 10-3. However, the schedule was a little soft last year, and the Cougars took advantage of it. The losses came at Texas by one point, a humiliating 54-10 thrashing by arch-rival Utah, and a 10 point loss to TCU in Arlington, Texas. All three made a bowl game last year. They really didn’t have many wins against quality opponents, unless you count road wins at mediocre Ole Miss and Oregon St. The Cougars did beat Tulsa 24-21 in the Armed Forces Bowl.
Now, BYU comes back for their second year as an independent and the schedule is tougher. Here is a look at the offense, defense, special teams and schedule for the Cougars.
BYU wasn’t great on offense last year, but they weren’t awful either. They ranked 47th in passing yards, 55th in rushing, and 42nd in points scored. They hope to improve under offensive coordinator Brandon Doman’s West Coast offense.
For the past two seasons, Jake Heaps and Riley Nelson battled for the starting quarterback job. In 2010, Nelson opened the season as the starter but was benched midway through the season for Heaps. In 2011, it was the opposite as Heaps was on top of the depth chart, and Nelson took over in the second half of the Utah St game. BYU rallied for the win and Nelson became the starter for the rest of the season. Nelson did miss most of the Idaho game and the entire New Mexico St game with an injury though.
Heaps transferred to Kansas, so the job belongs to Nelson completely now. Nelson completed 57.4% of his passes last year for 1,717 yards with 19 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. He was also BYU’s third leading rusher with 88 carries, 392 yards, and a touchdown. James Lark is the back-up in case something happens to Nelson. He has been the third string quarterback behind Nelson and Heaps for the last two years.
The Cougars do lose leading rusher J.J. DiLuigi, but BYU used more of a running back by committee. Michael Alisa and Josh Quezada each had least 85 carries last year. Both return, along with Nelson, so the running game should be in good shape. Alisa should be the primary back. Newcomer Iona Pritchard should get some carries as well.
The top receiver is junior Cody Hoffman who caught 61 passes for 943 yards, and 10 touchdowns. He caught 3 touchdowns in the Bowl game against Tulsa including the game winner. Sophomore Ross Apo also returns after he grabbed 34 catches for 453 yards and 9 touchdowns last year. J.D. Falslev also returns after a season with 31 receptions, 330 yards, and 2 touchdowns. Receiver Mitch Matthews could have a breakout season.
The line must replace center Terence Brown and tackle Matt Reynolds. However, guard Braden Hansen and tackle Braden Brown do return to anchor the line. The Cougars also have a talented (but inexperienced) group of sophomores including tackle Ryker Mathews who will step in. If the kids can mature, the line shouldn’t regress too much.
Mendenhall is also the defensive coordinator for BYU. BYu will use a 3-4 defensive scheme. The school is known for it’s explosive offense and long line of great quarterbacks like Jim McMahon, Steve Young, and Ty Detmer. Defense was almost an afterthought. However, in Mendenhall’s 7 years as head coach, BYU’s defense has arguably been given more focus than the offense.
Last season, BYU ranked #13 in total defense nationally allowing just 313 yards a game. Aside from the inexplicable meltdown against Utah, the defense was tremendous all season. In the last 6 games, BYU didn’t allow over 300 yards in any game, even more impressive when you consider they had games against high-powered offenses TCU, Hawaii, and Tulsa in that stretch.
End Eathyn Manumaleuna and tackle Romney Fuga return to anchor the defensive line. However, the line was great against the run last season, but the pass rush was non-existent. No BYU linemen had more than 3 tackles for loss last year.The line does get some depth as end Ian Dulan and tackle Russell Tialavea both return from Mormon Missions. Keep an eye on Ziggy Ansah, an immigrant from Ghana who walked on, despite knowing nothing about American football. He was very impressive in spring practice though. He might help improve the terrible pass rush.
The linebackers should be the strength of the unit led by Kyle Van Noy who had 15 tackles for loss last year. The other three starters also return including Brandon Ogletree.
The secondary will be led by safeties Daniel Sorensen and Joe Sampson, along with aggressive cornerback Preston Hadley. Strangely, the secondary had more tackles for loss than the defensive line last year.
Kicker Justin Sorensen battled back problems in the spring but is supposed to ready by the season opener. He was inconsistent last year hitting only 15 of 25 field goals and he missed 5 of his last 8. He needs to be more consistent this year.
Punter Riley Stephenson averages 42.2 yards per punt last year, and had 20 inside the 20. BYU probably doesn’t win the bowl game against Tulsa had he not landed 7 of his 8 punts inside the 20.
Hoffman will return the kicks. He averaged 24.4 yards per return last year and had a 93 yard touchdown last year. J.D. Falslev will return punts. He averaged 10 yards per return and also had a touchdown last year.
BYU opens with home games against Washington St and Weber St. They they make trips to Utah and Boise St in a 5 day period. The Cougars then have a three game home stand against Hawaii, Utah St, and Oregon St. BYU then closes with 4 of 5 games on the road. The Cougars have a difficult two game road trip to Notre Dame and Georgia Tech before hosting Idaho. The Cougars close on the road at San Jose St and New Mexico St.
BYU has similar talent from last year, when they won 10 games. However, the schedule is much more difficult this year. Trips to Salt Lake, Boise, South Bend, and Atlanta, against 4 bowl teams from last year make for a difficult task. It wouldn’t be surprising if they lost all 4. Home games against Washington St, Hawaii, Utah St, and Oregon St could be tricky as well. I will give them the benefit of the doubt and say they go 8-4.
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