Brigham Young Cougars
Head Coach: Bronco Mendenhall
2014 record: 8-5 overall
2014 Postseason results: Lost to Memphis 55-48 (OT) in Miami Beach Bowl
2015 returning starters: 5 offense, 6 defense
Odds to win 2016 College Football Championship game: 300/1
Regular season wins: under 8 -175 /over 8 +145
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Last year, Brigham Young University started off the season 4-0. However, quarterback Taysom Hill broke his leg in the fifth game against Utah State. The Cougars would lose four straight games, but then rebound to win the last 4 games of the regular season. BYU would lose to Memphis in a wild 55-48 shootout in overtime to finish 8-5. The bowl game was marred by an ugly bench clearing brawl at the end of the game. Around 10 players could be suspended as a result according to coach Bronco Mendenhall, but the suspensions likely won’t be announced until around a week before the opener at Nebraska.
Eleven starters are back for BYU in 2015, and the Cougars look to improve on the 8 wins from last year.
Last season, BYU was in the top 50 nationally in all offensive categories. The Cougars averaged 461 yards per game, including 279 passing yards. BYU averaged 37 points a game. The Cougars were in the top 30 nationally in those categories. Five starters are back for third year coordinator Robert Anae.
Before the injury Hill was putting up some dark horse Heisman numbers. He completed 66.7% of his passes for 975 yards with 7 touchdowns and 3 interceptions, and also rushed for 460 yards on 87 carries and 8 touchdowns. He returns for his senior season and if healthy will spark the potent offense. Christian Stewart did well as Hill’s replacement last year throwing for 2,621 yards with 25 touchdowns and 9 interceptions, and rushing for 163 yards and 4 touchdowns. He has graduated though. If Hill isn’t healthy, there is a battle for the back-up job. Sophomore McCoy Hill suffered a foot injury in spring practice. Freshman Tanner Mangum is scheduled to return from his LDS mission before fall camp. True freshman Beau Hoge is also in the mix.
Senior running back Jamaal Williams needs just 940 yards to become the all-time leading rusher in BYU history. He suffered a knee injury in early November and missed the rest of the season. Williams had 109 carries for 508 yards and 4 touchdowns, along with 8 catches. Paul Lasike is now with the Arizona Cardinals after rushing for 364 yards with 7 touchdowns, and making 25 catches with 2 touchdowns. Look for Adam Hine to get most of the back-up carries after rushing for 154 yards and 2 touchdowns, and also catching a touchdown pass.
Receiver Mitch Mathews is back after making 73 catches for 922 yards with 9 touchdowns. Jordan Leslie is now with the Minnesota Vikings after making 55 catches for 779 yards and 5 touchdowns last year. Junior Mitchell Juergens had 28 catches for 424 yards and 4 touchdowns. Devon Blackmon, Colby Pearson, Kurt Henderson, Nick Kurtz and Terenn Houk will also get plenty of targets. Freshman Steven Richards will take over as the new tight end.
Three starters are back on the offensive line, but depth could be an issue. Sophomore center Tejan Koroma was a freshman All-American last season. Left guard Kyle Johnson and right tackle Utui Lapuaho are also back. The line allowed 36 sacks last season and needs to improve in pass protection.
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Last season, the BYU defense struggled badly to defend the pass. The Cougars allowed 270 passing yards per game and were #115 nationally out of 128 teams in pass defense. The rush defense was #20 nationally at 122 yards per game. Still, it added up to allowing 392 yards per game 28 points per game. Although, the Cougars forced 26 turnovers they were still -1 in turnovers with 27 giveaways.
Although coordinator Nick Howell kept his job, Mendenhall will resume calling defensive plays as he has done in past seasons. Six starters are back for the Cougars.
Bronson Kaufusi had a team high 11.5 tackles for loss as an outside linebacker last year. He moves to defensive end in 2014. Ends Remington Peck and Graham Rowley both have starting experience as well. Tackle Travis Tuiloma is also back for the Cougars.
Manoa Pikula is the only returning starter in the linebacking unit, but he is not guaranteed a starting spot in 2015. Utah transfer Harvey Langi is a converted running back. Most of the top linebackers missed spring practice with various injuries, but all are expected to be healthy by fall camp.
Cornerback Michael Davis is the only returning starter in the secondary. JUCO transfer Eric Takenaka opened some eyes in the spring at safety.
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Kicker Trevor Sampson made 12 of 14 field goals last year. Freshmen Taylor Parker and Chasen Brown will compete for the punting job. Hine averaged 24.5 yards per kick return and took one 99 yards to the house against Virginia. Takenaka will likely return punts as he did well in junior college as a punt returner.
BYU will certainly be tested early with road games at Nebraska, UCLA and Michigan, and a home game against Boise State in September. The schedule is easier in October as Connecticut, East Carolina, Wagner and Cincinnati all make the trip to Provo. The Cougars travel to San Jose State and Utah State, have a “neutral site” game against Missouri in Kansas City and host Fresno State in November.
If this team can survive the September gauntlet relatively unscathed, then they have a chance at equaling their 8 win total from last year. Hill and Williams need to stay healthy in 2015 for that to happen. The defense needs to improve especially against the pass. That seems like an awful lot of ifs and I think it adds up to 7 wins and a berth in either the Hawaii or Las Vegas Bowl.
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