Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Pre-Season Preview: BYU Cougars

2009 Record: 11-2 (7-1 in Mountain West)
2009 Bowl: Las Vegas Bowl (beat Oregon State 44-20)
Final 2009 AP Ranking: #12
Head Coach: Bronco Mendenhall (49-15 at BYU))
Non-Conference Schedule: Washington (9/4), at FSU (9/18), Nevada (9/25), at Utah State (10/1)

2009 Offensive Statistics
Scoring: 35.5 points per game (2nd in MWC,11th in Nation)
Rushing Yards/Game: 145 (4th in MWC)
Passing Yards/Game: 281 (1st in MWC, 17th in Nation)
Total Yards/Game: 427 (2nd in MWC, 20th in Nation) 

2009 Defensive Statistics
Scoring: 21.5 points per game (4th in MWC)
Rushing Yards/Game: 110 (2nd in MWC, 20th in Nation)
Passing Yards/Game: 218 (5th in MWC)
Total Yards/Game: 329 (4th in MWC)

2009 Misc Stats
Turnover Margin: +0.00 per game (6th in MWC)
Penalties: 66 yards per game (8th in MWC)

Returning Starters
Offense: 7
Defense: 5
Kicker/Punter: 2

Top Returning Statistical Leaders
Passing: QB Riley Nelson, Jr (7 for 10 for 97 yds, 1 TD)
Rushing: RB JJ Di Luigi, Jr (45 carries for 248 yds, 3 TD, 5.5 ypc)
Receiving: WR O'Neill Chambers, Jr (32 rec, 374 yds, 1 TD, 2.5 rec/game)
Receiving: WR McKay Jacobson, Jr (23 rec, 556 yds, 4 TD, 2.6 rec/game, 24 yds/rec)
Tackles: FS Andrew Rich, Sr (84)
Sacks: LB Jordan Pendleton, Jr (3)
Interceptions: FS Andrew Rich, Sr (4)

2010 Pre-Season Rankings
Athlon Sports: #44
Phil Steele: #51
Scout: #25
Sporting News: #45
Sports Illustrated: #24

2010 Pre-Season MWC Predictions:
Athlon Sports: #3
Phil Steele: #3

Pre-Season Bowl Predictions:
Athlon Sports: Independence Bowl (vs. Boston College)
Phil Steele: Poinsettia Bowl (vs. Navy)

BYU pulled off a big win against Oklahoma to start off the 2009 season. The euphoria was short lived as they were beat by FSU 54-28. BYU has FSU on the schedule again this year so they have a chance to get some revenge. BYU's other loss came at the hands of TCU 38-7. TCU has handled BYU the last two years so it will be interesting to see if BYU can close the gap this year. We turned to BYU Football Talk to find out more about the 2010 BYU Cougars and if they will be able to replace Max Hall.

What are the major strengths and biggest weaknesses of the team?

Strengths-BYU boasts a big, talented, and experienced offensive line. Anchored by Outland Trophy candidate Matt Reynolds, four starters return from last year. Plenty of quality linemen are available to fill the fifth and final spot. The strong o-line provides a measure of comfort for a team replacing the starting quarterback and both running backs.

All wide receivers are back from last year. Speedster McKay Jacobson will again be the number one target. Luke Ashworth showed last year that he can be a playmaker as well. O’Neill Chambers and Spencer Hafoka will be in the mix as well. Chambers, however, needs to work on ball security.

In the secondary, BYU returns two good cover corners. Brandon Bradley will start and be a major contributor for the third consecutive year. Brian Logan started 2009 as an unknown JC transfer, but by season’s end he was honorable mention All-MWC. Teams will find it hard to throw the ball downfield against BYU this year.

Weaknesses-The defensive front seven quickly comes to mind as a weakness, but only because six of the seven will be new starters. The projected starters on the d-line have all been in the program and had some playing time, but the linebackers have not. One or two true freshmen are expected to see significant playing time, if they are not starters.

The other major weakness for BYU will be lack of experience in the offensive backfield. Riley Nelson saw limited action as backup quarterback last season in his first year in the program, but true freshman Jake Heaps is putting heat on Nelson for the starting spot. All-time rushing leader Harvey Unga is gone. That leaves a slew of talented running backs to take his place, but none had more than 250 yards rushing last season.

Looking at the schedule who will be the first major test?

Game one-Washington. I have been out on the limb all off season saying that Washington is the dark horse in the Pac-10. I fully expect they will be in contention for the conference title come November.

While I expect Washington to be a formidable foe, all the other storylines help to make the first game a major test. As mentioned, BYU will be breaking in a new quarterback, running back, and defensive front seven, therefore, getting off to a good start will be important for the team’s confidence. Emotions will be high on the Washington sideline for several reasons: Head Coach Steve Sarkisian is a former BYU quarterback, Washington lost the recruiting battle with BYU for Jake Heaps, and the BYU-Washington game in 2008 had a controversial penalty with one second left that many feel allowed BYU to block an extra point to win the game. The Huskies will not roll over and let BYU have this game, in fact, these dogs may learn some new tricks for this game.

What team on the schedule do you fear the most?

TCU, FSU, and Air Force are all candidates for the most feared opponent. While BYU routinely handles Air Force, the trends noted in this column do place some fear in me since Air Force is the second game on the schedule. The way the Florida State offense ran right through BYU last year in Provo makes me fear the road trip to Tallahassee this year with such a young team. TCU, though, gives me the most fear.

As a conference foe, the TCU game will go a long way to determining whether or not BYU can win the conference championship. Although TCU lost studs like Jerry Hughes and Daryl Washington on defense, TCU returns 16 starters from a team that convinced many people it deserved a spot in the BCS National Championship Game. TCU has outscored BYU 70-14 over the last two years. If BYU’s new offensive and defensive starters are struggling, the worst case scenario for this game is scary. Playing this game in Fort Worth doesn’t help.

Who is the best player on your team that nobody talks about?

Cornerback Brandon Bradley. Bradley has quietly played in 25 games the last two years (16 starts) and accumulated 104 tackles, 7 pass break ups, 2 forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery returned for a touchdown. He will be a senior this year and a big reason why a minimum of 8 wins is expected, even with all the key personnel losses.

Who is the best offensive player on the team?

Matt Reynolds. Reynolds is a junior and he has already been named to pre-season first team All-America teams, to the Outland Trophy watch list, and to the first round of 2011 NFL mock drafts (if he comes out early). Reynolds plays tackle and has started every game since his freshman year. You can read his full player bio here (It is impressive).

Who is the most impactful defensive player on the team?

Outside linebacker Jordan Pendleton. With the defensive strength in the secondary, teams will try to exploit the inexperienced front seven. As the lone starter returning on the front seven, Pendleton will need to continue to be an animal filling running lanes and pressuring quarterbacks. Pendleton converted from safety to linebacker last season and his athleticism adds a dimension to his play that increases his impact on the field.

What player(s) needs to step up this year in order for the team to reach it's full capability?

The yet to be named starting quarterback, the running back committee (Bryan Kariya, J.J. Di Luigi, Joshua Quezada, Drew Phillips), and the yet to be named starting free safety.

One thing the last 40 years has taught us is that as the QB goes, so goes BYU football. If the new quarterback hits the ground at full speed, then the sky is the limit.

A new quarterbacks’ two best friends are a great offensive line, and an effective run game. While the running backs have little game experience, they have lots of talent and potential.

The free safety is a critical member of the BYU defense. As evidence, the only game that free safety Scott Johnson missed last year was Florida State. Fifty-four points and 500+ yards of total offense later, we all had a greater appreciation for what the free safety does. Andrew Rich might switch from strong safety to free safety, which would put an experienced player in that spot. As of now, the coaches have said they will identify the next best safety, be it free or strong, and that will dictate whether Rich makes the move.

A serious deficiency in any one of these three areas can drop the total wins by two games.

Who is the top offensive newcomer that can make an impact this year?

If Jake Heaps can win the quarterback competition, he is the obvious answer to this question. However, freshman running back Joshua Quezada appears to be a sure bet to make an impact this year. After enrolling in January, he turned a lot of heads during spring practice. Quezada still has to learn blocking schemes for the passing games, so his production will be limited early in the year, but by season’s end it will be no surprise if he is getting the bulk of the carries.

Who is the top defensive newcomer that can make an impact this year?

Kyle Van Noy was a 2009 recruit who gray shirted. Like Quezada, Van Noy was impressive in spring practices. He was a four star prospect and rated the 11th best WLB by With only one returning linebacker, Van Noy has an opportunity to start from day one. At the very least, he will be a solid contributor this year.

Gut feeling on the team’s final record at the end of the regular season and what makes this a successful season in your eyes?

9-3. The season starts with a tricky four game stretch: Washington, Air Force, Florida State, and Nevada. Washington and Florida State are two quality opponents. Air Force and Nevada are two quirky offenses that could give a new front seven trouble. While I think BYU should come out of these four games with a 3-1 record, it is not unthinkable that BYU could be 1-3 as well. My gut tells me BYU will be 2-2 after September. I would like to see a great game plan for TCU that takes everyone by surprise and that gets BYU the W. If so, BYU could run the table. However, I am expecting one loss in the final 8 games to make the record 9-3.

Success at BYU is measured the same way every year. BYU wants to win the MWC, win the State Championship (beat Utah and Utah State), and win all home games. While a 9-3 record probably won’t accomplish all of these goals, it does make a fifth consecutive 10+ win season possible with a bowl win. Considering all the offensive firepower that BYU lost and the uncertainty on the defensive side of the ball, I will even consider an 8-4 season, plus a bowl win, a success. While we always have our sights set high in Provo, at the end of the year, I should be able to say that, at 8-4, BYU was able to manage the graduation turnover and the difficult schedule well and we are well positioned for great success the next few years.

Make sure to follow BYU football through BYU Football Talk.You can also visit another site by the editor of BYU Football Talk at College Football Haven.

Previous Mountain West Previews
Colorado State Rams
UNLV Rebels
Utah Utes

Next Up: Fresno State Bulldogs

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