We think about college football 24/7 so you don't have to.

The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

The Countdown

No. 20: B.Y.U.

The suspicion was there in October and November, but it didn’t become official until Riley Nelson duped Tulsa, Dan Marino-style, late in the fourth quarter of December’s Armed Forces Bowl. Then it was official: Nelson’s become a legend. Not quite a Ty Detmer-level legend, mind you; Detmer was legendary, and there’s a difference. Nelson’s a legend in the Merriam-Webster definition of the word, third from the top: “a popular myth of recent origin.” Popular? Nelson’s popularity is off the charts in Provo, thanks to the way he put B.Y.U. on his shoulders and carried it to a 10-win season despite a horribly disappointing start. Nelson wasn’t due to see the field at all, not with Jake Heaps back for a full season as the starter, but a funny thing happened on the road to the Heisman: Heaps struggled. Nelson’s ascension to the starting role, so vital last fall, now gives B.Y.U. a leader, an identity and a shot at making some national noise in its second go-round as an Independent.

Conference
Independent

Location
Provo, Utah

Nickname
Cougars

Returning starters
14 (7 offense, 7 defense)

Last year’s ranking
No. 12

2011 record
(10-3, 0-0)

Last year’s
re-ranking

No. 29

2012 schedule

  • Aug. 30
    Washington St.
  • Sept. 8
    Weber St.
  • Sept. 15
    at Utah
  • Sept. 20
    at Boise St.
  • Sept. 28
    Hawaii
  • Oct. 5
    Utah St.
  • Oct. 13
    Oregon St.
  • Oct. 20
    at Notre Dame
  • Oct. 27
    at Georgia Tech
  • Nov. 10
    Idaho
  • Nov. 17
    at San Jose St.
  • Nov. 24
    at N.M.S.U.

Last year’s prediction

Does the year end at 0-4? It doesn’t end, but there’s no great gains to be made with that start. What of 1-3? It would be disappointing, to put it lightly. And 2-2? Survivable. And 3-1? Then the Cougars are primed for 10 or 11 wins in the regular season, that’s what, and put me in the group of people who see that coming to pass in 2011. And you know what else? I think Mendenhall and the Cougars know that everyone will be watching, keeping an eye on our newest Independent, which I believe will help the Cougars offset their typical early-season lull. And as we know full well, B.Y.U. always, always, always finishes strong. I think very highly of this team. That’s just me. But there’s room on the bandwagon if you want to get aboard.

2011 recap

In a nutshell The bottom line: 10 wins. That was the program’s baseline for success in 2011, its first year as an Independent, and B.Y.U. was able to get there with a strong close to the season. But it wasn’t pretty, and it wasn’t all that impressive. The Cougars notched only one win in the regular season, against Utah State, over a team that reached bowl play. In all, the Cougars went 2-3 against bowl teams; that includes the Armed Forces Bowl win over Tulsa. Four of B.Y.U.’s wins came against F.B.S. opponents that won four games or less in the regular season. A fifth came against Idaho State. Pretty? Not quite. But here’s the deal: B.Y.U. wants to win 10 games every year. Eventually, as the program finds its footing as an Independent, how the Cougars go about getting those 10 wins – beating good teams would be nice – will become more important than the end result. When it comes to 2011, double-digit wins was good enough.

High point A 24-21 win over Tulsa in bowl play. B.Y.U.’s best win on the year, it was sealed by Nelson’s late fake-spike-pass to Cody Hoffman, who scored each of the Cougars’ three touchdowns.

Low point A very sour start. A 14-13 win over Mississippi – that looked worse and worse as the year wore on – came about despite a 13-0 fourth quarter deficit; the Cougars only won after recovering a fumble in the end zone with five minutes left. That narrow win was followed by an ugly loss at Texas and, worst of all, a 54-10 loss to Utah, at home, in the Holy War. To find a more one-sided B.Y.U. loss in the bitter series you need to go back to… 1922, when the Utes and Cougars met for the first time.

Tidbit Bronco Mendenhall is in two very select clubs among active head coaches on the F.B.S. level. He is one of three to post five double-digit win seasons in his first seven years at a program, joining Mark Richt and Bob Stoops. Mendenhall is also one of four active coaches who have reached bowl play in each of their first seven years, joining Richt, Stoops and Whittingham.

Tidbit (B.C.S. conference edition) B.Y.U. has topped at least one B.C.S. conference opponent in each of the last six seasons and in 15 of the last 16 seasons overall. The lone exception was in 2005, Mendenhall’s first year with the program, when the Cougars lost to Boston College, Notre Dame and California, the latter during bowl play. The recent six-year stretch includes seven victories over the Pac-12 and one each against the SEC and Big 12.

Tidbit (2013 edition) While some of the dates appear to still be in the air, B.Y.U. has nearly solidified its 2013 schedule. And what a schedule it will be: B.Y.U. is poised to take on Texas, Boise State, Georgia Tech and Utah at home – should both sides get on the same page – and Utah State, Wisconsin, Houston, Notre Dame and Washington State on the road. They don’t make schedules like this anymore.

Tidbit (good coaching edition) B.Y.U. is one of two N.C.A.A. programs with both its head football and men’s basketball coaches ranked among the top 10 in career winning percentage among active coaches. Mendenhall (73.3 percent) ranks eighth in the F.B.S., while Dave Rose (77.7) ranks fourth on the hardwood.

Former players in the N.F.L.

16 QB John Beck (Houston), WR Austin Collie (Indianapolis), LS John Denney (Miami), DT Hebron Fangupo (Houston), OG Ray Feinga (Miami), S Aaron Francisco (Tennessee), WR McKay Jacobson (Philadelphia), LB Bryan Kehl (Washington), DE Brett Keisel (Pittsburgh), LB David Nixon (Carolina), TE Dennis Pitta (Baltimore), OG Dallas Reynolds (Philadelphia), OT Matt Reynolds (Carolina), LB Vic So’oto (Green Bay), FB Manase Tonga (Oakland), RB Harvey Unga (Chicago).

Arbitrary top five list

Horatio Nelson’s greatest victories
1. Trafalgar.
2. The Nile.
3. Genoa.
4. Santa Cruz de Tenerife.
5. Cape St. Vincent.

Coaching

Bronco Mendenhall (Oregon State ’88), 66-24 after seven years with the program. Mendenhall also owned a sterling 39-9 mark in Mountain West play over his six years in the conference, though that means nothing anymore. The Cougars departed the M.W.C. on a low note in 2010, failing to win at least 10 games for the first time since 2006, Mendenhall’s second year with the program. But that season seemed to mirror Mendenhall’s debut campaign, back in 2005, when he piloted a young, unconfident team to a 6-6 finish. Then the Cougars took off; while B.Y.U. didn’t match my expectations last fall, the team did notch another double-digit win finish. Prior to taking over as head coach, Mendenhall spent two years as the Cougars’ defensive coordinator under Gary Crowton. When Crowton was fired, B.Y.U. first reached out to Utah’s Kyle Whittingham – who at first accepted the job, then changed his mind – before promoting Mendenhall. Good move. Even when taking into account his 6-6 debut and the 7-6 mark in 2010, the former B.Y.U. assistant is off to the greatest start to a coaching career in the program’s history; yes, even better than the great LaVell Edwards. Mendenhall’s F.B.S. assistant stops, not including B.Y.U., include five years at New Mexico (1998-2002, all as defensive coordinator), a single season at Louisiana Tech (1997, secondary coach) and two years at Oregon State (1995-96, defensive coordinator his final season). Mendenhall was 29 when he got his first coordinator shot with the Beavers, making him the youngest coordinator in the history of the Pac-12. Brigham Young’s second choice has been an inspired one; I have no doubt that as long as Mendenhall remains with the program, we’ll see B.Y.U. competing for a spot at the national table. The next step, of course, is to lead the Cougars to the next level while taking a Notre Dame-like approach to non-conference scheduling.

Players to watch

Riley Nelson replaced Jake Heaps late against Utah State, led the Cougars to a pair of scores, including the game-winner with seconds left, and never looked back. As a result, B.Y.U. went from a potential disappointment to its fifth double-digit win season in seven years. That’s the takeaway from Nelson’s turn as in-season savior: B.Y.U. wins games when he’s in, loses when he’s not. That’s life for the Cougars, though it seems as if those outside the program don’t see Nelson’s winning ways, but rather a short, athletically limited, inaccurate passer with some questionable decision-making skills and a not overly large skill set.

Well, Nelson’s none of those things – well, not all of those things. Yes, he’s not a dream quarterback: Nelson is listed at 6’0, though that might be a touch overblown, and yes, he is prone to a head-scratching throw once or twice every Saturday. He’s not going to blow your doors off outside the pocket. Nelson won’t knife the ball into a tight spot, shocking a defensive back with a rocket behind the back shoulder. Physically limited? I’d say that’s unfair, but only to a point: Nelson is no Heaps, for example.

Nope, he’s no Heaps. He’s a winning quarterback who has provided this offense – and this team – with steady leadership and a new identity; B.Y.U. now runs its entire offense through a dual-threat, senior quarterback who has proved himself more than capable of shouldering the entire load. Last fall, Nelson completed 57.4 percent of his attempts for 1,717 yards and 19 scores, adding another 392 yards on the ground, and did so in only six starts. He simply gave B.Y.U. what it had been lacking at quarterback over the last two seasons despite all of Heaps’ next-level gifts: steadiness and leadership.

So what does Nelson do for an encore? He cuts down on the shield-your-eyes throws that dotted last season, especially during the bowl win over Tulsa – a game in which he struggled before pulling a rabbit out of his hat late. B.Y.U. needs to continue stressing a deep passing game, which plays to Nelson’s strengths; he averaged 8.5 yards per attempt, a total that tied for 11th nationally. More than anything, B.Y.U. needs to run the offense through Nelson’s arm and his legs, as it’s with Nelson at the center that the Cougars’ complimentary pieces can simply do their jobs and not worry about carrying the offense. Nelson is a senior, a veteran, a leader and a winner. Physically limited? Who cares?

One thing Mendenhall and offensive coordinator Brandon Doman need to settle on is a backup quarterback. It’s an important decision, not only because Nelson’s hard-charging style leaves him open to the odd injury but because this year’s backup – like a sitting Vice President – will have a leg up in the competition to be B.Y.U.’s starter in 2013. As of now, however, Nelson’s backup is senior James Lark, who has played in seven games over the last two years. With Lark gone after this season, B.Y.U. might try to get sophomore Taysom Hill into the mix; he’s the likely starter in 2013, though there’s time for another quarterback to state his case over the next 12 months.

It’s somewhat rare that a freshman skill player makes a huge impact for B.Y.U., though not completely uncommon. The Cougars will need at least one newcomer – one is a sophomore, a former rugby star – to step into a role at running back, now that B.Y.U. moves forward without J.J. Di Luigi and Josh Quezada, the latter a would-be junior who transferred in July. For now, that leaves the Cougars with only one proven back, junior Michael Alisa (455 yards), and he’ll need to carry this running game  in the early going.

But he has Nelson to help him move the sticks, and B.Y.U. is high on true freshman Jamaal Williams, redshirt freshman Adam Hine and sophomore Paul Lasike, a New Zealand prospect who will try to translate his rugby skills to the gridiron. B.Y.U. also returns David Foote (146 yards), a do-everything senior who gave this offense an occasional burst over the second half of last season.

B.Y.U.’s receiver corps is the most underrated in the country. It’s headlined by two standouts, junior Cody Hoffman (61 catches for 943 yards and 10 scores) and sophomore Ross Apo (34 for 453), a pair that really gelled with Nelson over the final seven or eight games of last season – Hoffman made 42 grabs for 685 yards from mid-October on, for example. Their length and athleticism will present mismatches for every cornerback pairing in the nation; Hoffman is 6’4, Apo is 6’3, and both give Nelson two steady and sure-handed targets in the red zone and on third down. Few are talking about this pair; more should.

The Cougars also return junior J.D. Faslev (31 for 330), who also closed strong, and have a great one-two tight end duo in juniors Marcus Matthews (27 for 299) and Keneakua Friel. While Matthews is the pure pass-catching tight end, Friel is a very valuable cog in the Cougars’ run game as an edge blocker. B.Y.U. has a third target at tight end in junior Richard Wilson (11 for 130), who had a very nice start to last fall before suffering an injury in October. While depth is a slight concern, Mendenhall and Doman are hopeful that an underclassmen – like Dylan Collie – will be ready to provide support by October.

This will be a vintage B.Y.U. defense – vintage meaning like 2006, 1985, 1984, the glory days. The Cougars has taken on a new feel since Mendenhall took over defensive coordinator duties in 2010; since doing so, against San Diego State on Oct. 9, Mendenhall’s defense has allowed an average of 19.1 points and 295.3 yards per game. Look for even further improvement in 2012, when B.Y.U. returns seven starters, one of the best linebacker corps in the country and a deep and experienced secondary fresh off one of the best performances in recent program history. The reason why B.Y.U. can hang with the top-notch teams on its schedule is simple: the Cougars tout one heck of a defense.

And it starts with these linebackers. Once B.Y.U. returns a healthy Kyle Van Noy (68 tackles, 15.0 for los, 7.0 sacks), it will put forth a quartet that ranks alongside any in the F.B.S. – perhaps behind teams like Georgia, Stanford and Michigan State, but certainly in the national conversation. Van Noy is a hav0c-maker on the weak side, where he’s put to good use as the Cougars’ most devastatingly effective edge rusher.

With Jameson Frazier and Jordan Pendelton gone, B.Y.U. will toss the strong side over to junior Spencer Hadley (45 tackles), who should be a better fit on the outside than he was in the middle. Hadley isn’t a proven rusher – Frazier and Pendleton did a nice job in this regard – but he can make plays, as evidenced by his 12-tackle showing against Texas and long interception return against Idaho.

But he’s expendable in the middle, where B.Y.U. returns seniors Uona Kaveinga (57 tackles, 4.5 for loss) and Brandon Ogletree (76 tackles). Kaveinga, a former U.S.C. transfer, finally grasped a long-awaited starting job last fall. He teamed with Ogletree, a returning starter, to help B.Y.U. make a drastic improvement against the run. The issue with moving Headley is that it does place added pressure on sophomore Tyler Beck to provide support along the second grouping. Beck is a future starter, so he was due to see some increased playing time regardless.

This defensive front is mountainous. Senior Romney Fuga (25 tackles) brings 320 pounds of heft to the nose tackle position. Eathyn Manumaleuna (33 tackles), a 290-pound senior, controls the point of attack at end. He found a home outside last fall after shuffling inside to replace Fuga in 2010; Fuga missed most of that season, forcing B.Y.U. to move Manumaleuna to nose tackle, but the line was back in its original formation a year ago.

In fact, that injury is worth noting: Fuga tore up his knee that September, and it typically takes two years for a player to work his way back to his prior form – especially a plus-sized interior linemen. Manumaleuna will be joined at end by senior Ian Dulan, a former starter who took a redshirt last fall after returning from his mission. Dulan is flying in under the radar, but I think he could be a breakout star along the front seven.

B.Y.U.’s secondary is steady but spectacular – a phrase that could be used to define this entire defense, in fact. It’s a veteran group that breaks in some fresh blood with sophomore Jordan Johnson (16 tackles, 2 interceptions), who steps in for Corby Eason at cornerback. While Johnson was impressive in his first taste of game action, he’s due to receive the lion’s share of attention from opposing quarterbacks; senior Preston Hadley (51 tackles) is a far more experienced starter with a nose for the football, and I wouldn’t be surprised if teams shied away from his side while Johnson proves himself.

One theme echoed out of spring camp: Daniel Sorensen (61 tackles, 2 interceptions) and Joe Sampson (23 tackles, 5.0 for loss) were making plays at safety. Getting this sort of production from the back end would be enormous for this defense, which had some issues last fall preventing the big play – the Cougars ranked 48th nationally in allowing plays of 40 or more yards. While Sampson was Sorensen’s backup last fall, moving him over to free safety allows B.Y.U. to get its two best on the field at the same time. Depth comes from senior Mike Hague, a former fullback entering his second season on the defensive side of the ball.

The Cougars are close to holding the edge on special teams, but they must get more consistency from junior kicker Justin Sorensen, who started last season strong but had an awful second half – Sorensen made 9 of his first 10 field goals but only 6 of his last 15. Part of his decline can been tied to a back injury, one that forced Sorensen to undergo offseason surgery. While he has yet to return to the field, Mendenhall has stated that he expects Sorensen back for the opener. If Sorensen takes a step forward – and he’s viewed as a major prospect – B.Y.U. will have a nice kicking game to go with its explosive return game. Hoffman and senior Mike Hague handle kickoffs while Falslev works on punt returns. Hoffman and Falslev scored one special teams touchdown apiece last fall.

Position battle(s) to watch

Offensive line B.Y.U. might be returning three starters off of last year’s front, but two will be changing positions – while the returning experience helps, this line remains a constant point of emphasis for Mendenhall and this staff heading into the season opener. One thing that’s clearly evident, however, is that the Cougars’ linemen have rededicated themselves in the weight room and on the buffet line, hitting the first and ignoring the latter; the line is not only smaller than in the past but also notably better conditioned, which might help B.Y.U. not only combat the sort of injuries that have plagued the line over the last few years but also get a more consistent, 60-minute effort on a weekly basis.

The only returning starter who remains in his old spot is senior right tackle Braden Brown, a former tight end who has started every game over the last two seasons. But the Cougars will shift senior Braden Hansen from right to left guard, once Hansen gets his conditioning in order, and move left guard Houston Reynolds from left guard to center. The two moves allow B.Y.U. to move Reynolds into a key spot in the middle, where he should flourish, while handing a starting role over to sophomore Brock Stringham, who will take over at right guard. On the blind side, B.Y.U. will replace an all-American in Matt Reynolds with a redshirt freshman, Ryker Matthews, and let the youngster take his lumps. But Matthews is bound to be special: he spent last season behind Reynolds, learning the craft, and held offers from several national powers as a high school senior.

If he falters, B.Y.U. could always turn to sophomore Michael Yeck, last year’s backup on the blind side and the top reserve at right tackle. While there are some moving pieces up front, I like what B.Y.U. can do on the edge with Matthews and Brown; in addition, moving Hansen and Reynolds should lead to a stronger showing along the interior. The biggest issue, as of today, is Hansen’s current standing in Mendenhall’s doghouse. While he’s trimmed some additional weight, Hansen needs to work his way back into the staff’s good graces with a strong fall camp.

Game(s) to watch

It’s certainly a tougher schedule than last year’s version, which was difficult in September but mostly a cakewalk late – outside of T.C.U., that is. Then again, it’s not quite as hearty a slate as B.Y.U. will encounter in 2013, as noted earlier. The Cougars take on four teams I have in or just outside the top 25: Boise State, Utah, Georgia Tech and Notre Dame. In addition, each game comes on the road. B.Y.U. also plays host to another pair of Pac-12 opponents in Washington State and Oregon State, gets a tough Utah State team in October and can’t afford a late slipup against San Jose State in November. It’s a tough schedule, but it’s survivable – and one that gives B.Y.U. many opportunities to make noise.

Season breakdown & prediction

In a nutshell A tougher schedule, but also a better team. B.Y.U. is better nearly across the board, from quarterback to safety, and there’s no reason why the Cougars can’t take last season’s solid finish and carry it over to this fall, notching yet another double-digit win season. Notching another 10 wins will take a victory during bowl play, however, as I can’t see this team escaping the regular season with less than three losses; there’s Utah, Boise State, Notre Dame and Georgia Tech, all on the road, not to mention a pair of Pac-12 games in Provo. That’s a serious schedule, but as noted, it’s what the Cougars signed on for when the program became an Independent: B.Y.U. wants to make a larger impact, to have a wider footprint, and one way to do that is schedule up from September through November.

Why the Cougars can survive this schedule – and flourish, even – is because of the team’s senior leadership, potential to dominate at receiver, tremendous front seven and steady secondary. Overall, this defense will be the best since 2006, Mendenhall’s second season, and should end the year ranked among the best in college football. On offense, the Cougars have a leader in Nelson, who simply wills this team to victory late in games, and one of the more underappreciated receiver corps in the nation – Hoffman, Apo and Matthews form a very dynamic trio. Alone, the team’s talent is enough to win eight games. Whether B.Y.U. gets beyond that point hinges on offensive line play, which in turn will have a tremendous impact on the team’s running game. For now, that’s the team’s biggest concern: B.Y.U. has shuffled things up front in search of the right combination, but it was frustrating to see the offense sputter during the spring while the line worked its way into form.

B.Y.U. should set the baseline and eight wins and push hard for nine, and the latter total is doable if the line rounds into form. There are great teams on this schedule, but none with the firepower to blow the Cougars’ doors off. Again, the defense will keep B.Y.U. in every game. To get to 10-2 would likely take a 3-1 mark during those four tough road games; more likely, the Cougars do no better than split that pair and head into bowl play with nine wins. In that case, while I think very highly of B.Y.U.’s quarterback, receivers and defense, the nine wins would come against the weaker portion of this schedule – which would justify a national ranking, but not one among the top 10 or 15 teams in the country.

Dream season B.Y.U. loses only once, at Georgia Tech, winning 11 games for the first time since 2009 and the third time overall under Mendenhall. The final score on Sept. 15: B.Y.U. 38, Utah 6. This is a dream season.

Nightmare season The good teams dominate: B.Y.U. loses to the Utes, Boise State, Notre Dame, Georgia Tech, Washington State and Oregon State, suffering six losses for the second time in three years.

In case you were wondering

Where do B.Y.U. fans congregate? I’m always pleasantly surprised by the number of solid B.Y.U. Web sites, such as Cougar BoardVanquish the Foe, Cougar Blue and Cougar Corner, among others. For recruiting coverage, a topic growing in popularity among the B.Y.U. football faithful, check out Total Blue Sports and Cougar Nation.

B.Y.U.’s all-name nominee DE Remington Peck.

Word Count

Through 105 teams 427,568.

Up Next

Who is No. 19? As an F.B.S. assistant, the head coach at tomorrow’s program served under three head coaches with a combined career record of 480-225-2.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Home  Home

Comments

  1. Aaron says:

    Nebraska is not next.

  2. Chase says:

    Great post! You did forget to mention Austin Holt Devin Mahina, both of whom are expected to contribute at TE. We have more TEs than the New England Patriots.

  3. tulaneoutlaw says:

    I’ve been lurking all Countdown but haven’t had any reason to post since Tulane way back at the beginning. But being a military history buff I have to say this is my favorite Arbitrary Top 5. Nice work!

    Paul: What had me torn on the list was picking Trafalgar or the Nile for No. 1. Trafalgar is more memorable, not to mention it’s the battle where Nelson was killed. But does that battle happen without Nelson leading a victory at the Nile? Who knows.

  4. Kyle says:

    Will you never learn? ;-)

  5. Dr. Nick says:

    Arkansas is next. John L. Smith was an assistant under Chris Ault (226–103–1), Dennis Erickson (179–96–1), and Bobby Petrino (75–26).

  6. Dr. Nick says:

    As a BYU fan dreaming of a BCS bowl, I think there is no way BYU would be shut-out going undefeated against that schedule – particularly with those 4 tough road games. And unless teams like Oregon State, Wazzu, and Hawaii turn out to have wildly successful years, the schedule isn’t tough enough for BYU to sneak in at 10-2.

    But let’s say BYU gets a few breaks and ends up 11-1, loosing one of those four big road games (any are possible but the trip to GT scares me most). Is that enough to get them into a BCS bowl?

  7. Utahute72 says:

    LOL, BYU 38-6. This is virtually the same BYU team that was gonna trounce Utah last year. All Nelson did in the game last year was fumble, int and let the score blossom in Utah’s favor. All we heard last year was “If only Heaps had started all year…” and this year, “If only Riley had started all year….”

    Paul: Well, that does come under the “Dream season” portion, and is followed by the disclaimer, “This is a dream season.” As you can tell by looking along the right sidebar, I think more highly of Utah than B.Y.U. in 2012.

  8. Kyle says:

    ^ @Paul: Yeah…some of our fans don’t always read when it comes to BYU. They just kind of take a “shoot first, ask questions later” kind of approach. I don’t condone it, but there it is.

    Kyle, Utah ’06

  9. Chase says:

    Yes, it is virtually the same team as last year. Except for the whole entrenched, senior QB who’s completely changed the culture of the football team with his leadership. I mean yeah, other than that they’re the same.

  10. Tim says:

    Another great preview. You really do your homework. I predict BYU will finish 9-3, winning 1 of the 4 road games, with a chance for ten wins in the Poinsettia Bowl.

  11. Mike says:

    Being new to the state of Utah… and being a college football fan, but not of any team here (go Irish… and sorry BYU, you’re going down this year), there’s one thing I always notice about any story on BYU on the internet. There are always Utah fans on the boards full of disparaging words for BYU and its fans. However, the opposite is not true (I’m not saying there’s never any BYU fan trolling a Utah board, I just have yet to notice). I came out here on a job and was asking about this phenomenon from a couple of co-workers. One was a Utah fan and the other a BYU fan… Ute fan’s reaction: we just hate BYU so bad… BYU fan’s reaction: Get used to Utah and their “little brother” mentality, it’s never going away.

    Listen, I don’t care, but that sounds about right. I’m from Indiana. I knew a ton of BYU fans out there, but no Utah fans. In fact, I didn’t even realize that the Utah Utes even had a decent fan base until I came out here. They love the Utes here. However, I get the little brother mentality since nobody outside Utah even really knows who they are.

  12. Ryan says:

    Best ranking breakdown of BYU I’ve ever read!!!! I’ll be reading your write ups of BYU’s opponents now. Great work and I’ll now be checking in frequently.

  13. Scott Wallace says:

    Thanks for the write up.

  14. Scott Wallace says:

    Mike’s comment above on the fan base was spot on.

  15. Dr. Nick says:

    Mike,
    I’m a BYU fan and I get the “little brother mentality” argument, but I think it also has something to do with just how easy it is to troll the average BYU fan. On average we’re somewhat gullible and that gives a troll exactly what they want. A little why back on VanquishTheFoe.com there was an obviously tongue-in-cheek critique of BYU fans, several of whom didn’t get the joke and responded with very defensive comments. I think that encourages Utah fans to make outrageous comments to BYU fans regularly.

  16. Scott Wallace says:

    If Riley Nelson wins a bit one can he get a victory on the Horatio Nelson’s greatest victories list?

  17. bayzing says:

    BYU is a good team… they’re consistently overlooked.. but they play hard and always seem to have a good gameplan. Glad to see their schedule is getting more difficult. It would have been nice to see them tested late in the season last year. I’m actually quite glad they’re on ESPN now… and no longer playing in obscurity on the Mountain Network.

    Yes… if they go through this season 11-1 they’ll make it to a BCS game. But NO… that’s no likely to happen. BYU is predictably (over the last 15-20 years) a team always around the cusp of the top 25. They almost always beat the teams they should… and almost always lose to superior competition (top 15 teams).

    This year I predict they’ll go 1-3 against their more difficult opponents…. and finish the season at 8-4. Boise State and Utah are clearly their most difficult games. And NO… BYU will not beat Utah 38-6 in Salt Lake City. Utah has owned that series of late (BYU won convincingly only once in the last 20 years).

  18. JMM says:

    Jarvis is gonna be mad about that list, and you don’t want to make Jarvis mad

  19. Cosmo says:

    Byu is too high. Listen, you have incredible previews. I read every one of them. But byu will lose five games this year. They are 40-45 worthy. Too bad to beat good teams, but just good enough to beat bad teams by eight or ten points.

  20. David says:

    Paul,

    As always, a great review. I disagree with your 9-3 prediction, I say 10-2.

    I see BYU splitting its tough road games (Utah, Boise, Notre Dame, GT) and winning the rest of its games. The only potential loss is Washington St., since no one really knows what that team will look like. BYU is not going to lose any other home games and will not lose on the road to San Jose St and New Mexico St.

  21. cosmo says:

    It is just as likely, in my opinion, that byu wins 4 games as it is that they only lose 2.

  22. Joey Kennedy says:

    “We will see BYU competing for a national championship?”
    It’s a little early for that talk son. They haven’t been undefeated for 30 years, and even if they did go undefeated, (which is highly unlikely), they would still be relegated to a BCS bowl (if they are lucky), but no National Championship spot. Boise State, TCU, and Utah have both been shut out of the National Championship game after going undefeated, why would BYU be any different?

  23. Scott Wallace says:

    The schedule has the big 4 on the road and WSU/OSU at home. Most people have the big two home games as wins. But no one agrees which road games they will win. I think the most likely wins are BSU and GA Tech.

  24. Wrote a season wins total and received several comments from BYU fans saying that Nelson has looked a lot sharper throwing the ball (in practice) and was also told he had played the bowl game w/ broken ribs, which would at least partially explain his poor passing performance.

    I am projecting 8 wins, but if Nelson has in fact improved his passing, 9 is definitely doable.

  25. G says:

    Great write up. Very in depth and unbiased. Interesting in the dream season you have the lone loss being to Georgia Tech…most cougar fans think that Boise State or Notre Dame is more likely. Most BYU fans are predicting 8-9 wins and hoping for 10. If the year starts well, watch out…it could be good!

  26. Mars says:

    BYU is good enough to win 9 games in the regular season this year, 10 wins with an already-lined up bowl against the MWC. Notre Dame and Boise State are rough roadies though.

    The main differences from 2011? Senior QB Riley Nelson and RB Michael Alisa to start the year. FB Iona Pritchard to run block, with Jamaal Williams, Foote, and Hine to help the ground attack. Thinner, lighter, stronger OL after off-season weight, diet, and nutrition training. Deeper WR core, starters very experienced, 2nd-string still young. Stronger, faster, more experienced D.

    As to Mike’s comments above… Classic! And so true too.

  27. DHan says:

    Excellent breakdown Paul. I’m impressed by all the homework that you’ve done. However, I’m with the guys who are predicting 10-2, but 9-3 wouldn’t kill me either.

  28. Dr. Nick says:

    Mars,
    I buy into the benefits of a senior QB and an established RB, but I worry that all the rest of that is the standard pre-season hype. I think BYU could be better than last year and still only win 8 games in the regular season.

  29. Scott Wallace says:

    The kicking game is a huge question mark. Sorensen had back surgery and the recovery has been slow. I strongly expect that he will not be able to go when the season starts. Who will kick PATs and FGs? Kickoffs have been done by the punter in the past so I am not too concerned about that side. But this could cost us a game or two.

  30. Scott Wallace says:

    Another point you did not mention is that Nelson went a few games without a 3 and out series. I think it was from the last half of the Utah St game until some point in the TCU game. If he can improve in that area, the D will get good rest and it would help win the field position battle. Bronco is huge on that and it was the winning edge in the Tulsa bowl game who started seven series inside of their 20 yard line.

  31. Paul B says:

    BYU higher than TCU? I’ve got blue goggles, but we’re not that good. TCU has got our number lately…. I’m kind of glad we don’t have to play them this year.

  32. Jimmy Z says:

    I always enjoy these write-ups and check in daily once we get into the top 30 or so. I think this is about right for BYU. If I recall they finished last season ranked in the lower end of the top 25, and this year they are returning a lot of their playmakers. They came to our house last year (Texas) and gave us everything we could handle – especially in the first half. This was with their previous QB that looked pretty inept.

    Mike’s description of the BYU-Utah rivalry above sounds a lot like Texas-TAMU. I don’t care what conference TAMU is in, they will always be a little whining brother to us.

  33. Scott Wallace says:

    15 days until game day

  34. Tim says:

    This article was referenced on a local sports radio station today, LOL

    Paul: I was on with one station, I think it was 960, can’t remember. Talked a little B.Y.U. football.

  35. Tim says:

    They also mentioned BYU’s receiving corp was ranked as the #10 in the nation by Yahoo sports.

  36. Carey says:

    Cougs are gonna suprise people this year!

    Rise and Shout!

  37. Spencer says:

    Can’t wait until the season starts! This is going to be a good season – most good games are on the road, but the challenge will prepare BYU for its toughest schedule in history in 2013. I’m predicting a 9-3 regular season record, losing all but one o the four tough road games.

  38. Brady says:

    BYU could have a very good season. I think they are going to surprise a lot of people this year. There isn’t a game on their schedule that they can’t win. We’ll see how it all pans out though.

  39. Josh says:

    RISE AND SHOUT!!!

  40. Klark says:

    I wasn’t ‘as excited’ for the 2012 season as I was for 2013 until recently as I’ve seen the polls say BYU will play 4 top 30 teams.

    Thanks for the in-depth write up. It continues to fuel my excitement. Only 2 weeks away from game day!

  41. James says:

    I went to practice the other day. They looked good. They better be at least 10-3. I’m hoping for better though.

  42. SSA says:

    Don’t forget cougarfan.com

  43. Tim says:

    Paul: I was on with one station, I think it was 960, can’t remember. Talked a little B.Y.U. football.

    That was the station, Paul. I just caught the end of it. I would have liked to hear what you had to say. Former Y players Alema Harrington and Ben Criddle are the hosts.

    I cannot wait until Aug 30th for the opener at LES before a national ESPN audience. Hopefully the (BYU) Cougars can dominate former BYU alum Mike Leach’s (WSU) Cougars.

  44. Scott Wallace says:

    Tim, where is that radio station? Utah would be my guess. Does Paul do radio appearances around the country? That would be cool and good exposure for him and his website.

  45. David says:

    Wow, this post is on the site’s top-5 commented list. A bit shocking.

  46. Scott Wallace says:

    Well we do have a national fan base, in the 30′s if I remember right.

  47. Scott Wallace says:

    cougarfan.com agregates articles on BYU. I don’t think it has a chat or message board.

  48. Scott Wallace says:

    Another stat worth looking at is our 3rd down conversion rate. Heaps had trouble with it but Riley excelled. With Riley, I think it was over 50%.

    PS we open in two weeks against Washington St.

  49. BYU Grounds says:

    Go Cougs! Looking forward to a fun year with Riley and company!

  50. David says:

    The only thing that I am concerned about is that Riley played against two quality teams: TCU and Tulsa. Special teams failed us against TCU and Riley played okay, not great. He had a pretty below average game except for two key drives at the end of the 2nd quarter and at the end of the game to win it.

    Jake Heaps was very similar when he took over the starting role and everyone was hyped about him coming into last year. Clearly, Riley’s leadership is far beyond anything Jake ever had, but the parallels between 2010 to 2011 and 2011 to 2012 are very similar. I hope Riley gets off to a strong start against Washington St. Heaps was terrible against Ole Miss and had a good first quarter against Texas, the rest was not good. Heaps didn’t have any running game and I am hoping BYU can run the ball better with Alisa and its young core of running backs.

    If they can beat Washington St. and Utah, it could be a special season. If they lose either, we will probably see a 9-win season.

  51. Tim says:

    “Tim, where is that radio station? Utah would be my guess.”

    Yeah its the Cougarblue show on 960 AM in Utah County, which is a simulcast station most of the day with 1280 the Zone in Salt Lake City, except during the Cougarblue show from 1-3 pm.

    Imagine the hype if the Cougs start 4-0. Its always fun to think of ‘what ifs’ this time of year.

  52. Scott Wallace says:

    Time to restore the Church of the Undefeated. If we start 4-0 there will be a lot of hype about the team and a top 20 maybe 15 ranking. Hope the team can handle it if it happens.

  53. by76 says:

    Scott – you’re falling into the trap that BYU fans so often do… by thinking that every year is 1984 and that BYU is on the cusp of repeating their national championship glory. Last time the hype reached a fever pitch was in 2008, and we all know how the “quest for perfection” turned out.

    As someone who has followed BYU for years (I consider myself a realistic BYU fan) – I’d say the probability of beating all 4 of our most difficult opponents this year is somewhere around 1-5%. Do you really think BYU is going to defeat Utah, and Boise State on the road? Georgia Tech and Notre Dame I’d say are 50/50 odds… but clearly Utah and Boise State will have the upper hand against BYU this year. Even here on PreSnapRead (which is typically favorable to BYU) both Boise and Utah are projected to be stronger teams this year. Utah especially seems to get hyped for the BYU game. If I try to be completely unbiased and realistic, I think BYU has 3/1 or 4/1 odds of defeating Utah in Salt Lake this year, and the same goes for Boise. Altogether, I calculate about 40/1 odds of BYU beating all four of their most difficult opponents (Boise State, Utah, Ga Tech, ND) and about 60/1 odds of going undefeated. Odds of them losing to all 4 difficult opponents is (in my opinion) about 8/1.

    Then again, maybe Riley Nelson is a ringer and BYU’s defense is something amazingly special. Is this 1984 or 1996 – I guess that’s remotely possible, but I think a dream season this year looks more like 1985, 1991, 2006, or 2007.

  54. Scott Wallace says:

    I agree that our odds of 4-0 are long but if it happens then that means Riley is having a special senior year and our odds of 12-0 will shoot up dramatically along with the hype. I don’t know if the team can handle the hype. FSU shot the hype down big time in 2008 and then the team struggled after that loss.

  55. Scott Wallace says:

    13 days to game day

  56. by76 says:

    Scott,

    I think you mean TCU shot down the hype in 2008. It was FSU who shot down the hype in 2009 (two weeks after BYU beat Oklahoma).

    BTW… If you take out the 4 difficult games, I think BYU actually has a 70%-80% chance of running the table and winning ALL of the remaining games on their schedule.

  57. Mars says:

    “I buy into the benefits of a senior QB and an established RB, but I worry that all the rest of that is the standard pre-season hype. I think BYU could be better than last year and still only win 8 games in the regular season.”

    Dr. Nick,

    There is definitely always hype, and BYU fans have been hyper-aware of that this off-season and pre-season. So what are the known facts? A new diet and conditioning program. Less heavy offensive linemen. A heavier Marcus Mathews at TE. FB Iona Pritchard returning from a surprise broken leg just before the start of last season. And no Jake Heaps. That alone gives me confidence in 8 wins and hope for 9 or maaybe even 10 this year.

    Then add in brand-new freshmen like Jamaal Williams, Adam Hine, Dylan Collie, and Taysom Hill and you could have some interesting additions of speed option attacks for this coming season.

  58. RL says:

    Nelson at QB believer BYUs only 2 quality wins the past two years UW and Tulsa. LY BYU was 1-4 against Sagarin top 50. This year they will likely get 5 shots, the Bowl, WSU, or OU possibly being a 5th. I see BYU beating GT who will be worn down, 1/3 out of UU, ND, BSU. If those were home games BYU would win 2. So 10-2, 11-2 after the bowl, 16ish ranking and then just try to make a bowl in 2013

  59. Scott Wallace says:

    The 2013 preview should be interesting. Tough schedule and a young team. That is the downside of 29 seniors this year.

  60. Scott Wallace says:

    Well our top 4 games team previews have not shown yet. So if we can split the four on the road, we should be looking at top 15.

  61. Scott Wallace says:

    12 days until game day. Monday Bronco is putting in the WSU game plan. Which of our games will be the hardest? I think Notre Dame on the road.

  62. Derrick says:

    Good analysis. Here’s to 11 wins!

  63. Mike says:

    Good preview. I think you have the cougars in the right spot. They will surprise some people this year.

  64. Derek says:

    I think BYU wins every game this season, but it looks like I might be the only one who thinks that. Boise State is overrated after losing most of their starters, Notre Dame is always overrated, and Georgia Tech and Utah are certainly beatable. They’re not playing any legitimately great teams on the road.

    If this is really a good team, they need to go undefeated against this schedule. Senior QB, great defense, lots of returning starters, this is the season for them to go to a BCS bowl. If they can’t do it this year, they probably will never do it.

  65. VikingLord says:

    It’s good to see an optimistic article about my cougs. If you listen/read what the local media here in utah puts out you would think we will be lucky to win 6-8 games. I for one think that this will be a special year. Our defense be dominate and keep the scores low. With a senior QB in Nelson, a deep and talented group of receivers, a much improved run game, and a better conditioned OL, BYU will be putting up a lot of points. I see a top 10 finish for this team.

  66. Ryan says:

    Should be a great year to be a cougar.

  67. tysonc says:

    go cougars!

    i think they go 10 – 2 this year. with the sched, a one loss would put them in the debate for bcs.

  68. jack says:

    Why is Boise getting so much love this year? They lost 6 players to the draft, including their best ever rb,they lost the winningest QB in NCAA history, and they lost 9 of their top 10 players on D.

    To by76….yes, I do fully expect byu to handle Boise on the road, and with relative ease. I think it’s comical that you give byu no shot at beating Boise this year. Or for that matter, the yewts too. Either team is at best a fringe top 30 team. Boise probably not even that.

    I expect a special season this year 11-2 or even 12-1. And if we get some lucky bounces, maybe even 13-0.

  69. G says:

    I really believe it all comes down to the first few games this year. IF BYU starts strong, watch out! If it’s a slow start and a big loss to Utah it could be an 8-4 season with no marquee wins and zero bragging rights. I think there is a chance that with a 1 or 2 loss season, they could make a BCS bowl, depending on how everything else shakes out.

    Senior QB, better RB’s, incredible receivers, leaner/faster offensive line and possibly the best BYU defense in a decade all = huge potential. You just have to hope that the ball bounces your way a couple of times and you have luck on your side.

  70. by76 says:

    Derek,

    Just curious… Why do you think BYU will win all of their games this year? What justifies your thinking? Is there something the rest of us don’t know?

    I’m especially pleased that the folks from PreSnapRead think we’re deserving of a top 20 preseason ranking. Most pundits thing we’re somewhere in the 30-40 range. Quite frankly, BYU has under-performed the preseason/early season hype in the past. You don’t have to go back that long (remember the 2008 Quest for Perfection) – that 2008 team was pretty loaded (Max Hall, Austin Collie). So was the 2009 team that beat Oklahoma. In both cases BYU saw a ton of pre-season and early season hype, and in both cases we came nowhere close to a perfect season. Those teams were very good but didn’t come close to achieving the greatness of the 1996 or 1984 teams.

    This is not a rebuilding year for BYU, but it’s not a year where we’re loaded with talent. Defense looks strong, but I still worry about SPEED (which will probably always be an issue as long as there’s an honor code).

    As far as BYU’s competitors – Notre Dame is overrated (I think that is the most winnable of the 4 tough road games). Boise State is also somewhat overrated (tough to replace Kellan Moore) but I still think the Bronco’s are a physical team that will be tough to be in Boise. Ga. Tech is a wild card – but I don’t believe BYU has better than 50 percent odds in that game. Utah will be extremely tough. Utah is loaded this year and they’ll be fired up as usual. If we win, it’ll be by the skin of our teeth as has been the case for the last 20 years.

  71. by76 says:

    Jack,

    Are you a new BYU fan? Do you not remember 2008 & 2009 when we were “preordained” to go a BCS bowl? Do you not remember the humility we all felt when the Yewts achieved the Quest for Perfection the very year we were supposed to? Pull off the blue sunglasses for a bit and let some reality beam down upon you. THIS IS NOT A YEAR WE WILL GO UNDEFEATED!

    For the record, Boise State lost a bunch of starters… but last I checked Chris Peterson was still coaching… and he seems to have a knack for stringing together undefeated (or near undefeated) seasons with much greater success than Bronco Mendenhall. For you to suggest that we can go to Boise and “handily” beat Boise sort of stinks of BYU overzealous optimism.

    Meanwhile, the YEWTS may indeed be a fringe top30 team – but then what does that make us? Were you at the game last year to see the 54-10 debacle or were you one of the fans walking out with your tail between your legs in the middle of the 3rd quarter. Utah has a top 5 defensive line, a top 15 defense, and much more depth on offense then they did last year… and they’re playing at home. And – It pains me to say it- but Kyle Whittingham knows and thing or two about coaching and will have his team ready. I think Utah will be our most difficult game this year… last time we won convincingly against BYU was 1996! If we win, it’ll be on a John Beck – Johnny Harline type of miracle finish.

    Listen, I expect BYU to have a decent year. I’m a believer in Riley Nelson, I love BYU’s defense, and I think Brandon Doman will have this offense rolling… but their not going to win every game. Don’t set us up like that… this is a 9-3 season… maybe we get some lucky breaks and get to 10-2, but we’re not going on the road and beating four top-25 teams this year.

  72. Scott Wallace says:

    11 days until kickoff.

  73. jonnnylingo says:

    I say 8 and 4 season. the Utah and Boise State games are the biggest two games of the year.

    If BYU beats Utah I may revise my predication that that point to a 10-2 season.

  74. Scott Wallace says:

    10 days to go.

    If we start 3-0 by beating Utah, I see a 11-1 season.

  75. Scott Wallace says:

    9 days to kickoff. The team is now prepping for the WSU game.

  76. Scott Wallace says:

    8 days left.

  77. cosmo says:

    thanks for the updates, scott wallace. I don’t know what we would do if we saw your comment saying “9 days to kickoff” was posted 24 hours earlier. I’m sure we would all just assume it was still 9 days away.

  78. Scott Wallace says:

    Can’t wait. It is single digit and soon will be on one hand. The build up to the game has started.

  79. Reality Check says:

    For a non-AQ to get to a BCS, they must be perfect. No non-AQ has gotten there with one loss.

  80. Scott Wallace says:

    We will get a hint of how good we are in two days. Doubt a 11-1 will get us in as you have stated unless our opponents are better than we think they are.

  81. Blake says:

    A lot fo BYU fans are really nervous about GA Tech. I’m not saying GA Tech will be a cake walk, but I like BYU’s chances in that matchup for 3 reasons:

    1 – The mental component of college football. I think GA Tech comes into Oct 27th with 2 losses and is a little down on themselves. I’m from GA and I know teams in the south (especially their young players) have a tendency to underestimate teams from the Rockies. I think GA Tech is going to expect an easy win against the Cougars and BYU catches them off guard.

    2 – Ga Tech’s offense vs BYU’s Defense. Anyone who has watched just about any BYU defense will draw the same conclusion: Their secondary is always their weakness. A “good” BYU defense usually can be strong against the run but will inevitably lack the athleticism to keep up with faster, taller wide receivers. Luck for BYU, GA Tech has no passing game. So it will fall to BYU’s front/middle 7 (which is their defensive strength) to hold GA tech in check. I think BYU will have an easier (not easy, but easiER) time that GA Tech at putting points on the board in that game.

    3. I was at GA Tech/Clemson last year. That was as pumped up you’ll ever see the home crowd get in Atlanta. And after being there in person I have to say, it’s not a very intimidating “away” field to play on. It’s not Boise State, U of Washington, Notre Dame, the Horseshoe, or The Swamp by any stretch. The construction let’s the noise easily escape and overall is not a tough environment for a road team.

    I’ll be there for BYU/GA Tech with some GA Tech alumni friends and I expect to see shock and disappointment on their faces.

    SIDE NOTE for readers unfamiliar with the BYU/Utah rivalry. The thing I love about SEC, Big 12 and Big 10 football is the rivalries and tradition between teams. I’m a UGA fan and Georgia/Florida is a perfect example. But I live in Utah now and I have to say, BYU/Utah is every bit as intense a rivalry as any two teams in the nation. In fact it might even be a little worse because these fan bases have a hard time keeping things civil with one another. I mean, they LOATHE each other. It’s really quite entertaining to see in person and it’s no wonder it spills over onto the interwebs. I’d sum up their discourse like this:

    Utah fans spend a lot of energy telling BYU fans how terrible they are.

    BYU fans spend a lot of energy telling themselves how amazing they are.

    Neither spends very much time telling anyone how good or bad Utah is.

  82. Scott Wallace says:

    Thanks Blake. We have been talking about which games are the hardest ones. GA Tech came in as the second most toughest game. For now I am nervous about WSU tomorrow.

  83. Scott Wallace says:

    24 hours to kickoff!

  84. Scott Wallace says:

    Great game last night. 30-6 BYU. Went much better than I feared. In two weeks it will be Utah. Huge game that will tell us what kind of year we will have.

  85. bayzing says:

    Holy cow… we’ve actually been a week without Scott Wallace randomly posting a meaningless message just to keep BYU among the most commented blog posts!

  86. Will says:

    The worst thing that could happen before a Utah-BYU game occurred last week: Utah lost. They NEVER lose bounce-back games. Whittingham is a better coach than Mendenhall in the sense he gets his players super fired up. They were looking past Utah State to the BYU game, so now they’re even hungrier. On top of this, Jon Hays is a better QB than Jordan Wynn and now he’s taken over the reigns of the team. Freshman QB Travis Wilson will get a lot of time on the field, too, and he can handle it. Who in the hell ever thought playing Boise State on their putrid blue carpet 5 days after playing Utah on the road in the last rivalry game was a good idea, needs to have their brain examined. NO big time program would ever do that to their coaches and players.

Leave a Comment