The 2012 season couldn’t come fast enough.
While fans may have found it hard to stay optimistic, those inside the program didn’t. At BYU’s Media Day, players and coaches made it clear that none of the challenges or negative reports had dampened their determination. Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall is still shooting for a top 10 finish. Quarterback Riley Nelson said the team “just love[d] the opportunity to play football again,” and “all I want to do is win football games.” Linebacker Kyle Van Noy explained, “The work we’re doing is getting put in right. It is getting put in constructively. We are getting smarter and faster and stronger.”
This team isn’t about to make any excuses. There are 29 seniors on the team. “This is our last hurrah. We want to take full advantage,” said Nelson.
In Mendenhall’s eighth season, BYU has a lot to take advantage of. Seven starters return on both sides of the ball, as well as both the punter and place kicker. A slew of experienced players are ready to fill in the four open spots on both offense and defense.
On offense, BYU returns 63 percent of its rushing production, including three players who had 298 yards or more. Over 78 percent of BYU’s receiving yards return, as well. Replacing the lost yards will depend largely on the two new offensive linemen. The Cougars have experienced skill position players returning who can handle increased volume.
On defense, the top five leading tacklers return. In 2011, they accounted for nearly 40 percent of all tackles made. Four other expected starters combined for 126 tackles. The 2012 defense is expected to be just as good, if not better, than a year ago when the Cougar D finished 13th in the nation in total yards allowed per game.
The schedule is manageable. Games against Washington State, Oregon State, and Utah State may be closer than some would like, but should come out as wins. The four challenging road games (Utah, Boise State, Notre Dame, Georgia Tech) aren’t so daunting that the Cougars can’t come away with a win in each of them. How much character this team has will determine the outcome of these games.
Whether BYU has the character to beat the better teams on its schedule isn’t the only question on people’s minds going into the season. The answers to ten other questions will go a long way in shaping the season.
1. How will the new coaches do in year two?
Following 2011, offensive coordinator Brandon Doman openly assumed blame for many of the offensive struggles early in the year. With a year under his belt, how much improvement will be seen? Joe DuPaix needs to get his running backs picking up ground whether a hole is there or not. They also need to be more involved in the pass game. Ben Cahoon has a ton of raw talent to work with. He needs to develop Ross Apo and make him just as unstoppable as Cody Hoffman.
2. How will having 29 seniors impact the team’s performance?
Cougar squads heavy with upper classmen have done surprisingly well over the years. The 1996 and 2001 teams immediately come to mind. Will this year’s group of seniors be the catalyst to another special season?
3. Who will be the surprising newcomers?
Even with 29 seniors, 16 starters, and several key contributors returning, there is still room for newcomers to make an impact. Jordan Johnson’s name has come up more than once in interviews with coaches and players. Ezekiel Ansah has a great story and could finally be ready to bloom. Paul Lasike or Iona Pritchard could be primed to play a key role in the offense.
4. Will the injured players be able to return to pre-injury form?
Three tight ends saw their 2011 season end early. Several players had surgery following the season and were kept out of spring practices. A great number more were injured during spring practices. The whole time, Mendenhall tried to assure everyone that all players were scheduled to be back and ready when fall camp started.
5. Will some players have NFL caliber seasons?
Kyle Van Noy and Cody Hoffman are the ones fans will be watching the closest, and judging whether they will leave a year early or come back for their senior seasons. However, offensive lineman Braden Hansen, linebackers Uona Kaveinga and Brandon Ogletree, and several defensive linemen could play their way into the NFL with superb seasons.
6. Can BYU continue to oppress the option?
Air Force isn’t on the schedule, but another option team is: Georgia Tech. For decades, BYU prided itself on being able to shutdown the option. Shutting down the Yellow Jacket’s version of the option would really catch people’s eye and is essential to get a win in Atlanta.
7. Will we witness the start of a new rivalry?
During the months of uncertainty over the continuation of the series with Utah, fans started preparing to find a new rival. BYU’s long term series with Boise State starts this year, and many have identified the Broncos as a prime candidate for a rival. Will this year’s game be rivalry-worthy material?
8. Will the investment in a nutritionist pay off?
BYU took the time and money to invest in better nutrition for its players. How soon will this investment start paying dividends? Will those dividends show up in the win column?
9. What will year two on ESPN bring?
The first year of independence saw unprecedented coverage of BYU football on ESPN. Only twice did ESPN not broadcast a Cougar game. ESPN has already announced that it will carry five of the first six BYU games. Will they do the same over the second half of the season? Will ESPN make an extra special effort to publicize BYU if they are undefeated or have one loss late in the season?
10. How big of a presence will BYU have in the polls?
BYU was a mainstay in the polls from 2007-09. Since that time, the Cougars have been lucky to find themselves ranked. Being ranked is a big measuring stick in how a season is perceived. Can BYU get some impressive wins early that will get them ranked most of the season?
Over the next two weeks, BLUE COUGAR FOOTBALL will preview each position group. Several other intriguing storylines will be covered in these previews, including:
- Ezekiel Ansah.
- The return of O’Neill Chambers.
- Riley Nelson’s development as a passer.
- Riley Nelson’s ability to avoid injury.
- A leaner, meaner offensive line?
- Justin Sorensen’s progression.
- What should be done with Taysom Hill?
- Will Cody Hoffman get more help?
- Can Kyle Van Noy score a third touchdown?
- Developing defensive linemen for 2013.
- The return of the 1,000 yard running back.