It’s time for football! For the second summer in a row we’ve been inundated with conference realignment talk. While it is all very exciting to speculate who may end up where in the next few years…I am relieved to offer you my first weekly preview of the season, and to welcome everyone back to football. Saturday can’t come soon enough.
Ole Miss is coming off an abysmal year that started with a home loss to FCS Jacksonville State. In that game, Ole Miss started quickly and had jumped out to a 31-10 lead at halftime. Jacksonville State rallied in the second half to tie the game at 34 apiece, and two overtimes and one two point conversion later, the game was over. The Rebels ended up with a 4-8 record, with wins over Tulane, Fresno State, Kentucky, and UL Lafayette. The 2010 Rebels would frequently start strong, but allow opponents to score major points in the second half. The defense is only returning three starters, so it is difficult to say if they will have a similar tendency this year. The rebel defense gave up nearly 400 yards and more than 35 points per game. The offense did manage 30 points per game relying on the nation’s 18th best rushing attack, at 207 yards per game, while only coming up with 190 passing yards per game. Many analysts have chosen Ole Miss to finish last in the SEC West this year, and there is no real indication that this year will be any better for the Rebels than last year.
BYU is entering their first year of football independence, and will have the opportunity to make a splash with an early schedule that includes Ole Miss, Texas, Utah, and UCF. Last year the Cougars started 1-4 and ended up 7-6, finishing the season in dominating fashion with a blowout bowl win over UTEP. The season turned around when Jaime Hill was fired as defensive coordinator and Bronco stepped back into his dual role as head coach and DC. The Cougars of 2011 will look different than the Cougars of 2010. Anae and Hill are out, Doman and Bronco are in. Add in Dupaix for the running backs and Cahoon for the receivers, and you’ve got yourself an exciting group of coaches that are energetic and talented. Plenty of returning starters, and some amazing new talent should allow BYU to dominate many teams on both sides of the ball.
Keys to the game
Enter the Doman O. Offensive coordinator/quarterback’s coach Brandon Doman has installed a Pro-Style offense this year. It’s an offense that is meant to rely on the run to play-action pass combination, and with multiple plays run from the same formation, defenses will be kept guessing all game long. Doman isn’t afraid to have Heaps throw the deep ball, and BYU has the receivers to run out and get them. This is a huge change from the offense run by Robert Anae, which was usually as predictable as the sun coming up in the East.
Jake Heaps and the Receivers. Jake Heaps had an amazing season as a freshman, and he peaked at the end of the season, throwing four touchdown passes in the New Mexico Bowl. Heaps will have amazing targets in Cody Hoffman (who caught three of the touchdowns in the bowl game), McKay Jacobson, and Ross Apo. Apo was one of the other guys to commit to BYU in the same press conference as Heaps, and he was expected to play last year, but had a nasty broken finger. Add to these three the other capable receivers, tight ends, and running backs that will join in the passing game, and Jake Heaps will have an amazing array of targets to choose from.
The Rush Attack. JJ DiLuigi, Bryan Kariya, and Josh Quezada were a three-headed beast of running backs last year, and they are all back again this season. DiLuigi had more than 900 rushing yards, and Kariya and Quezada each added 500 yards. Their important role will continue this year in the pro-style offense, which will depend on these experienced rushers to make the play-action believable.
Special Teams. Special teams were given special attention in fall camp, and the Cougars will be wearing black shoes and socks all season to remind them of the emphasis. Justin Sorensen returns from his mission with a booming kick – he’s been hitting field goals of up to 57 yards in camp, despite struggling somewhat with shorter kicks. It will be exciting to see what kind of impact the extra dedication to special teams will have on the gameplay.
Bronco D. Let’s be honest. Since Bronco took over as coordinator, the Defense has been amazing. Bronco’s D returns an experienced line, but is especially stacked at linebacker. The Cougar front seven will be deadly against the run this year, forcing teams to be one-dimensional, having to rely on the pass. This will be difficult for teams like Ole Miss, who rely on the strength of their run game. Player to watch: USC transfer Uona Kaveinga.
Ole Miss is an SEC team, but they are not a good one. This game will be close near the beginning (0-0, right?) but the Cougars will pull away from the Rebels and win the game handily, 35-13.