Year one of independence is behind us, and year two gets under way this week. In thinking about last year, the season really stunk. Stank? Well, it’s been bugging me a bit. We finished 10-3, won our bowl, and still ended up feeling like the season was a great big MEH. Looking back at my preview for last season, I actually picked us to finish 11-2, so expectations weren’t that much higher than reality.
But there was a lot of negative.
A disappointing one-point loss to Texas, followed by a disemboweling at home against Utah really set an awful tone, but we still started with Bronco’s typical 1-2 start. Our only other loss was to TCU; a game which seemed winnable for the first time in years…if it hadn’t been for special teams. Heaps went his merry way, but I think we were all happy with the on-the-field results of Nelson. In the end, when I looked back at my season preview from last year, the only loss I hadn’t predicted was Utah. It was a pretty bad loss though.
So we’re here. All of that is behind us, and we have Riley Nelson and all of his juice ready to lead the way from day one. And I believe in Riley Nelson.
Last year’s offense was a tale of two seasons in one. I’m not going to argue about strength of schedule first half versus last
half. If you want to compare apples to apples, look at the Utah State game, and what Riley did in just over a quarter vs. what Heaps did in nearly 3. The turnaround under Nelson was astounding. All of a sudden blockers were getting running lanes open, receivers were diving for and making some spectacular catches, and when they weren’t, Riley Nelson would scramble for a first down time and again. The most telling stat for me? Under Heaps, BYU was 78th in third down conversions, and at the end of the season, the Cougars were 5th. Imagine if it had been Riley all along.
But it’s not just Riley coming back. He’s joined on offense by a bevvy of familiar faces. He’s got a pair of tall, athletic wide receivers in Cody Hoffman and Ross Apo. Nelson had a particularly good connection with Hoffman towards the end of the season, and Cody ended up with 943 yards and 10 TDs. Michael Alisa is the top returning RB, though he actually trailed Riley Nelson in total rushing yards for the season. Alisa was another player who really got things together near the end of the season. Quezada would have been a strong number two RB this year, but withdrew from BYU just a few weeks ago. The offensive line is anchored by veterans Braden Hanson, Houston Reynolds, and Braden Brown, and I would expect these guys to pick up where they left off at the end of last season.
This is going to be an explosive offense this year. To me, the biggest key is Riley Nelson. His style is sometimes frightening, but if I could use two words to describe it they’d be “guts” and “faith”. He simply does not give up, not on a single play. If it’s broken, he’ll scramble out of the pocket and either find a receiver or bulldoze his way down the field for 10-20 yards. The receivers have begun to watch for this and many times are ready for the scramble-then-throw-it-up play. That’s where the faith comes in. Riley believes that the play he is attempting will work, however unlikely that may seem to us. And when he believes, his team believes, and I believe too.
We’re now a year and a half removed from Jaime Hill’s defense, and once again, this is solidly Bronco’s D. The all out BEAST of a leader is Kyle. Van. Noy. KVN is the only player in Division I football that recorded a stat in every major defensive category. He had 68 tackles, 15 tackles-for-loss, 7 sacks, 3 ints, as well as at least one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, one blocked kick, and a touchdown.
But Van Noy isn’t alone on defense either. He’s got an excellent supporting cast that includes fellow insane linebackers Uona Kaveinga and Brandon Ogletree. The three of them are absolutely frightening. Eathyn Manamaleuna and Romney Fuga will anchor the defensive line, and they will be backed up by an impressive secondary that includes Joe Sampson, Daniel Sorensen, and Preston Hadley.
The linebackers will continue to be the heart and soul of the defense this year, and I’d absolutely love it if Van Noy were given the ability to be a spy on every play. The kid is athletic, and has amazing football sense. If Riley Nelson is the heart of the offense, KVN is the heart of this defense, and he too, should have a very special year.
With the huge special teams emphasis during fall camp last year, Bronco and the other coaches must have been disappointed with how poorly this unit played, especially in the losses. Missed field goals, broken kick protection, and mishandled long-snaps were all too common. On the other hand, Cody Hoffman and JD Falslev returned a kickoff and a punt for a touchdown, respectively. Those were two really great moments for special teams, and the Hoffman return tied BYU up with UCF late in the third quarter of a game they would go on to win. The hope as always is that special teams will end up doing more good than harm.
Season Prediction – 11-2 overall (including bowl)
This year will be defined by four road games, and they come in back-to-back sets. First up will be Utah and Boise State, which come just five days apart. I think The Cougars will steal the game in Salt Lake. Yes, I used the word steal. I think when someone hammers you 54-10, that’s as good as you can call it the next year. Both teams are coming off easy weeks, with Utah facing Utah State, and BYU facing Weber State, but I think the Utes will be caught off guard, in part due to the easy win down in Provo last year. I picked Boise as a loss for the Cougars because they really don’t lose at home. They have the same five day turnaround as us, but win or lose against Utah, I think the blue turf will get the best of the Cougars.
The second pair of games that are a true test for the Cougars are consecutive weeks at Notre Dame and Georgia Tech. Again, I think the Cougars will win the first week and lose the second. Notre Dame is perennially overrated, and this year should be no exception. I think the second consecutive road game, combined with Georgia Tech’s run-heavy attack will be too much for the Cougars. The game is absolutely winnable for BYU, but I think the Yellow Jackets take this one.
So going 2/4 in those tough games may be seen as optimistic by outsiders and pessimistic by BYU fans, but I think it would be a great achievement for the Cougars as they’d wind up with yet another double digit win season.
BYU is contracted to play in the Poinsettia Bowl this year, assuming bowl eligibility. They play the #2 team in MWC. I think that will end up being Nevada, finishing second to Boise State.
Aug. 30 – Washington State – W
Sept. 8 – Weber State – W
Sept. 15 – @ Utah – W
Sept. 20 – @ Boise State – L
Sept. 28 – Hawaii – W
Oct. 5 – Utah State – W
Oct. 13 – Oregon State – W
Oct. 20 – @ Notre Dame – W
Oct. 27 – @ Georgia Tech – L
Nov. 3 – Bye Week
Nov. 10 – Idaho – W
Nov. 17 – @ San Jose State – W
Nov. 24 – @ New Mexico State – W
Poinsettia Bowl Dec. 20 – Nevada (MWC #2) – W