BYU won 9 regular season games last year, and capped off their season with a 24-21 win over Tulsa in the Armed Forces Bowl. 5Dimes has set BYU’s 2012 college football win totals at over 8.5 (-105) and under 8.5 (-135).
Helping us preview the Cougars and project their 2012 college football win totals is Scott from the BYU football website Blue Cougar Football.
The strongest position group on defense for BYU is the linebackers. The four projected starters combined for 246 tackles last year. The two seniors, Brandon Ogletree and Uona Kaveinga are considered by many as being among the top 20 middle linebackers in the country. Junior Kyle Van Noy has incredible athleticism and, literally, did everything last year. There wasn’t a single statistical category that he missed, including touchdowns scored. There is a reason why these three are on the watch lists for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, Butkus, and Lombardi Awards.
The Cougar D has been good at stopping the run under Mendenhall. Since 2005, BYU has averaged 5.4 games per year holding opponents to less than 100 yards rushing. This year’s team should be no different, especially if the new starters in the secondary are as good as expected.
On offense, wide receiver is the strength. Junior Cody Hoffman (61 receptions, 943 yards, 10 touchdowns) solidified himself as the number one threat in 2011. He made several clutch grabs last year. If he was in the vicinity of a ball, he would get it. Improvement is expected from sophomore Ross Apo who had 34 receptions for 453 yards and 9 touchdowns a year ago. The third option is slot receiver JD Falslev. Besides running superb routes, he has great hands. He was best on the team last year with only one drop.
Punting has been a forte for the Cougars, and head coach Bronco Mendenhall has used it to manipulate field position. Winning the field position battle directly helped BYU win at least two games last year.
Outside specific positions, leadership should be considered a strength. Senior quarterback Riley Nelson may have his weaknesses, but he is an exceptional leader that the team has gravitated to. He brings a confidence and a swagger to the team that enables the Cougars to get the job done, even when it doesn’t seem possible.
The offensive line has built a reputation of being underachievers. On paper, the O-line has all the tools to be great, but they have not been the dominating force that has been expected. Offensive coordinator Brandon Doman criticized them for being overweight this off season. Overall, the unit seems to lack tenacity. There needs to be more fire in their bellies to go out and hit somebody.
Running back is another area BYU is weak. The Cougars do not have a bona fide rushing threat. Junior Michael Alisa was a surprise off the bench a year ago, but questions still remain whether he can be the feature back that has been missing the last two years. Behind Alisa is virtually zero college football experience. Junior Joshua Quezada made a surprising decision to transfer just two weeks ago. Quarterback Riley Nelson’s mobility should help the run game, but BYU absolutely needs Alisa or one of two freshmen (Adam Hine, Jamaal Williams) to be legit.
Quarterback Riley Nelson needs to answer questions about his ability to effectively throw the ball against better defenses, especially against defenses that are able to take away his ability to make plays with his legs. Tulsa did this pretty well in the Armed Forced Bowl last year, and Nelson finished the day just 17-40 for 250 yards with 3 touchdowns and 2 interceptions.
Turnovers have been a big weakness for BYU since 2008. Anytime BYU has had a “big” game the last four seasons, BYU has wilted under pressure and turned the ball over several times.
Many see the 2012 BYU schedule as a four game schedule: at Utah (Sept. 15), at Boise State (Sept. 20), at Notre Dame (Oct. 20), and at Georgia Tech (Oct. 27). These are the four toughest opponents, and they are all on the road. None of these games is a guaranteed loss, but the Cougars will most likely be underdogs in each.
Utah and Boise State are not long road trips, but only five day’s in between is brutal. The only time BYU has played on the blue turf (2004), they lost a heartbreaker 28-27 on a missed field goal with less than a minute to play.
Notre Dame and Georgia Tech are two longer road games back-to-back. BYU has had two other series with Notre Dame, but the Cougars have never won the first game of the series. A win in 1994 is the only time BYU has won in South Bend.
Over the years, BYU has prided itself in shutting down the option when they played Air Force. However, the Falcons never had the type of players that Georgia Tech has.
BYU will be favored to win the rest of their games, but four could be closer than expected: Washington State, Hawaii, Utah State, and Oregon State.
There are a few other interesting tidbits that could influence the outcome of BYU games this season. Take them for what they are worth.
BYU is planning to move to a more up tempo offense and met with coaches from Oregon this off season.
BYU is loaded with seniors (29 to be exact).
BYU’s defensive strategy is often to take away one phase of the game (passing or running) and force a team to beat them using the other.
BYU may be underdogs in four very difficult road games this season, but with a talented and experienced roster, I believe the Cougars will “upset” at least one of these four teams. The remainder of the schedule is manageable, but as Scott pointed out, there are still some tough games where the Cougars could stumble. I don’t see BYU winning less than 8 games this season. But that 9th win could be tough. Let me know what you think of BYU’s chances of going over or under 8.5 wins this year.