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Filed under: Preview: BYU #12

Here it is has BYU at a gaudy 12 ranking, and I can guarantee right now that none of the coaches in the USA TODAY poll will have the gal to put BYU this high in their preseason rankings.

Coach: Bronco Mendenhall (28-10 in three seasons) | Staff
In 2007: 11-2 overall, 8-0 in MWC (first in league) | Highlights
Returning starters: Offense—8. Defense—3. Special teams—2 | Depth Chart
Key losses: Offense—C Sete Aulai, RB Joe Semanoff. Defense—CB Kayle Buchanan, CB Ben Criddle, FS Quinn Gooch, SS Corby Hodgkiss, LB Bryan Kehl, NT Eathyn Manumaleuna, LB Kelly Poppinga, LB Markell Staffieri.
Final 2007 ranking: 13th | Complete Final 2007 Rankings
2008 Breakdown: Offense | Defense | Special teams | Coaching | Schedule | Depth Chart


THE SCHEME: The pro-style system that utilizes three receivers, a tight end and a running back has been extremely productive in Provo. The Cougars have been among the nation's top 25 in total offense in each of their three seasons under coach Bronco Mendenhall.

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Max Hall threw for 3,848 yards and 26 TDs last season.

<!-- End Image-->STAR POWER: Junior quarterback Max Hall earned All-Mountain West recognition after throwing for 3,848 yards and 26 touchdowns – against 12 interceptions – in his first season as a starter. He threw at least two touchdown passes in nine games. He has good bloodlines, too: He's the nephew of former Arizona State and Dallas Cowboys quarterback Danny White.

IMPACT NEWCOMER: Redshirt freshman running back J.J. Di Luigi, a former all-state player in California who sat out last season with a foot injury, isn't that big (5 feet 9, 196 pounds). However, he has good speed and quickness. He also should be a good receiver out of the backfield. Even with Harvey Unga in the starting lineup, the Cougars figure to find ways to get the ball to Di Luigi, too.

IT'S HIS TIME: The only new starter in the line is junior center Tom Sorensen, and he's not without credentials. A transfer from Vanderbilt, he was named to the SEC's all-freshman team in 2003. After serving a two-year Mormon mission, he redshirted in 2006, then saw action in seven games as the No. 2 center last season.

STRONGEST AREA: Despite all the gaudy statistics BYU's quarterbacks, receivers and running backs have posted, the line remains the dominant area on the offense. Tackle Dallas Reynolds and guard Ray Feinga are All-America candidates and head a list of four returning starters, all with at least 26 games of starting experience. Sorensen is the only projected line starter who isn't a senior.

BIGGEST PROBLEM: An offense that averaged more than 30 points and counts an all-conference quarterback among nine returning starters won't have many problems. Still, the Cougars need to reduce their turnovers. They lost 13 interceptions and 13 fumbles a year ago. BYU committed seven turnovers in its two losses.

OVERVIEW: Sometimes, you'd swear LaVell Edwards still is on the sideline in Provo. The Cougars, who featured explosive offenses under their former coach, played as if it was the good old days in '07. They averaged nearly 300 yards per game to rank 14th nationally in pass offense, and exceeded 30 points seven times. And the scary part is they figure to be better this season because they did that with a Sophomore quarterback and a freshman running back. With Hall and Unga a year more experienced, the Cougars should be even more explosive - especially with a proven, experienced line returning. As for the guys on the other end of Hall's passes, three returning receivers had at least 41 catches last season. Tight end Dennis Pitta led the way even though he wasn't a full-time starter.



BYU did not allow a 100-yard game to an opposing rusher last season. The Cougars were the only team in the nation to turn that trick.



THE SCHEME: Operating out of a 3-4 set, BYU has allowed fewer than 19 points per game in each of the past two seasons. Although eight starters are gone from last season, Mendenhall is confident the system will continue to be effective. "There will be new names and new faces this year, but the results will be similar to the past three years," Mendenhall said in the spring.

STAR POWER: Junior defensive end Jan Jorgensen is a relentless pass rusher. Last season, he led the MWC and ranked fifth nationally with 14 sacks, including at least one in each of the final seven games. He notched two in the Cougars' Las Vegas Bowl victory over UCLA. He also led the MWC with 20 tackles for loss, which was 12th nationally.

IMPACT NEWCOMER: Redshirt freshman G Pittman will challenge for a starting job at cornerback, where both starters were lost. At the least, he figures to see considerable action in nickel packages.

IT'S HIS TIME: Junior linebacker Matt Bauman started four games as a freshman before taking a two-year Mormon mission. He returned last season and was named MVP of the special teams. Now, he'll get a chance to show he can excel in the starting lineup.

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Bronco Mendenhall is confident his defense will be as stout as ever.

<!-- End Image-->STRONGEST AREA: With Jorgensen and end Ian Dulan - who started 12 games last season - coming back, the Cougars figure to be good up front. But BYU does have to find a new starter at nose tackle. Sophomore Rick Wolfley and senior Mosese Foketi will try to fill the void there.

BIGGEST PROBLEM: All-MWC selections Bryan Kehl and Kelly Poppinga were among three lost starting linebackers. None of the potential replacements had more than 38 stops in '07. Junior Terrence Hooks, a contender for a starting job, injured a knee in the spring and isn't expected to be available until midseason. The one returning starter is David Nixon, who has moved from weakside linebacker to one of the inside spots. One new starter likely will be Vic So'oto, who started four games at tight end last season. So'oto was a star linebacker in high school in San Diego. The secondary is a concern, too, because all four starters are gone. At least the four new projected starters are all upperclassmen.

OVERVIEW: It's not uncommon for successful offensive players to be labeled products of a system. So why can't the same thing work on defense? Mendenhall has his system in place and feels that will help offset the loss of eight starters. We'll see. The Cougars were among the best in the nation against the run last season. They weren't bad against the pass, either. Overall, the Cougars ranked 10th in total defense. If they can remain among the top 25 or so despite having three new starters at linebacker and a rebuilt secondary, then maybe it is the system. Plus, what should be a prolific offense will take some of the pressure off the defense.



BYU's kickers are sound, though unspectacular. Punter C.J. Santiago averaged 39.7 yards per attempt last season, although he did kill 21 inside the opponents' 20. Meanwhile, kicker Mitch Payne hit nine of his 10 field-goal attempts inside 40 yards. But he was just 1-for-4 from beyond 40. Austin Collie averaged a more-than-respectable 25.8 yards per kickoff return, but Bryce Mahuika was barely adequate as a punt returner. The coverage teams were excellent, ranking eighth nationally in kickoff coverage and 18th in punt coverage.



In just three seasons as coach, Mendenhall has led BYU back to national prominence. The once-powerful Cougars had struggled through three consecutive losing seasons before Mendenhall's arrival, and now have a streak of three consecutive bowl appearances. Under Mendenhall, BYU has won 22 of its past 26 games overall and is 16-0 in league play the past two seasons. A successful defensive coordinator before being promoted, Mendenhall stills calls the defense. Offensive coordinator Robert Anae oversees a unit that has ranked among the nation's top 25 in each of the past three seasons.



Aug. 30 Northern Iowa
Sept. 6 at Washington
Sept. 13 UCLA
Sept. 20 Wyoming
Oct. 3 at Utah State
Oct. 11 New Mexico
Oct. 16 at TCU
Oct. 25 UNLV
Nov. 1 at Colorado State
Nov. 8 San Diego State
Nov. 15 at Air Force
Nov. 22 at Utah

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How far the Cougars go will depend largely on their road prowess. BYU plays only four teams that had winning records in 2007, but the Cougars will be the visitor in three of those games. If the Cougars escape unscathed on road trips to TCU, Air Force and Utah – a combined 26-13 a year ago – a third consecutive unbeaten season in the Mountain West Conference could be at hand. The quick turnaround between the Oct. 11 home game against New Mexico and the Oct. 16 game at TCU could prove problematic. The Cougars also face important non-conference games against Pac-10 members Washington (on the road) and UCLA (at home) in September. Victories over the Huskies and Bruins would make a BCS appearance a legitimate possibility.


Identifying the team in a non-"Big Six" conference capable of reaching a BCS bowl has become as much a part of college football's preseason projections as predicting the national champion and the Heisman Trophy recipient. Utah, Boise State and Hawaii have made it in recent seasons, and BYU could be next. History shows pulling off that feat requires going unbeaten with at least one win over a "Big Six" school. The Cougars certainly have a chance. Early games against Washington and UCLA, which they beat in the Las Vegas Bowl last season, potentially provide the required non-conference victories. Also, BYU has a 16-game winning streak against Mountain West opponents. The Cougars return nine offensive starters from an 11-2 team, so an unbeaten season isn't out of the question.