Here’s one thing you can bet your shirt on this season: the rivalry between the Boise State Broncos and the Brigham Young University Cougars will be more heated this year than ever. Both teams have a lot on line. The Broncos are hoping for a return to Phoenix and the Fiesta Bowl in December, and the Cougars have a little retribution and something to prove to the so-called Power 5 leagues.
Here are some of the basics about the 2015 BYU Cougars:
Team name: Brigham Young Cougars
Mascot: Cosmo the Cougar
Location: Provo, Utah
Stadium: LaVell Edwards Stadium (63,470)
Coach: Bronco Mendenhall, 90-39 record. He has led the Cougars for 10 years.
2014 Season: 8-5
When taking a look at the team itself, it's easy to see how the Cougars have the potential to be a top team in 2015, beginning with the return of 14 starters. Last year, QB Taysom Hill, 6-2, 232 lbs, was lost halfway through the season with a broken leg. At the time of Hill's injury, the 18th-ranked Cougars were 4-0 and there was hope for an undefeated season. Hill himself was being tossed around as a Heisman Trophy candidate. This season, he is back under center for a do-over and, although he saw very little action in the spring, he will probably be the starter.
Five other players to keep an eye on:
Star RB Jamaal Williams, 6-0, 206 lbs, could also be back in the starting lineup after suffering a serious knee injury at Middle Tennessee last season. He was the Cougars starting running back and an on-field playmaker in 2014. His situation is even more tenuous than Hill's. When running backs coach Mark Atuaia was asked about Williams at the end of March, Atuaia said he was "cautiously optimistic" about Williams' progression.
RB Algernon Brown, 6-1, 229 lbs, is one player who could step up his game from last year. He averaged 4.8 yards a carry, but he got better as the season progressed, posting some good numbers in the last four games of the season in averaging 5.4 yards per carry.
C Tejan Koroma, 6-0, 280 lbs, is a big All-American center out of Texas. So, yes, its true that everything is perceived as bigger in Texas. When he signed with BYU in December 2013, Koroma was the No. 25-rated center in the nation according to ESPN.com. This year he was named to the Rimington Trophy watch list.
Sophomore RT Ului Lapuaho, 6-7, 333 lbs, is not from Texas but he's also huge. In fact, he's big enough to eat a horse. I mean that literally: his favorite food is horse meat. You just know the Broncos defense will be on his menu this September. Lapuaho played in 11 games and started in eight in 2014. With his help, the BYU offensive line averaged 181.8 yards rushing, 278.7 yards passing and 37.1 points per game last season.
QB Tanner Mangum, 6-3, 195 lbs, is a freshman out of Eagle, Idaho and an Elite 11 Camp MVP. He is also just back from a Mormon mission. Even with limited chances to practice this year, he provides a depth at quarterback that was badly needed in 2014. He could find himself in the backup position if backup QB McCoy Hill, 6-6, 230 lbs, stays sidelined because of an injured foot. And if Hill gets injured again...
In spite of losing Hill mid-season last year, BYU's passing attack ended up ranked #27 in the nation. If you are Mendenhall, you will want to go with that attack as much as you can. He will also want to keep Hill healthy now that he's back on board. With the depth at quarterback, it could be a monster year on offense if everyone stays healthy and the cards fall in their favor. Unfortunately, the injury list from last season is bleeding over into this year, which raises questions and concerns that won't get answered until fall practice, and maybe not even then.
Some changes might be in store that we can foresee. Since Hill has improved as a passer, his running is probably going to be curtailed. Luckily, he has a bunch of good targets to which he can throw. Besides WR Mitch Mathews, 6-6, 215 lbs, he has dependable hands in WR Nick Kurtz, 6-6, 205 lbs, Devon Blackmon, 6-1, 185 lbs, and Terenn Houk, 6-5, 233 lbs. And if the passing gets tough, Hill will have running backs like Williams and Brown to relieve some of the pressure.
One of the biggest assets Mendenhall has had at his disposal in the past has been a formidable defense. Last season, his defensive line was ranked 20th in the nation in rushing defense and gave up just 121.85 yards per game. The six returning defensive starters suggest that stubborn rush defense will continue to be key, but now comes the rub. While the D-line has been pulling its weight, it has been the pass defense that has been a drag on the Cougars.
In 2012, BYU's pass defense was 10th best in the country, but then it went into a nose dive. In 2013, they dropped to 46th in the nation and last year ended up near the bottom at 114th in pass defense. That’s an alarming slide in just a few years.
One thing that might improve the defense this year is that Mendenhall is overseeing the unit more closely. In January, he announced he was taking over the play calling duties from defensive coordinator Nick Howell to do himself, but that still leaves a soft secondary and the fixing there will not be easy. There is a lack of experienced talent at safety and cornerback.
Senior kicker Trevor Samson, 5-11, 183 lbs, is back handling the kicking duties. He made 12 of 14 field goal attempts (85.7 %) and 62 of 63 extra points in 2014, accounting for 99 of BYU's points. Freshman punter Taylor Parker, 6-3, 195 lbs, will be the Cougars' new punter. Also returning is senior RB Adam Hine, 6-1, 208 lbs. Just because he likes to do pottery don't let that fool you. Before an injury in 2012, Hine was one of top kick off returners in the country. Last year, he averaged 24.55 yards per return.
Potential problems down the road
The Cougar offense is solid, but the biggest question floating around Provo is if Taysom Hill can stay healthy. It looks like a very tough, very challenging early season and Hill is no stranger to injury. Aside from the broken leg that sidelined him last year, he tore up his knee in 2012 against the Aggies and missed the end of that season, as well. Hill is a good passer and completed 66.7 percent of his passes in 2014, but Hill is a pro style quarterback who likes to run. That ability is his real strength is and what makes him dangerous. To keep him healthy, Mendenhall and company will have to try and keep him in the corral.
Jamaal Williams is also a continuing medical concern for a team that needs his explosive power. With Williams questionable for the long term, it will be be up to other backs on the roster to ante up again.
Then there is the question of a turnaround in the defensive secondary. The ranks are thin there with young, inexperienced players expected to carry the load.
BYU’s 2015 schedule:
Sat, Sept 5 @ Nebraska, 1:30 PM MT ABC
Sat, Sept 12 vs Boise State, 8:15 PM MT ESPN2
Sat, Sept 19 @ UCLA, 8:30 PM MT FOX Sports 1
Sat, Sept 26 @ Michigan, TBD
Fri, Oct 2 vs UConn, 8:15 PM MT ESPN2
Sat, Oct 10 vs ECU, TBD
Fri, Oct 16 vs Cincinnati, 6:00 PM MT ESPN
Sat, Oct 24 vs Wagner, 1:00 PM MT
Fri, Nov 6 @ San Jose State, 9:30 PM MT CBS Sports Network
Sat, Nov 14 vs Missouri, TBD
Sat, Nov 21 vs Fresno State, TBD
Sat, Nov 28 @ Utah State, 1:30 PM MT CBS Sports Network
After three 8-5 seasons in a row, few are optimistic of BYU’s chances to go undefeated as they intended to do last year. In their first game this season against Nebraska, the Cornhuskers are favored by 7 1/2 points. Next up is Boise State. Last season, the Broncos and the Cougars met at Albertson’s Stadium in Boise and the Cougars were throttled, 55-30. This year the two meet in Provo in week number two.
BYU will be coming home from Nebraska and Boise State will be on the road to Provo after hosting the Washington Huskies. Week 3 and 4 see the Cougars at UCLA and Michigan,with several other formidable foes looming down the road. Unless the Cougars can stay lean and healthy, BYU is in for another 8-5 season.