Replacing BYU's Senior Starters

DALLAS, TX - DECEMBER 30: Matt Marshall #19 and JJ Di Luigi #10 of the Brigham Young Cougars celebrate a 24-21 win against the Tulsa Golden Hurricane during the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl at Gerald J. Ford Stadium on December 30, 2011 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

A constant of college sports is roster turnover, as each year a program must see a crop of seniors go. BYU football said goodbye to some talented seniors after last year's 10-3 effort. Here's a look at who replaces those seniors, and whether or not the Cougars will be better or worse for it:

RUNNING BACK

DEPARTING SENIOR: J.J. DiLuigi
Career Stats: 1,797 rushing yards and 14 TDs on 352 carries ... 990 receiving yards and 5 TDs on 96 receptions ... 14 kickoff returns for 326 yards.

REPLACEMENT: Michael Alisa, Junior
Career Stats: 455 yards and 3 TDs on 85 attempts ... 55 receiving yards and 1 TD on 5 receptions.

The replacement of J.J. DiLuigi began last year, as Michael Alisa slowly supplanted DiLuigi as the primary ball carrier. DiLuigi had his talent, but Alisa, it seemed, was a better north-south runner. Ultimately, the running game will be better as Alisa steps in for DiLuigi. What remains to be seen is how Alisa can step up in the passing game. DiLuigi was an excellent pass-catching back, while Alisa was not asked to do so last year.

* * *

DEPARTING SENIOR: Bryan Kariya
Career Stats: 1,101 rushing yards and 15 TDs on 278 carries ... 417 receiving yards and 3 TDs on 54 receptions ... 1 blocked kick.

REPLACEMENT: Iona Pritchard, Sophomore
Career Stats: 1 reception, 3 receiving yards

Last year, Pritchard was supposed to be the beast we saw let loose, but the hybrid RB/FB suffered broken bones and torn ligaments in his ankle on the first play of the 2011 spring game. His only registered statistic is a three-yard reception as a freshman in 2008 before his mission. Kariya was old reliable, who after shining in the 2009 win over Oklahoma played his role of third-down-and-short back very well. It's hard to say what Pritchard will be, we simply haven't seen him play in a game. We do have this, from Greg Wrubell's latest Cougar Tracks:

After a very jumpy and impressive opening week, Pritchard's workload seemed to decrease as camp wore on, largely because the coaches are comfortable with what he can do. Pritchard iss a prototype BYU combo back; equally adept as a runner, lead blocker, pass-protector and pass-catcher. I'm excited to see him get turned loose in the opener.

Getting technical, Pritchard will get Kariya's playing time, but really won't be a replacement for Kariya. His style is different, and was missing last season. It appears David Foote may get the role as Kariya's direct replacement, a big back who may be asked to pick up third-and-shorts.

With freshmen Adam Hine and Jamaal Williams turning heads, and even converted rugby player Paul Lasike drawing praise from Coach Mendenhall, the position is deep and talented. It should be better, with the caveat of not knowing for sure if any of them can catch passes reliably.

RECEIVER

DEPARTING SENIOR: McKay Jacobsen
Career Stats: 113 receptions for 1,836 receiving yards and 9 TDs ... 18 punt returns for 137 yards and 1 TD ... 16 kick returns for 298 yards.

REPLACEMENT: J.D. Falslev, Junior
Career Stats: 31 receptions for 330 yards and 2 TD ... .37 punt returns for 356 yards and 1 TD ... 10 kick returns for 173 yards.

If Kariya was the third-and-short back, Falslev was the third-and-long receiver. The heady slot man (/cue Wes Welker comment from every color guy, ever) developed a knack for finding spots in the zone to pick up first downs. His reliability as a punt returner, a job he earned as a freshman, has transferred to his abilities at receiver. From a confidence standpoint, this feels like an upgrade.

O LINE

DEPARTING SENIORS: Matt Reynolds, Marco Thorson

REPLACEMENTS: Ryker Mathews, Freshman; Brock Stringham, Sophomore

Reynolds was one of BYU's most reliable linemen in recent memory. He started tons of games and had a lot of talent, but maybe didn't stand out like we expected. Thorson was the first guy off the bench if another OL got banged up. Mathews, who played in the Army All-American HS game, was set to see time last year as a freshman, but injury led him to redshirt.

Houston Reynolds is also battling newcomer Blair Tushaus for the starting center spot.

Any change or improvement on the O-line may be less of a function of who is replacing who, but of this year's unit supposedly being more in shape than in years past due to a change in training and nutrition. BYU's O-line has always been good at protecting QBs, but recently the running game took a dive. Hopefully a more athletic O-line will lead to better run blocking.

D LINE

DEPARTING SENIOR: Hebron Fangupo
Career Stats: 19 tackles, 6 for loss ... 2 pass breakups ... 3 QB hurries

REPLACEMENT: Russell Tialavea, Senior
Career Stats: 36 tackles, 6 for loss ... 3 pass breakups ... 3 blocked kicks

While Romney Fuga will replace Fangupo at nose tackle, Tialavea will be getting his playing time. A former nose tackle himself, Tialavea will see more time at an end position, being described as a slimmer, stronger version of himself after returning from his mission. Both he and Ian Dulan took a less conventional career path as far as missions are concerned, both playing for three years, leaving for a mission, and then returning for a final senior year. Dulan is set to see time, too, but has struggled with injuries during camp.

It's hard to imagine anyone individually replacing Fangupo's impact, but the defensive line as a unit should still be very good.

LINEBACKER

DEPARTING SENIORS:
Jordan Pendleton
Career Stats: 98 tackles, 18 for loss ... 9 sacks ... 2 INTs ... 1 forced fumble ... 1 fumble return for TD ... 5 pass breakups ... 8 QB hurries

Jadon Wagner
Career Stats: 57.5 tackles, 12 for loss ... 1 forced fumble

Jameson Frazier
Career Stats: 49.5 tackles, 10.5 for loss ... 3 sacks ... 2 interceptions

REPLACEMENT:
Spencer Hadley, Junior
Career Stats: 44.5 tackles, 1.5 for loss ... 1 INT ... 1 forced fumble

OR

Alani Fua, Sophomore
Career Stats: 5 tackles, 2 for loss ... 1 pass breakup

Pendleton was the star backer who's career was marred with injury. Wagner and Frazier often saw time in his relief (or in his place entirely), or as backups at other positions. With Brandon Ogletree, Uona Kaveinga, and Kyle Van Noy having three of the four starting backer positions locked up, Spencer Hadley and Alani Fua have battled all offseason to claim the fourth spot.

Hadley has been reliable when asked to play, but Fua has shown plenty of ability. Ultimately, having two guys who can start will be a blessing, but neither will play as well as Pendleton did when healthy.

SECONDARY

DEPARTING SENIOR: Corby Eason (CB)
Career Stats: 17 pass breakups ... 3 forced fumbles ... 3.5 sacks ... 66 tackles, 7.5 for loss

REPLACEMENT: Jordan Johnson, Sophomore
Career Stats: 2 INT ... 11.5 tackles ... 1 pass breakup

The first word out of fall camp was an unequivocal "Jordan Johnson is the best corner cover in the program." This is good news. Eason was reliable in the short game and in run support, but seemed to get beat deep more often than is desired. Johnson seemed capable in limited time last year as a freshman. As long as his abilities translate to game day, this will be a position upgrade.

* * *

DEPARTING SENIOR: Travis Uale (S)
Career Stats: 76.5 tackles ... 3 interceptions ... 5 pass breakups

REPLACEMENT: Joe Sampson, Senior
Career Stats: 19.5 tackles, 5 for loss ... 1 INT ... 1 fumble return for TD ... 3 pass breakups

Uale was excellent at run support and always seemed to be assignment-sound in the pass game. Sampson played more as the season wore on as a nickel back, as BYU went to more DBs against pass-happy teams like Hawaii, Idaho, and New Mexico State. Now, according to Greg Wrubell, Sampson will get the start at free safety in the traditional 3-4 alignment.

When BYU implements nickel, as they most assuredly will even in the opener (Washington State), Sampson will move back to the nickel back position, and either Mike Hague or Craig Bills will play free safety. While Bills is being heralded as a physical big hitter, he is returning from his mission. If I were to guess, I'd say Hague will get the nod at FS in the nickel alignment as he played much last year.

As a fan, I have confidence in Joe Sampson to play well. His play last year showed his capable to do so. He may not be better than Uale, but there should at least be no drop-off.

* * * * * * *

Overall, it appears that BYU is set to be more athletic and capable across the board, with some concern still lingering for the offensive line. At a wash, last year's defense played very well. So if this year's defense can improve at all, Cougar fans should be able to witness an impressive unit on the field.

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