With football season upon us, the debate begins and ends with who will carry this BYU football team. Will the defense bounce back from critical losses? Will the offense return to the scoring juggernaut the fans expect? Will the special teams win a few games or will they give a few away? Let's take a look at the outlook for each unit.
After earning a spot among the best defensive units in the country last year, the cougars start their season without first round draft pick Ziggy Ansah and a slew of injured cornerbacks. The secondary is depleted to the point that defensive coordinator and secondary coach Nick Howell converted an up and coming receiver to the defensive side in order to provide a semblance of depth. The return of Kyle Van Noy eases the pain on the defensive side but he will need young players to step up and help this talented group of linebackers. On the defensive line, the group returns a stud in Bronson Kaufusi. He hasn't had many reps during fall camp, but that could be a good thing for the health of the offensive line. With the physical abilities of Kaufusi and the experience of Eathyn Manumaleuna, the defensive line could cause havoc for the opposing offense. If one of the young corners can separate themselves from the pack, and then step up in game situations, the defense could remain a thorn in the sides of offensive coordinators.
After watching the offense sputter for most of last season, Robert Anae has brought back hope to the fans. Sophomore Taysom Hill is set to take the reins of a 2012 offense that was ranked 60th in total offense and 64th in scoring offense. Expectations for BYU are well beyond these types of rankings. Many fans are expecting the new Hill-Anae combination to bring back the offensive punch. Should we be raising these expectations with a quarterback that has yet to start a full season? Through fall camp, many think that these expectations can be matched or even exceeded. With a talented core of receivers that include Cody Hoffman, and a running back squad that has the talent and depth to make any coach giddy with excitement, the offense has weapons that will put up numbers, if provided the right quarterback. The up-tempo offense does lead to excitement, and will reintroduce the tight end, but it can also lead to more mistakes if not run with precision. Hill has been given the keys to the car but is he ready to drive?
The Special Teams:
How many games could have been won last year if the place kickers had the trust of Bronco Mendenhall? The glaring examples would be Utah and Boise State. Due to the inconsistencies of the kickers, Mendenhall was forced to rely on a sputtering offense when most teams could kick a field goal. The fans were holding their breath during PAT tries for much of the season. Through fall camp the place kicking situation has improved, according to the coaches. The amount of improvement will depend on how Justin Sorensen, the projected starter, kicks under the pressure of a game atmosphere and not in a practice or scrimmage. Last year the punting game was the strong point of the special teams, while this year the cougars are breaking in a punter that will attempt to replace Riley Stephenson, who averaged 45 yards per punt in 2012. In spite of having some difficult field position, he booted 24 kicks inside the 20 yard line. Scott Arrellano is expected to take over the punting duties and has fared well in camp. In one session, he was seen placing multiple punts inside the 10 yard line. With Jordan Johnson out for the year, the kick return duties may fall back to Hoffman and Falslev as the Cougars try to gain as much yardage as possible for the offense. The coaches believe that the weapons are in place for the special teams unit, but will they produce?
Each unit is perceived to have more strengths than weaknesses but the group that must step up is the offensive line. If Hill is given time to maximize his athletic abilities and the line opens up holes for the running backs, the offense can make up for the losses in the secondary and the possible inconsistencies with the special teams. This season should be exciting and it will be interesting to see which players step up. Will it be an established player such as Van Noy or Hoffman, or will it be an unknown like Dallin Leavitt or Skyler Ridley? The answer needs to come much sooner than later.