For the past few decades, BYU was typically a great offensive team with a good enough defense to win games. Stellar quarterback play and a high quality offensive line were the norm. Names like Jim McMahon, Ty Detmer, Robbie Bosco and Steve Young are forever enshrined in a line of great BYU quarterbacks. The offensive line was known for being bigger and bullying the competition in the trenches. These two position groups were foundations of a dominant offense for decades. In the past five years, that has not been the case. BYU has been marred with inconsistency at quarterback and what many would call "softness" on the offensive line. This is the year that changes.
I see the offensive line making a huge jump this season, the jump Cougar fans have been waiting to see for quite some time. Coach "2J" has ingrained this season's offensive line with, as he puts it, "a hard edge." This hard edge is going to be the backbone of what makes this an offensive line that allows the offense to flourish, and allows Taysom Hill to lead this team back to the "glory days" of BYU football. So with that said, here are my Five Bold Predictions for the 2014 season.
1. Taysom Hill will have 3500 yards passing and 1000 yards rushing
Taysom's ability as a runner is obvious, just ask Texas. He had six games in which he ran more than 100 yards, with him eclipsing 250 against Texas. But his ability as a passer is consistently under fire. Taysom has shown flashes of his passing ability. In last season's five game winning streak, starting with Middle Tennessee State and ending with a dominating performance against Boise State, Taysom had a completion percentage of 65% with 1,455 passing yards and 15 total TDs. Though he did struggle against the tougher opponents on the schedule, he has shown his potential as a passer. Taysom has a rocket arm and improving accuracy. The area he will need to improve the most is in reading defenses and getting rid of the ball quickly. But with an improved receiving group headlined by newcomers Jordan Leslie, Nick Kurtz and Devon Blackmon, and returnees Mitch Mathews and Ross Apo, look for Taysom to take full advantage of his "new toys."
2. BYU will edge out Texas in Austin
Texas will not be getting a taste of revenge this season. Charlie Strong has that program headed in the right direction and is clearly not happy that BYU embarrassed Texas at Lavell Edwards Stadium last September, but he won't get his chance to exact revenge. Texas has had a slew of suspensions, injuries and multiple players have left the program this summer. Ash will be the starting quarterback again and he will struggle with BYU's front seven again. Fua's and Kaufusi's length at OLB should give him problems getting off any quick slants and corners Jordan Johnson and Rob Daniel should help lockdown the outside. Those two corners are better than who went up against UT last year, (Daniel did play against Texas last year but he'll be at boundary corner). Texas' running backs will cause some problems. But look for BYU to edge out Texas this year 24-21.
3. Jordan Leslie will be the top receiver
Some may not consider this a bold prediction as Leslie was the top receiver at UTEP and is the most experienced FBS receiver at BYU. But being a newcomer, it can be difficult to make an immediate impact. Leslie's great hands, route running and speed will make him a perfect replacement for Cody Hoffman. He may not have the height that Hoffman had, but he has greater speed and runs good routes. The qualities that Leslie possesses will quickly make him Taysom Hill's go-to target. Just as Hoffman was known for making timely (and sometimes difficult) catches, Leslie will do the same thing and quickly in dear himself to BYU faithful.
4. The TE position is back at BYU
Tight end used to be a crucial component of the BYU offense with tight ends putting up big receiving numbers. Jonny Harline, Daniel Coates, Andrew George and Super Bowl winner Dennis Pitta are recent impact tight ends for BYU. But it was five years ago when Pitta last laced them up for BYU. Since then the best tight end BYU has had has been Kaneuka Friel. He was a tight end with loads of talent but could never make the impact on the BYU offense we'd been accustomed to seeing. This year that changes. Devin Mahina, who's struggled with injuries the past few seasons, will have a breakout year. The speed and athleticism at receiver will open things up for him across the middle and on 3rd down situations. His size alone will make him a great red zone target. He won't put up Pitta-like numbers. But expect close to 750 yards and 6-7 touchdowns from the tight end position.
5. BYU will make a New Year's Day Bowl
This could be too bold. Every year, BYU fans hope - and are disappointed - that the Cougars can take the next step and do what similar programs like Utah, Boise State, TCU and even Hawaii have done and that is to go undefeated and make a BCS Bowl, now known as New Year's Day Bowls. This year could very well be the year. In college football, to run the table is very difficult and does require an element of luck. Going 12-0 or even 11-1 would be very difficult for BYU. 11-1 could still possibly get them into a bowl, but not likely. The Cougars will be favorites in most of their games, but even the games they'll be underdogs in they'll still have a chance to win. On a game-by-game basis BYU has a shot in each one. But it will take an aligning of the stars of sorts for the Cougars to finally get that undefeated season that has alluded them for 30 years. With a favorable schedule and who I believe is the real deal at quarterback leading an improved offense, 12-0 wouldn't surprise me.