Who is the most important player on offense this season?
BYU will go as far as Zach Wilson takes them. Each of BYU’s first four opponents will have more talent across the board, but superior QB play can elevate BYU to wins and overcome other deficiencies. Zach is a football junkie who spent countless hours watching film in the offseason, but he’ll have to show that he can take a full season of hits on his right shoulder that was operated on in January.
Outside of Zach, Matt Bushman and James Empey are probably the next two most important players. Bushman is one of the best tight ends in the country who can stretch the field vertically and be a safety blanket to move the chains. Empey has NFL potential at center and is probably BYU’s most irreplaceable player along the offensive line.
Who is the most important player on defense this season?
DT Khiyris Tonga is BYU’s best NFL prospect. Tonga was dominant at times drawing double teams and causing havoc in opponents’ backfields. When Tonga is engaged and full go, BYU’s defense is at its best. Tonga dropped weight in the offseason in hopes of getting in better shape, and he’ll be tested right out of the gates with some formidable offensive lines. If Tonga can be an every down guy and generate a pass rush from the interior of the line, this could be the best defense of the Sitake era.
After Tonga, CB Dayan Ghanwoloku is probably the next guy. The fifth-year senior has played both CB and safety during his career, but will play corner this year to shore up some depth issues.
What should be the biggest change between last year and this year?
Offensive identity. Tanner Mangum started the year last season, but the offensive scheme completely changed when Zach Wilson became the starter in October. We know Zach Wilson is the man and that Matt Bushman will be his main target. We know Ty’Son Williams and Lopini Katoa (and Emmanuel Esukpa to some extent) will get a lion share of the carries and run behind an experienced offensive line. BYU’s coaching staff has had a full offseason catering the offense around Wilson’s skill sets. Now the question is if the offense will have the results to show the investment and planning put in.
What is the most important game on this schedule, and why?
No-brainer here: Utah. A win in the Holy War to snap BYU’s 8-game losing streak would change a lot of feelings of apathy and reinvigorate hope and excitement in the fan base. Also wouldn’t hurt to immediately damper some of the hype Utah has going into the season; the Utes are 14 in the preseason AP poll and are picked by some national media members as a darkhorse national title contender.
Utah State is my pick for the next most important game. BYU has lost two straight to the Aggies, and another loss would have negative effects on the coaching staff, program perception and recruiting. Even if BYU has a rough first month, a win versus the Aggies in November could help salvage the season.
What is your prediction for W/L record and postseason destination?
Barring a berth in a NY6 game, BYU will go to the Hawaii bowl if bowl eligible. The first four games are brutal with games versus four P5 teams, but BYU has fared well in early season games in the past. If BYU can go at least 1-3 or 2-2 in the first four, that could set them up for a 8-win season. An 0-4 start, however, could deflate the team and have the Cougars fighting just to get bowl eligible.
I’ll drink some of the blue kool-aid and say BYU goes 8-4. BYU could very well lose each of the first four, but they aren’t more than a 6-point underdog in any of the games either. If BYU can win at least one or two of those first four games, BYU should be favorites in just about every remaining game.