As is the case with every offseason, hype is running high with BYU football. Talk out of camp revolves around Taysom Hill's incredible physical gifts, the new strength and conditioning with Frank Witrich taking over and the offense has a whole.
Another talking point is Bronco taking over the defense and the play calling duties. Lets face it, last season was not even close to what we've come to expect from a Bronco defense because well, it wasn't a Bronco defense. Nick Howell had the reins and didn't appear to be ready, and injuries didn't help either. Everyone expects the defense to be improved, myself included.
There is a lot of optimism surrounding the potential of the offense with playmakers at every position and an experienced offensive line. It's near impossible to not drink the blue Kool-Aid at least a little bit at this point in the offseason. We, as BYU fans tend to do that every season, some more than others. There may be more of a reason to be drinking it this year, as opposed to the past few.
This is a very tough schedule for BYU, likely it's most difficult since entering independence and in the past decade. But that's not going to stop me from making some bold predictions. Don't worry, I won't predict an undefeated season this time around (though there will be some surprising ones). If it's going to happen, it's going to happen. We don't need to spend time talking about it.
Taysom Hill will have over 5,000 total yards and 40 touchdowns
In the past 60 years, there have only been 13 quarterbacks to throw for more than 5,000 yards and four of those were Texas Tech quarterbacks, a school that is known for throwing the ball just about every play.
Another was Ty Detmer in 1990 when he threw for 5,188 yards. That shows the type of company Hill would be joining. 5,000 yards does sound like a lot and yes, it is. But we'll let Taysom use his legs to reach this total.
Let's put this in perspective. In order for Hill to reach these lofty numbers, he would have to average 385 yards total yards per game and just slightly over 3 touchdowns per game for 13 games. In 2013, he amassed 4,282 total yards in 13 games. 385 yards in a single game isn't out of reach, but of doing that over 13 games isn't exactly easy. In his BYU career Hill has had five games of over 385 yards, eclipsing 400 in four of those and reaching 500 once (that shootout against Houston in 2013). He also has 10 games with at least 300 yards.
If BYU runs an average of 85 plays a per game and let's say Taysom is part of 45 of those plays, he would need to average 8.5 yards per play to do that. But if we bump that up to 50 plays for him that comes out to 7.7 yards per play, a little more doable. Taysom has great physical abilities, he's strong, fast, has good arm strength with solid accuracy too. He has all the talent needed to put up these numbers and has the weapons to do it too. Within this system, don't be surprised if he reaches these numbers, that's just as long as he plays all 13 games. Hopefully he delivers more through the air than we could have ever imagined.
BYU will have a top-25 defense
Yes, I am drunk on blue Kool-Aid while typing this.
Last season BYU's defense was 56th in YPG. The major problem was being 71st in scoring defense. To jump nearly 50 spots would be very impressive, particularly with a schedule of this caliber for the Cougars. According to the NCAA methodology, BYU has the 17th-hardest schedule going into the season, though its method of using just wins and losses from last season is overly simplistic.
According to ESPN's Power Index, BYU sits at 61 in SOS rankings. This is likely brought down by games against UConn, Wagner and Fresno State. The Cougars are big underdogs in their first 4 games and also against Mizzou. Those 5 games will be what defines the season and determines whether or not this top 25 defensive prediction can happen.
I may be overly optimistic, but I really like the playmakers the Cougars have on defense. Bronson Kaufusi is a senior and should have the big year that everyone has been waiting to see for a few seasons. Fred Warner is a star in the making. Michael Davis and Micah Hannemann look to help lock down each side of the field with Eric Takenaka and Kai Nacua making plays all over the field. I expect the linebackers to be very good. The defense is young but there really isn't a weakness anywhere on that side of the ball. It does lack depth and is inexperienced, but does have athleticism and upside.
With Bronco taking the defense back and seeing the playmakers the Cougars have the defense will be far improved over last season as long as it stays healthy. Top 25 is doable, though not easy, but anything worse than top 50 would be surprising.
The Cougars will have double-digit wins
Most don't give the Cougars a good chance of having a good September. As previously stated, according to ESPN, BYU is expected to lose all 4 games in September. The ESPN Football Power Index has the Cougars finishing with 6 or 7 wins at the end of the regular season. I'm sure a lot of -- albeit pessimistic -- BYU fans would agree with that projection.
September projections by fans are across the board, some have resigned themselves to 0-4 while others think the Cougars can scratch out a 2-2 record going into the UConn game. At this point there are 5 games on the schedule that have BYU as an underdog and what I would project as possible losses, the 4 games in September (at Nebraska, Boise State, at UCLA, at Michigan) and then the game against Mizzou at Arrowhead Stadium in November.
For the Cougars to reach at least 10 wins this season, they'll have to win at least 3 of those 5 which I give them a good chance to do. Missouri is the one game I have a hard time seeing the Cougars win at a glance. So let's focus on September, which is all anyone wants to talk about.
Nebraska has a new coaching staff and, as a result, is breaking in a new system. With it being the first game this gives BYU a decided advantage.
Boise State lost its starting quarterback, Grant Hedrick to the CFL and running back, Jay Ajayi to the NFL. Last time Boise State visited Provo Taysom Hill dominated them from start to finish. I'm expecting a similar performance from him again. These aren't the Broncos from last season that destroyed the Cougars on the "smurf turf."
UCLA has a freshman quarterback in Josh Rosen dubbed by some as the next Peyton Manning. That is quite the compliment, if he's even close to that than the Cougars will be in trouble. But he's still a freshman so -- despite recent success from freshman the past few years -- don't expect him to light it up in his first month. Though UCLA is the most likely loss in September in my opinion.
Finally, BYU closes out at Michigan. Another team with a new head coach, although he is probably the biggest new coach hire going into this season, Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh has proved himself to be an awesome coach at every stop. He's taken poor teams and turned them around very quickly, sometimes in as little as one season. There's a chance he does that with Michigan too. It took him a couple seasons with San Diego and Stanford to really get the ball rolling and I expect the same with Michigan. This won't be an easy game, but if Taysom and company play to the level that everyone is expecting the Cougars should leave "The Big House" with a victory. As long as everything else goes to plan with the other games that BYU is favored 10-2 or 11-1 is a possibility at the end of the season.
BYU will have a turnover margin of at least +5 to end the season
This would put the Cougars at least 6 better than last season. It would also put them somewhere in the top 40 for turnover margin. With a senior quarterback leading the way, turnovers should be less. Hill's decision making has continued to improve over the past few seasons and his senior year will be no different. The defense has a lot of playmakers and should be able to force at least a couple turnovers a game, whether they be interceptions or forced fumbles. The secondary is inexperienced but has athleticism BYU is not accustomed to seeing at the defensive back position. It will make some mistakes but also force a few of its own. If this young defense can get after the quarterbacks, force bad decisions and make ball-hawking a part of its identity, this is a very attainable goal. All the offense has to do is protect the ball and the Cougars will get this done.
The offense will finish in the Top 15
With the style of offense BYU plays, this is doable. Running between 80-85 plays a game gives a team a chance to rack up a lot of yards and put points on the board. Last season the Cougars finished 26th in yards per game with 460.5. They were 14th in points per game with 37.1. Obviously last season's schedule was less difficult than this season's. Another top 15 finish in scoring offense isn't a given, even if most of the starters are returning on that side of the ball.
Taysom Hill is the real deal and this offense will go as far as he can carry it. But a major difference this season is what I think will be an improved offensive line. Ryker Mathews is back to playing LT which hopefully means his injuries are behind him and he's ready to reach the expectations set when he first came to BYU. Koroma is a stud at the center position, a crucial spot on the offensive line. The OL will be much stronger than we've seen the past couple seasons. Hill has some big targets to throw to and solid guys coming out of the backfield. Again, as long as the Cougars stay healthy there is no reason they can't reach the same, if not better, offensive output from last season.
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Everything looks to be set up perfectly for BYU to have a special season. It sounds like we say that every year. But then again, last season was shaping up to be that until Taysom Hill went down against Utah State. If he's healthy, BYU can make a lot of noise this season. With Hill on the field, BYU will be in a position to win every game (not necessarily saying it will). Either way, this is looking like it's going to be a fun season. Enjoy it Cougar fans, because we may not see a player like Hill at BYU for a long time, if ever again.