2015 CFB Preview – BYU

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    July 2, 2015


    At what point does BYU simply become bored?

    By Pete Fiutak | @PeteFiutak

    Being a part of the Mountain West again would seem like a step back, regressing to the Group of 5 while other programs on the same level are off doing fun things in the Power 5s. Meanwhile, it’s hard to pass up the money and the autonomy of being an independent, getting to put together interesting schedules and making lots and lots of money along the way.

    Independent for the last three seasons, things have worked out okay. BYU has had some laughs, killed some time, and it’s going through life playing college football, but for what?

    What fun is going through the exercise with no carrot at the end of the stick? BYU as to go at least 11-1 and hope to get the Notre Dame-like benefit of the playoff doubt, so with no conference championship to play for, one loss makes it tough to shoot for the stars, and two losses means the season is effectively over.

    BYU already knows it’s going to play in either the Royal Purple Las Vegas this year or the Hawaii Bowl, and the one it doesn’t play in this season, that’s the one it’s going to go to in 2019. Worse yet, it’s not like the team is really earning its way there by winning any sort of title – those are simply the contracted bowls.


    BYU attracts football players for different reasons than most schools, but at some point, the program will have to adjust to the fact that it’s not going to miss out on players because of the Honor Code, and it’s not going to not get a four-star guy because of the church aspect. The talent level is hitting a hard ceiling because BYU isn’t in a conference, it’s not sending players to the NFL, and, again, the cache of being an independent isn’t the same as it is at Notre Dame.

    But there’s another way to look at it. What if by some miraculous chance, BYU beats Nebraska to open up the season. And then it beats Boise State in Provo. And then it beats UCLA in the Rose Bowl. And then it beats Michigan in Ann Arbor. All of a sudden, It’s October 1, and we’re talking about the top five Cougars with, really, only Missouri standing in the way of a playoff spot.

    With this schedule, yeah, 11-1 really would be worth a playoff spot this season.

    With QB Taysom Hill back, and RB Jamaal Williams healthy again, all of a sudden, the offense that blew away Texas and beat Virginia on the way to a 4-0 start could be even more potent. The defense that struggled so much against anyone who could throw gets seven starters back and welcomes in a few veterans from church missions – it’s going to be better.

    No, the team isn’t good enough to get through this schedule unscathed, and it’s not good enough to go 10-2. But it should be a fun season with an interesting team, even if the end of the run is predestined.

    What You Need To Know About The Offense: Despite the loss of QB Taysom Hill to a broken leg in the first half of the season, the offense kept on rolling. Hill is back, and so is RB Jamaal Williams to what should be one of college football’s most productive backfields – if everyone can stay healthy. WR Mitch Mathews is always looking to come back healthy, but overall the receiving corps is big with terrific upside. Four starters are back to a line that struggled in pass protection, but has an excellent combination of size and depth. It all revolves around Hill, though. He has to stay in one piece to have any shot at surviving the nasty schedule.

    What You Need To Know About The Defense: Awful at times against the pass, and allowing too many points, the defense has to be stronger after giving up 30 points or more seven times in the last ten games. Injuries were part of the problem, but now the D returns with a ton of depth. The line should be one of the team’s biggest strengths with Bronson Kaufusi a strong pass rusher for a big and deep front four. BYU uses end-sized players at linebacker at times, but this year there’s a good group back for a strong rotation around Austin Heder and Manoa Pikula. The secondary that needs to tighten up has the most work to do at safety, while Michael Davis has to secure a shaky corner situation.

    What to watch for on offense: Welcome back the injured stars. It would’ve been interesting to have seen what the Cougars could’ve done last season if QB Taysom Hill didn’t break his leg and if RB Jamaal Williams wasn’t lost to a knee problem of his own. These three are talented enough to take the offense to a whole other level for an attack that came up with 30 points or more ten times. If those three are healthy, this could be an unstoppable force that should average well over 40 points per pop.

    What to watch for on defense: Can the defense improve the secondary? Several offenses had to throw to keep up the pace with a strong BYU offense, but more often than not, the Cougar pass defense stunk. Cal and Memphis finished up the season combining for 719 passing yards and each throwing for four scores. Boise State threw at will, Utah State bombed away, and in all, eight teams came up with 300 yards or more through the air. Considering the BYU offense is going to be fantastic, and the passes are going to come against the defense, the relatively young secondary – there isn’t a senior on the projected two-deep – has to shine through and …

    The team will be far better if … The pass rush has to be more consistent. The Cougars came up with nine sacks in the first three games, and while there were some nice moments the rest of the way, nine of the remaining sacks came against Middle Tennessee, UNLV and Savannah State. On the other side, the BYU offensive line struggled allowing 36 sacks on the year, but that’s partly because the quarterbacks ran so much. Overall, the Cougars have to be more disruptive on one side, and tighter at keeping the star upright on the other. Better line play will take the season to a whole other level.

    The schedule: BYU will be made or broken by the end of September. At Nebraska, Boise State, at UCLA, at Michigan. Go 3-1, and the season is on. Go 2-2, and there’s no reason to keep playing hard.
    – Getting to six wins and bowl eligibility will be a breeze with UConn, Wagner and San Jose State all little problem for this team. There are more than enough chances to get the other three wins.
    – Get past September, and it’s time to relax a wee bit with the next four games at home. BYU spends all of October in Provo.
    – Payback comes in November with three of the last four games on the road, highlighted by a “neutral” site game in Kansas City against Missouri.
    – WATCH OUT FOR … East Carolina. The Pirates are rebuilding and have plenty of work to do, but they should have things rolling again by mid-October. The passing game will be a big test for a BYU secondary that has to be far better.

    Best offensive player: Senior QB Taysom Hill. BYU might have started losing once Hill got injured, but backup Christian Stewart did a nice job, throwing for 2,621 yards and 25 touchdowns with just nine picks, and he even ran the ball a little bit. However, Stewart wasn’t Hill in terms of leading the offense, and he wasn’t the same runner. Stewart has graduated, and while 6-6, 230-pound McCoy Hill is a big, dangerous prospect, Hill needs to stay healthy and be back to being Hill.

    Best defensive player: Senior LB Bronson Kaufusi. A tremendous recruit for the program, he overcame a knee injury in high school to get back to form in a hurry. Hitting the ground running at BYU, he’s been one of the team’s best pass rushers ever since. Very big, very quick off the ball, and athletic enough to hang out behind the line, he’s the leader up front. The rest of the line now has to do more to get to the quarterback.

    Key player to a successful season: Senior QB Taysom Hill. The BYU secondary can’t allow so many yards, the defensive front has to be more active and productive, and the offensive line has to be more consistent. As last year showed, though, it’s Hill or bust. If all goes well and he plays at the level he was at before the injury, he’ll be in the Heisman chase if he can lead the Cougars to at least three September wins. If he’s not back to healthy and if he’s not right, the season will be a disappointment.

    The season will be a success if … BYU wins nine games. The Cougars could be terrific, but can they really come up with double-digit wins with Nebraska, Boise State, UCLA, Michigan, Cincinnati, and Missouri on the schedule? Just getting through those games alive will be tough, but they need to win at least three of those, and then not screw up against good Cincinnati, East Carolina, Fresno State and Utah State teams. It might take a bowl game to get there, but nine wins would be nice.

    Key game: Sept. 5 at Nebraska. It has to keep being said – BYU can only lose one game the entire year or the playoff is off the table. With SO many nasty games to come, a loss in Lincoln to start the year would be devastating. The Cougars have won big road games before under Bronco Mendenhall, and beating Nebraska would do wonders.

    2014 Fun Stats:
    – Penalties: BYU 110 for 1,053 yards – Opponents 89 for 783 yards
    – Time of Possession: Opponents 32:06 – BYU 27:54
    – Overtime Scoring: Opponents 17 – BYU 3

    Players You Need To Know

    1. QB Taysom Hill, Sr.
    Hill took over in the middle of the 2012 season, looking mostly like a running quarterback, and then he became so much more. The 6-2, 232-pound senior threw for close to 3,000 yards and 19 touchdown passes as a sophomore, while running for 1,344 yards and ten scores, but he gave up 14 interceptions. Even with the mistakes, he made a name for himself with a tremendous performance against Texas and with big wins over Georgia Tech and Boise State. Rocking out of the gate last year, he was flawless in a win over UConn and came up with another win over Texas on the way to a 4-0 start. 8-of-11 for 99 yards and a score with 35 rushing yards and a touchdown, he was knocked out of the game with a broken leg, and that was it for the season. Fortunately, the leg has healed and he’s ready to go, and now the pressure is on. He has to be phenomenal right away, or the first part of the season could be a disaster.

    2. RB Jamaal Williams, Sr.
    The Cougar running game took things to another level once Williams grabbed the job a few years ago and ran for a team-leading 775 yards and 12 scores. Not quite able to stay 100%, and not built to handle a huge workload even after bulking up to 206 pounds on his 6-0 frame, he suffered a knee injury and only ended up seeing time in seven games last season, rushing for 515 yards and four scores and getting bottled up too often, but when he’s right and in a groove, he has the potential to rush for 1,500 yards – he ran for 1,233 in 2013 – and be a dangerous receiver. The blocking ability is there, but he’s at his best when he gets to make one cut and go.

    3. DE Bronson Kaufusi, Sr.
    Part massive linebacker, part defensive end, the 6-7, 265-pound Kaufusi came up with four sacks and 39 tackles as a sophomore outside linebacker hybrid, and last year he put it all together with seven sacks and 34 tackles. With his great frame, he’s tough to throw over, breaking up five passes, but he’s at his best when he gets to fly into the backfield. He was a little streaky, but with his bulk and with his athleticism, he’s great at getting around the ball and making things happen. This year he’s a true end as the leader up front.

    4. WR Mitch Mathews, Sr.
    Very big and very mature, the 6-6, 215-pound senior returned from his mission to show a little bit of upside as a freshman before turning into a dangerous target in 2013, catching 23 passes for 397 yards – averaging over 17 yards per catch – with four touchdowns before getting knocked out for the year with a shoulder injury. Last season, he blew up with 73 catches for 922 yards and nine scores, destroying Nevada for 16 catches for 182 yards and two scores. He’s not going to blaze past anyone, but he has a massive catching radius and the right frame to outfight defensive backs on deep balls. With more help around him – helped by the healthy return of Nick Kurtz – he could be even more dangerous.

    5. NT Travis Tuiloma, Jr.
    A rock in the middle of a good line that’s great against the run, the 6-2, 285-pound veteran is built for the nose. Tough on his base and active around the ball, he came up with 27 tackles with six tackles for loss, dominating UCF with three plays behind the line and with two in the bowl loss to Memphis. He’s a true mauler on the inside, but his job is to hold his own and let everyone work around him.

    6. CB Michael Davis, Jr.
    The 6-2, 181-pound veteran has excellent size and good open field hitting skills, with 36 of his 43 tackles solo stops. While he didn’t pick off any passes, he broke up six and he showed he could lock down on the bigger receivers and was a key part of the run defense, coming up with nine stops against Nevada and 15 in the final two games. He’ll combine with Jordan Preator on the boundary side and should start to come up with more big plays.

    7. OT Ryker Mathews, Sr.
    Hurt all throughout 2013 with a hip problem, and injured late last year with a knee injury, if and when he’s 100%, the 6-6, 320-pounder will hold down the starting left tackle job as the main man for the offensive front. A phenomenal get for the program, he’s great on the move and he can pound away for the run. Now he has to be stronger in pass protection, but he has to get past being banged up.

    8. LB Manoa Piklula, Sr.
    The team’s top returning tackler, the 6-1, 235-pounder came up with 48 stops on the year and now will work with Jherremya Leuta-Douyere on the weakside. He came up with a pick and two tackles for loss, but he has the quickness and the ability to be more of a factor into the backfield. Steady, the defense needs him to be more sensational. While he’s great against the run, he could be an even bigger factor if used a bit as a pass rushing specialist.

    9. KR/RB Adam Hine, Sr.
    Compact and extremely quick, the 6-1, 208-pound Hine turned in a special season as a kick returner, even if he wasn’t able to do much as a running back with 154 yards and two scores averaging under four yards per carry. Dangerous in the open field, he averaged close to 25 yards per kick taking one back for a key touchdown in the win over Virginia. The athleticism and hands are there to be more of a receiver, catching seven passes for 43 yards and a score, with the touchdown coming in the opener against UConn.

    10. PK Trevor Samson, Sr.
    While he doesn’t have a massive leg, he’s reliable with a 45-yarder in overtime in Memphis and a 41-yard shot against Utah State. More of a solid mid-range kicker, he connected on 12-of-14 field goals missing a 33-yarder in the opener against UConn and a 44-yard kick against Nevada, but he hit his last four attempts.

    Head Coach: Bronco Mendenhall
    11th year: 90-39
    Sept. 5 at Nebraska
    Sept. 12 Boise State
    Sept. 19 at UCLA
    Sept. 26 at Michigan
    Oct. 2 Connecticut<
    Oct. 10 East Carolina
    Oct. 16 Cincinnati
    Oct. 24 Wagner
    Oct. 31 OPEN DATE
    Nov. 6 at San Jose State
    Nov. 14 Missouri (in KC)
    Nov. 21 Fresno State
    Nov. 28 at Utah State
    Ten Best BYU Players
    1. QB Taysom Hill, Sr.
    2. RB Jamaal Williams, Sr.
    3. DE Bronson Kaufusi, Sr.
    4. WR Mitch Mathews, Sr.
    5. NT Travis Tuiloma, Jr.
    6. CB Michael Davis, Jr.
    7. OT Ryker Mathews, Sr.
    8. LB Manoa Piklula, Sr.
    9. KR/RB Adam Hine, Sr.
    10. PK Trevor Samson, Sr.


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