Football season draws ever closer, and we at Off Tackle Empire, while comfortable in our Midwestern climes, realize that there might in fact be other conferences and teams playing football. Some don't even like to punt!
I'll let that settle in for a second. I know that's a weird thing to say. But it's true.
Last week Jesse Collins previewed the SEC with Team Speed Kills. Read about that here. Now that we've talked Wisconsin-Alabama, though, the Big Ten has a couple matchups our friends from the State of
Deseret Utah, the Brigham Young Cougars. To learn a little more about independent BYU, I ran a few of my #hottaek questions by Kevin Kennedy at Vanquish the Foe. Give him a follow @Kevin4BYU, and see his preview of the Cougars' showdowns with Michigan and Nebraska below!
1. Correct me if my hot Midwestern take is wrong: BYU's offense goes as far as Taysom Hill, a ridiculously efficient runner (7.4 ypc!) and passer (67% completion, if only 6.2 ypp). With a strong RB in Jamaal Williams and good senior wideout Mitch Mathews, albeit a retooled OL, does BYU have the offensive firepower to take down bigger opponents? How will it construct drives, and who else should we be watching out for?
You are correct. The offense is led and is as Taysom Hill is. He opens up the field with his underestimated speed and ability to run over, jump over, or outrun an opponent. The offense took a slight hit when Jamaal Williams withdrew from school and is redshirting this year but the Cougars will use a number of running backs to compensate. The key will be the offensive line creating holes for Algernon Brown, Nate Carter, and Adam Hine. If the line can do this it will limit the runs/scrambles that Hill will need to utilize, and allow him to pick and choose his spots. Throw in a couple of receivers with size and speed in Mitch Mathews and Nick Kurtz, and the offense could be scary. One other player to watch for, besides the ones mentioned, would be Mitch Juergens. For some reason this kid just keeps finding himself in the midst of making plays. He finds himself open when Hill scrambles, and even is the focus of some trick plays.
2. That's a mighty stout, mighty experienced defensive line the Cougars return. Is it just Bronson Kaufusi, then everyone else? Should Michigan or Nebraska even bothering running the ball? Assuming they have to take to the air (and they will), what does BYU offer in the way of resistance? Losing the top two non-Kaufusi LBs and leading three tacklers in the secondary seems like it'll hinder a back seven that ranked 112th nationally in 2014 (though it turned in more mid-pack YPP and YPC numbers).
Bronson Kaufusi is by far the best of the group and when healthy is just a monster. Last year he dealt with a high ankle sprain, and a semi move to Linebacker and so his full skill set wasn't used as much. There is experience on the line and some names to look out for are Remington Peck, Graham Rowley, and Travis Tuiloma. These guys can clog up a hole and will work with Kaufusi to give the Linebackers space to do their thing. Although the Cougars strength is run defense, the opponents will need to find something resembling a running game as the pass defense appears to have improved with some players stepping up early. Jordan Preator, Kai Nacua, Michael Davis, and Micah Hannemann have made some waves this fall and so watch for one or more to make plays this season.
The linbackers might be the deepest position on the roster and Harvey Langi has made it known that he will lead by voice and by example. Even Coach Mendenhall has mentioned that the team plays harder, has more fun, and is more excited when he is on the field. Other linebackers to keep an eye on are Manoa Pikula, Fred Warner, and Jherremya Leuta-Douyere. Last year Pikula had a tendency to be a half a second away from making big plays in the backfield and Warner looked really good before the injury bug hit him, even returning an interception for a touchdown against Boise State.
3. Losing a top-10% (at least!) punter in Scott Arellano hurts, and kickoff specialist Andrew Mikkelsen departed. Trevor Samson looks like as solid a college kicker as you'll find, but how will BYU fill those holes? Will special teams help or hinder the Cougars in 2015, and who is most likely to rip off a punt or kick return for a TD?
Losing Scott Arellano hurts and at this point it doesn't look like anyone has grabbed the reigns and separated themselves as the starter. The brightest prospect might be Jonny Linehan. Linehan is a junior that has played on the Cougars last three championship teams. It appears he is struggling a little with the change in shape of the ball but does look to be getting better each day. Early indications in fall camp have shown that the punters can be good, but they need to find consistency. Linehan uses the on the run rugby punt that confuses the returners with the spin and bounces. Rhett Almond has thus far shown a tendency to have good hang time, allowing the punt team to get to the returner.
Overall the special teams should be a positive for the Cougars, especially with Adam Hine and Mitch Juergens returning kicks. Last year Hine took a kick back for a touchdown against Virginia and is one of the top kick returners around. If not for stupid penalties he would have a number of kicks returned for touchdowns.
4. Conference thoughts: [As an aside, wow, guys, this is quite the ambitious schedule for your Cougars. Going to Nebraska, Michigan, and UCLA, hosting Boise, Cincy, and ECU, and traveling to Arrowhead to play Mizzou in November.] BYU's been independent since 2011 -- how's that going, from a fan's perspective? Leaving the MWC was a great idea in terms of exposure and competition (the ACC apparently considers y'all a replacement for scheduling a Power-5 team), but is there any itch or need to hop back into a conference? If the Big XII or PAC-12 came calling, would you want BYU to pick up the phone?
Most fans have been pleased with Independence overall, however would love to be in a P5 conference. The conference championship is missed but most would take the scheduling freedom, the ability to see them on TV every week, and feel it is still a step above the MWC and their counterparts. Even with the SEC, ACC, PAC 12, etc. considering the Cougars as P5 for scheduling, the other benefits don't come with it such as conference money, playoff access, set schedule. If a P5 conference came calling, fans would jump at the chance to join.
5. Alright, it's time. Who ya got, both @Nebraska and @Michigan? Feel free to give us scores and any more nuanced thoughts. We won't call you on them, we swear (why no, our fingers aren't crossed behind our backs).
BYU @ Nebraska: 9/5, 2:30pm CST, ABC
||BYU @ Michigan: 9/26, TBD|
This is where I fail in life. If I pick my Cougars to win, they lose. If I pick them to lose, they lose. For the most part I have stayed away from this so that they can win a few games. For you I will go out on a limb and say BYU wins both, but not by very much. I would expect both games to be within a touchdown each. If I had to guess a score I would go with something around BYU 27 NEB 24 with the defense making a key stop. For the other game BYU should be a bit more settled so I will say BYU 41 Mich 35. I have lots of faith in our offense, not so much in our defense at this point.
You might not be too popular with the OTE commentariat after those picks, Kevin, but a huge thanks for stopping by and answering my questions! Give Kevin and the rest of the Vanquish the Foe staff a follow, and be sure to give us your picks for the B1G-BYU matchups in the comments!