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BYU Football Projections – Rise and Shout or Down and Out?

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Let’s start by giving credit where credit is due. The cougars had an amazing 2006 season. They finished the season with a 11-2 record, including a 38-8 massacre of the Pac-10’s Oregon Ducks. Furthermore, they went on a 9-0 winning streak to end the season, the third longest in college football last year. In retrospect, they could have and maybe should have gone undefeated. Their only two losses were both late-game nail biters. In one, the cougars lost in OT to a tough Boston College team and in the other, they lost because of a few botched field goal attempts. So, all in all we can fairly say that the BYU football program did a nice job last year.

The question now, though, is whether or not the Cougars can keep that momentum going into the 2007. Here’s the skinny on the Cougars:

Much of their success during 2006 was due to a handful of players who had amazing seasons; namely John Beck, Curtis Brown, Johnny Harline and pretty much of every one of the linebackers. John Beck played so well that it was not uncommon to hear his name in the same sentence as Troy Smith, Brady Quinn and Jamarcus Russell. The linebacking core had such a superb season that the Cougar defense was the best it has been in years, even though their secondary was very questionable. Now though, each of those players is gone and BYU now must scramble to find adequate replacements.

So, the synopsis is this:

Offense - The Cougars are going to be pretty weak at quarterback, which has always been a big part of their success in the past. None of the players vying for the position have any noteworthy game experience as Beck has been a constant over the past few years. Also, even though their receivers are usually pretty solid, with so many young players having to replace their elder statesmen, the upcoming season will be hit or miss for the receivers. The Cougars will be able to turn to the back field with some amount of confidence, though, as Fui Vakapuna, who proved his mettle last season, and Manase Tonga will provide some excellent running and blocking.

Defense: Let’s face it Cougar fans. The defense this year may be a bit shaky. Up front, most of the defensive line are either freshmen or sophmores. That kind of youth does not bode well. Behind them, however, the story is a lot better. Kehl, Nixon and Poppinga are all returning following a great 2006 season. But losing your captain Cameron Jensen will hurt them. His leadership and never-say-die attitude personified BYU last year. Still, though, I am not worried about the linebackers. What I am worried about is the secondary. It seems as though year in and year out, BYU starts a bunch of small, mediocre defensive backs. And this year is no different. Even though most of the starting secondary is returning (Gooch, Gabriel, Criddle, Buchannan), I don’t know how well they will do when lining up across from players with great athleticism. They may be able to hold their own against some MWC opponents, but not all of them. So, hopefully the linebackers will be able to rise to the challenge next year as they may not have that much help around them.

The critique of the players and positions above may paint a grim picture for the upcoming season. However, there is some hope. Ever since Gary Crowton got the boot, Bronco Mendenhall has been determined to restore the tradition and pride to Cougar football. And if last season’s success was any indication of his progess, I’d say he is doing a great job. Also, Robert Anae showed that his instincts and skill are that of an offensive genius. Beck was able to spray the ball around to so many different receivers and running backs that opposing defenses were simply unable to cover everyone. With Anae at the helm, many of BYU’s offensive inadequacies due to youth and lack of experience will be less of a factor.

To sum up, BYU is going to be young and inexperienced. But it has the coaching staff and tradition needed to propel the Cougars into yet another winning season. However, the coaches are not the ones on the field. So, if BYU is to continue its winning ways this year, some new faces are going to have adapt quickly to the higher level of competition that comes with NCAA football and come up big in the MWC this year.

 

Nishan Wilde is VP of sales at Robbins Sports and Athletics  and staunch BYU Cougar football fan.