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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2016 PRESEASON TOP 25

#47 BYU Cougars

NATIONAL FORECAST

#47

Independent PREDICTION

#2

HEAD COACH: Kalani Sitake, First Season | OFF. COORDINATOR: Ty Detmer | DEF. COORDINATOR: Ilaisa Tuiaki

The Bronco Mendenhall era ended with a loss to hated rival Utah in last year’s Las Vegas Bowl. However, there's plenty of positive momentum at BYU, as new coach Kalani Sitake is plenty capable of keeping this program performing at a high level. The defense should take strides this fall led by safety Kai Nacua (six interceptions) and versatile linebacker Harvey Langi (68 tackles and 4.5 sacks). However, the real intrigue is at quarterback. Will the Cougars turn to Taysom Hill once again? Or will Tanner Mangum edge Hill for the starting job?

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Previewing BYU’s Offense

BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum became an instant star as a freshman, passing for 3,377 yards and 23 touchdowns and rescuing wins over Nebraska and Boise State with last-minute TD passes in his first two games. Now, he has to fight to keep his job. Taysom Hill is listed as a co-starter going into August, even though he was limited during spring drills while recovering from a Lisfranc dislocation of his foot in the 2015 season opener. The quarterbacks will operate in a pro-style offense that has them taking snaps from under center on most plays instead of standing in the shotgun formation. The Cougars also are huddling, moving away from their former fast-tempo approach.

Jamaal Williams is a dynamic runner who needs 929 yards to break BYU’s career rushing record. He ran for 1,233 yards in 12 games in 2013, his last full season of action before he was injured in the middle of the following year. Even after thriving in a pass-oriented offense as a BYU quarterback, offensive coordinator Ty Detmer is emphasizing the running game, largely because of Williams’ presence.

Part of the reason for Detmer’s balanced approach is that the Cougars lack receiving depth after losing top playmakers Mitch Mathews and Devon Blackmon. BYU will ask more of Nick Kurtz and Mitchell Juergens, who combined for 76 catches last season. Colby Pearson and Moroni Laulu-Pututau also should emerge, and immediate help is expected from junior college transfer Jonah Trinnaman.

Some mystery accompanies BYU’s line. Two-year starting center Tejan Koroma was not enrolled in school, missing spring drills, and guard Kyle Johnson was sidelined by injury. However, all signs point to a return by Koroma, which is a huge positive for BYU’s front five. Left guard Ului Lapuaho could move to right tackle if Johnson is available.

Previewing BYU’s Defense

, which includes an in-depth look at BYU and the Pac-12, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

In moving to a 4-3 scheme, defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki wondered if enough linemen could be found among BYU’s current personnel to make the alignment work. Apparently so, because BYU lists co-starters at all four line positions, and also hopes junior college transfer Handsome Tanielu will contribute right away.

Harvey Langi made a successful transition from running back to linebacker, and BYU hopes a similar move works for Francis Bernard. Langi will become the middle linebacker in the new alignment, with Fred Warner and Bernard on the outside. Bernard was BYU’s leading rusher vs. Utah in the Las Vegas Bowl but has found a home at linebacker.

The new scheme will demand much more man-to-man coverage from BYU’s cornerbacks. Michael Davis is a consistent player, but freshman Troy Warner or sophomore Akile Davis will have to develop quickly at the other corner.

Previewing BYU’s Specialists
 

Former BYU rugby player Jonny Linehan proved to be a good discovery as a punter, averaging 42.7 yards in his first season of football. The Cougars need to improve their coverage, though, after posting a 37.1-yard net punting average. Freshman James Baird was a surprising winner of the placekicking job in spring practice.

Final Analysis
 

Kalani Sitake is happy to be home. Introduced as BYU’s head coach in December following Bronco Mendenhall’s move to Virginia, Sitake has re-energized the fan base with his outgoing personality. It helped that he hired eight ex-BYU players as assistant coaches. “We’re on track,” Sitake says. “I’m pleased with how well everybody’s adjusting to what we’re asking them to do.”

The challenge for 2016 lies in the schedule. In the first eight games, BYU faces six schools from Power 5 conferences, plus two strong Group of 5 programs, Toledo and Boise State. The Cougars need to come out of those eight games with a decent record to generate some momentum.

The Debate

What grade does BYU get for hiring Kalani Sitake?

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2016 PRESEASON TOP 25

#8 Notre Dame Fighting Irish

NATIONAL FORECAST

#8

Independents PREDICTION

#1

HEAD COACH: Brian Kelly, 55-23 (6 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mike Sanford | DEF. COORDINATOR: Brian VanGorder

The Fighting Irish return only eight starters, but coach Brian Kelly’s team shouldn’t be dismissed as a playoff contender. Two talented quarterbacks – DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire – will battle for the starting job, and Tarean Folston returns at running back after missing nearly all of last season due to injury. Finding a No. 1 receiver to replace Will Fuller and restocking the line are the biggest concerns on offense. The defense suffered key losses at each level, but tackle Jarron Jones is back after missing 2015 due to injury. Despite the personnel turnover and concerns on both sides of the ball, a favorable schedule should allow Notre Dame the opportunity to push for 10 wins in 2016.

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Previewing Notre Dame’s Offense 
 

Brian Kelly’s most productive Notre Dame offenses have come in the last two seasons — averaging 33.5 points over the last 26 games — and the Irish should boast another explosive unit in ’16. It will help if Kelly can piece together a quality offensive line and turn a talented but unproven receiving corps into one as productive as when Will Fuller was slicing through opposing secondaries with ease.

The challenge at quarterback is to maximize two capable starters — DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire — with one football. Kizer led the Irish to nine of 10 victories and a Fiesta Bowl berth after starter Zaire was sidelined from the second game on with a broken ankle.

The running game should be in good hands with veteran Tarean Folston and Josh Adams; the latter set Notre Dame single-season rookie marks with 835 yards rushing and a 7.1-yard average.

Torii Hunter Jr., son of the baseball standout, is the top pass-receiving threat. A pack of youngsters, led by Equanimeous St. Brown and Miles Boykin, give the Irish great length at wideout. The top NFL prospect on the offensive side of the ball may be sophomore receiver Alizé Jones, although guard Quenton Nelson deserves to be in the discussion.

Previewing Notre Dame’s Defense 
 

, which includes an in-depth look at Notre Dame, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

It’s difficult to imagine the defensive improving in the third year of coordinator Brian VanGorder’s reign with the loss of linebackers Jaylon Smith and Joe Schmidt, tackle Sheldon Day, end Romeo Okwara, cornerback KeiVarae Russell and strong safety Elijah Shumate.

The strength of this unit, though, is up front. Veteran end Isaac Rochell is the anchor with promising pass rusher Andrew Trumbetti, experienced nose tackle Jarron Jones, and highly touted tackle Jerry Tillery. Where the Irish have improved significantly under Kelly is in developing defensive line depth, although how the talent stacks up among the nation’s elite remains to be seen. The Irish were great on third down last year but horrific in the red zone.

The back seven boasts little experience beyond cornerback Cole Luke, who had a better sophomore than junior season. James Onwualu replaces Joe Schmidt as the brains of the operation at Sam linebacker, albeit on the outside rather than inside. Highly regarded Nyles Morgan’s opportunity finally has arrived at Mike linebacker. The defense’s versatility hinges partly on the health of cornerback Shaun Crawford, a potential stalwart who missed the entire ’15 season with a torn ACL. Drue Tranquill, now with two ACL tears on his résumé, is a key contributor as a box safety.

Previewing Notre Dame’s Specialists 
 

Few teams in the country boast a better one-two punch at kicker-punter than Justin Yoon and Tyler Newsome. Yoon converted 15-of-17 field goals as a true freshman while Newsome, also with three years of eligibility remaining, averaged 44.5 yards per punt as a redshirt freshman.

Final Analysis
 

Now in his seventh season — making him the longest-tenured Irish head coach since Lou Holtz (1986-96) — Kelly is signed through the 2021 season. The program is on very solid footing. The overall depth is improved, as evidenced by Notre Dame’s ability to win 10 games despite an onslaught of frontline injuries in ’15. It remains to be seen, however, if the Irish can develop into a consistent New Year’s Six/College Football Playoff program. The key is on the defensive side of the football now that Kelly seems to have found his groove with the offense. Unless the Irish make significant strides on defense, Notre Dame will hover around the fringe of the nation’s elite with an occasional burst into the lead pack. On the surface, the schedule looks forgiving enough for the Irish to achieve another double-digit victory season, but only if the defense shows significant improvement.

The Debate

Will Notre Dame make the College Football Playoff in 2016?

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