The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 35 BYU.
Previewing BYU’s Offense for 2014:
BYU offensive coordinator Robert Anae would love to replay the 2013 season, with his players being more accustomed to his fast-paced scheme. “I wish we would have had this as our starting point last season,” he says.
As it is, the Cougars can only hope to improve on their 8–5 record, facing a less demanding schedule. Quarterback Taysom Hill knows he can get better. Hill is a remarkable athlete who rushed for 1,344 yards as a sophomore, including a 259-yard performance against Texas. He also showed signs of passing ability, but his accuracy rate dropped off considerably against quality opponents.
Running back Jamaal Williams almost matched Hill’s per-game rushing average last season, finishing with 1,233 yards while missing one game due to injury. He’s a shifty, explosive runner who helped the Cougars rank 10th in the country in rushing.
The Cougars must replace Cody Hoffman, the school’s all-time leading receiver. Mitch Mathews, who caught three touchdown passes against Utah State, and senior Ross Apo are the top returnees. Junior college transfer Nick Kurtz improved during the spring.
Because of injuries and inconsistency, BYU used 11 different starters at the five offensive line positions in 2013. Ten of those players return, but former defensive lineman Tuni Kanuch has emerged as the starting right guard after missing last season due to injury.
Previewing BYU’s Defense for 2014:
Defensive coordinator Nick Howell expects the linemen to be “more physical and more stout against the run” than in 2013, when BYU ranked 56th in rushing defense, allowing 159.9 yards per game. BYU will have a more traditional look up front, with Bronson Kaufusi having moved to outside linebacker.
No defensive player in BYU history made as many impact plays as Kyle Van Noy. BYU’s coaches believe they’ve found a creative solution to replacing Van Noy by moving Kaufusi from the defensive line. As a linebacker, Kaufusi “just looks so much more natural,” Howell says. “He’s leaner and faster, and he’ll shock some people.”
On the other side, Alani Fua is a versatile athlete who was used as a nickel back at times, when BYU’s secondary was depleted, while also excelling as a linebacker.
BYU scrambled to fill the cornerback positions last year after Trent Trammell was injured on the first day of spring drills and Jordan Johnson also was lost for the season with a knee injury in August. In their absence, Robertson Daniel became a highly valuable player on one side, but BYU struggled to find a consistent player at the other corner.
Previewing BYU’s Specialists for 2014:
Scott Arellano proved to be a fairly consistent punter as a junior college transfer, averaging 41 yards with 13 of his punts covering 50-plus yards. BYU will have to shore up the protection after having three punts blocked. The Cougars needs a new kicker, with sophomore Moose Bingham having moved ahead of Trevor Samson in the spring competition.
A tough schedule and a bowl defeat kept BYU stuck on eight victories in 2013, but coach Bronco Mendenhall likes the trajectory of the program. “We win every year, and it’s just a matter of how much,” Mendenhall says. “I think this group wants to do even more than we’ve done before.”
Even after a Fight Hunger Bowl loss ended BYU’s streak of five bowl victories, the Cougars have “tons of momentum,” Mendenhall says. “I like our program a lot right now, and I like our players.”
In BYU’s fourth season of independence, the Cougars are positioned to make some national impact especially if the defensive front seven comes together and Hill becomes a more consistent passer.