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You can read the entire BYU preview in Athlon Sports' 2012 National College Football magazine, available for purchase now at the Athlon Sports store.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL PRESEASON TOP 25
HEAD COACH: Bronco Mendenhall, 66-24 (7 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Brandon Doman | DEF. COORDINATOR: Bronco Mendenhall
BYU’s Riley Nelson is known as a scrambler and a playmaker, but offensive coordinator Brandon Doman says those labels do not give the former transfer from Utah State enough credit as a quarterback. “I need to give this guy a chance to really see how he can succeed in this offense,” Doman says. “So we are running the (traditional) BYU offense right now.”
That’s the classic West Coast passing scheme, requiring a quarterback’s timing, decision-making and accuracy. Nelson, who replaced Jake Heaps (since transferred to Kansas), ranked 16th nationally in passing efficiency, completing 57 percent of his passes with 19 touchdowns and seven interceptions. The offense’s improvement coincided with Nelson’s insertion at quarterback and Michael Alisa’s emergence as the primary running back.
Cody Hoffman concluded his sophomore season dramatically, with a game-winning touchdown catch against Tulsa in the Armed Forces Bowl, his third score of the game. The coaches want more consistency from him after he caught 61 passes for 943 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2011.
The Cougars lost four-year starting tackle Matt Reynolds, but the line should be stronger overall. BYU struggled to run the ball against Ole Miss, Texas and Utah last September, so the line’s challenge will be to perform well against top-tier competition. Right tackle Braden Brown and left guard Braden Hansen will anchor the line.
Doman’s goal for his offense is to average 450 yards, 300 by passing and 150 by rushing.
Except for a major letdown in the fourth quarter against Utah, BYU’s defense was solid throughout 2011. The Cougars ranked 13th in total defense, allowing 313.4 yards. None of BYU’s last six opponents, including TCU, reached the 300-yard mark. Bronco Mendenhall, who serves as his own defensive coordinator, says his group will be “as good or better than last year’s unit.”
The linebackers are the defense’s strength. Kyle Van Noy, a junior, may become one of BYU’s best linebackers ever by the end of his career. Van Noy made five tackles for a loss against Tulsa in the Armed Forces Bowl. Brandon Ogletree is less spectacular than Van Noy but may be more consistent.
BYU usually lacks great speed in the secondary but compensates with sound coverage and good tackling. The Cougars lost safety Travis Uale, but Joe Sampson and Daniel Sorensen are aggressive players who should thrive.
Riley Stephenson played a key role in the Armed Forces Bowl, with seven of his eight punts downed inside the 20-yard line. Kicker Justin Sorensen has a big leg, but was not nearly as consistent as the coaches would like. His 15-of-25 success in field goals included only 8-of-12 accuracy from 30-39 yards. Sorensen’s back injury is another concern, after he missed spring drills. Hoffman (kickoffs) and JD Falslev (punts) each produced a touchdown return in 2011.
The 2011 football season was very different for the Cougars, even though their record looked familiar. BYU’s first year of independence resulted in its fifth 10-win season in six years, even without the incentive of a conference championship.
BYU hopes Nelson’s presence will make the offense more efficient from the start, while an experienced defense tries to continue its high level of play. The schedule is more daunting, with road games against Utah, Boise State, Notre Dame and Georgia Tech, so matching last season’s win total will be difficult.