Back in June, BYU held its annual media day event for, whom else, the media. BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe had a quote from that day that has lingered with me for the past few weeks, and that was he felt BYU didn’t have the necessary depth to compete with Power 5 opponents in the later part of the schedule. Due to those thoughts, Holmoe has made a concerted effort to get many of BYU’s marquee games in the early part of the season, case in point this year, which is being dubbed as the toughest September schedule in the country.
When you look at BYU in 2015, depth is going to be a question mark that not only Holmoe has, but also everyone that follows BYU football will be asking, as the season gets closer to kicking off. BYU’s starters can go toe-to-toe with pretty much any team in the country, but if the Cougars suffer an injury or two, this season could get away from them in a hurry.
Fall practices open up this Saturday afternoon in Provo, Utah, and to get you ready, here are my five fall camp storylines to keep an eye on.
BYU’s Five Biggest Fall Camp Storylines
1. Quarterback Depth
Taysom Hill is a do-it-all quarterback who is one of the most dynamic athletes college football has to offer. With that said, Hill has suffered season-ending injuries two of the last three seasons. At a position where there is always the fear of losing your top signal-caller, BYU has that fear more than most. Those fears get amplified when the guys behind Taysom have not taken a rep in a live FBS game.
Tanner Mangum on paper appears to be the player that will emerge as the No. 2 option behind Hill. Mangum is a 21-year-old true freshman (that’s not a typo) who was the MVP of the Elite 11 for the class of 2012, and shared co-MVP honors in the Under Armour All-American Game with a guy named Jameis Winston.
While Hill is an elite runner, Mangum is the prototypical pocket-passing QB, the type that was synonymous with BYU football during the ‘80s and ‘90s under “Air Edwards.”
Keep an eye on Beau Hoge, son of former Pittsburgh Steeler and current ESPN analyst Merrill Hoge. The younger Hoge has received comparisons to Hill for his unique ability to pass and outrun his opposition.
2. Wanted: Pass Rushers
In recent years Bronco Mendenhall has built BYU into a program that hangs its hat on defensive football. Except for last season. Last year was the worst defense BYU has put out statistically since 1993. A lot of the struggles with the defense stemmed from a lack of pass rush up front.
Senior Bronson Kaufusi is switching back permanently to the defensive end spot after a year playing out of position at outside linebacker. Kaufusi is going to be looked upon this season to give this defense an elite pass rusher, something that’s been lacking since Ziggy Ansah graduated and went on to become a top-five NFL Draft pick.
3. Offensive Line Depth
The starting hogmollies that will be protecting Hill this season are very good, headlined by sophomore right tackle Ului Lapuaho and center Tejan Koroma. After the starters, however, it’s a big drop-off. BYU’s coaching staff is hoping that some members of the 2015 recruiting class round out the two-deep up front. Look for Texas natives J.J. Nwigwe and Jacob Jimenez to be competing right away for playing time as true freshmen.
4. Who replaces Jamaal Williams?
BYU suffered a significant loss on Thursday announcing that senior running back Jamaal Williams withdrew from school, and will redshirt this season.
Williams, who was recovering from a devastating ACL injury he suffered against Middle Tennessee last season was 924 yards away from becoming the school's all-time leading rusher. Now without the "Swagdaddy" in the backfield there is a large question mark looming over the BYU backfield.
Algie Brown will likely be the starter when BYU squares off against the Huskers next month, but there's doubt that he could be an every down back. Brown is BYU's best receiving rusher out of the backfield, but the Cougars will turn to a committee to try and replace the void left by Williams.
Walk-on Nate Carter who is a candidate to take Williams' scholarship this season will see an increased workload, but look for Taysom Hill to shoulder a lot of the success this group will have on the ground this fall. Which can be a scary proposition considering Hill's history of suffering injuries.
Related: BYU Wild Card Players in 2015
5. Sense of Urgency
BYU is a program that is built around high expectations. Look at the past 40 years; BYU is fifth in the entire country for wins. The schools ahead of them? Nebraska, Oklahoma, Ohio State and Florida State. That’s basically the who’s who of college football, and BYU is right there with them when it comes to winning. So needless to say, 8-5 the past three seasons hasn’t had many folks thrilled. A degree of restlessness is starting to creep up for a good portion of the fan base. Is that deserved? Debatable.
The good thing for BYU is that it has an opportunity with a nationally recognized senior quarterback, and an exciting schedule to inject life into the program. The key is that the Cougars need to have a sense of urgency, and get off to a fast start. If they don’t, BYU could be in danger of not going bowling for the first time since 2004.
Will we see a head coach that senses the time is now for BYU to win big? Will Hill have that urgency and display the necessary leadership that has been lacking for the past few years in this program? A lot of questions, but finally, we will start getting answers with the start of camp this weekend.
— Written by Mitch Harper, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Harper is the BYU reporter and insider for 1320 KFAN and co-host of "The Cougar Center" podcast. Follow him on Twitter @Mitch_Harper.