Through seven games, BYUhas a 5-2 record and has faced one of the nation’s toughest schedules in the country during that stretch. Keep in mind, that’s without their preseason Heisman contender at quarterback Taysom Hill, one of the school’s all-time leading rushers at running back in Jamaal Williams, and here we are, BYU sitting quite nicely as they enter the lighter stretch of its 2015 gauntlet.
A lot of BYU’s success stems from the star power head coach Bronco Mendenhall's team has on both sides of the ball. Let’s deal out some awards for who have been some of the top performers for BYU this season.
Offensive MVP: QB Tanner Mangum
All of BYU’s five wins this season have seen the Cougars either tied or trailing in the fourth quarter. The true freshman quarterback’s ability to rise to the occasion when the game is on the line has been one of the major reasons BYU has had the success its had this season.
In replace of the injured Taysom Hill, Mangum has thrown for 1,668 yards and 11 touchdowns. Not bad for a guy who was in Chile serving an LDS mission back in June.
Defensive MVP: DE Bronson Kaufusi
There were high expectations on Kaufusi entering his senior season to give BYU an improved pass rush this year. So far, Kaufusi has lived up to the high expectations dominating the opposing linemen he has faced in 1-on-1 matchups, as he has racked up five and a half sacks and one interception thus far.
Best Moment of the First Half: Hail Mary vs. Nebraska
Prior to last Saturday’s crazy finish to the Michigan-Michigan State game, the Hail Mary toss from Mangum to Mitch Mathews against Nebraska to win the opener was probably the best finish in the early part of the college football season.
That was a huge for BYU to end Nebraska’s 26-year season-opening win streak, and to do it in a historic venue like Memorial Stadium in Lincoln made the setting that much more special.
As an independent, the season-opening games are always critical for BYU to get off to a fast start as the Cougars try to stay in the national conversation as long as they can. Winning the way they did over Nebraska made them America’s Team for the first few weeks of the season.
Best Newcomer: Tanner Mangum
Mangum is 22 years old but he’s still only a true freshman. BYU is excited about the future as Mangum continues to get better every week. Not only has Mangum been slinging the rock with a high level of accuracy, he’s already become a leader of this team. There’s a lot to like about Mangum right now.
Biggest Surprise: Better depth than we expected
One of the knocks on BYU entering the season was its depth. Last season, BYU had a string of injuries to some of its best players, and the wheels came off of BYU’s promising season that had started 4-0.
This year, BYU has had a lot of injuries/suspensions to key players this year, but unlikely players have contributed to help the Cougars win games.
Three Things to Watch in the Second Half
1. Does BYU win out and finish the season in the Top 25?
BYU hasn’t had a 10-win season since 2011. The Cougars have been had three consecutive years of 8-5 records. Do they break the trend and get back to the double-digit win mark?
2. Mangum’s development
If BYU wins out and Mangum continues to put up big numbers, the Cougars could position themselves for some preseason buzz entering the 2016 season. A lot of that rests on the continuing development of Mangum.
3. Playmakers on defense
Last week against Cincinnati, BYU recorded eight sacks which was the most the Cougars have posted in a game since the 1997 Cotton Bowl against Kansas State. With Mendenhall calling the plays on defense, the Cougars have been very aggressive this season, and now they finally have their full allotment of stars healthy.
BYU has the makings of finishing as one of the top defenses statistically in the country, and when the Cougars line up in their nickel package, they feel they can cause havoc on any opposing offense.
Ranking the Toughest Remaining Games on the Schedule
1. Nov. 14 vs. Missouri (Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City)
Mizzou is off to a lack luster 4-3 start and the Tiger offense has been hard to watch, but they still pose a great challenge for BYU. The Tigers are a physical football team, especially on the defense. The last time we saw BYU face a physical defense was against Michigan, and the Cougar offense was shutout. I’d expect this game to be a defensive battle in Kansas City.
2. Nov. 28 at Utah State
The case could be made that Utah State is the toughest game left on BYU’s schedule after that dominating win over Boise State this past Friday night. Aggie fans want nothing more than to beat BYU for a second consecutive year.
3. Nov. 6 at San Jose State
BYU lost the last time it matched up against the Spartans in 2012. This time, SJSU doesn’t have quarterback David Fales to fall back on. Running back Tyler Ervin is one of the nation’s best players you’ve probably never heard of. Ervin is third in the country in all-purpose yards, averaging 204 per game.
4. Nov. 21 vs. Fresno State
There was a time when BYU and Fresno State were old conference rivals in the wacky WAC days, and the Bulldogs lead the overall series over BYU, 5-4. Expect BYU to tie this series up after these two teams meet again in late November because the Bulldogs are really bad this season.
5. Oct. 24 vs. Wagner
FBS vs. FCS games are never fun to watch, especially this late in the season. But Wagner is especially hard to watch. The Seahawks lost to a Columbia team a few weeks ago that hadn’t won a game since 2013! But hey, BYU can’t get too upset because playing Wagner was a requirement to get Missouri on the schedule.
— 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.