After 11 years, the Bronco Mendenhall era is now over in Provo. In comes first-time head coach Kalani Sitake to take over his alma mater at BYU.
Sitake wasn’t a flashy hire to folks that cover college football nationally, but within BYU’s walls, the Cougars feel like they hit a home run with Sitake and the energy he is bringing to the program.
BYU continues to carve out its little niche as a football independent in a college football world that emphasizes the importance of playing in a conference. The life of Cougar football isn’t as glamorous as say, the life of Pablo’s, but the Cougars plan to make enough “Highlights” and “Waves” under Sitake to hopefully turn the heads of those Big 12 presidents and administrators to one day find themselves in the club that is the Power 5.
You won’t hear conference realignment talk from Sitake and his staff, as they understand realignment talk is out of their control. What you will see this spring from Sitake and these new BYU coaches is a new offense and possibly a new defense. What other storylines should we keeping tabs on at Camp Cougar this month?
5 Storylines to Watch in BYU’s Spring Practice
1. Kalani Sitake’s stamp on BYU
You’ll be hard pressed to find someone that has bad things to say about BYU’s new headman. Sitake is a personable guy that has drawn rave reviews from the men he has studied under in Kyle Whittingham (Utah) and Gary Andersen (Oregon State).
In terms of personality and charisma, Sitake is a complete-180 turn from what BYU had in Mendenhall, and to many around Provo, that’s a breath of fresh air for a program that has been lacking any noticeable excitement the past few years as an independent. Sitake’s energetic and upbeat personality should make a difference on the way BYU practices this spring.
2. The Quarterbacks
Taysom Hill surprised many by announcing that he was coming back to BYU for his final year after losing his starting job to Tanner Mangum after suffering a season-ending Lisfranc injury in the opener against Nebraska.
New BYU offensive coordinator Ty Detmer has made it clear that there will be competition for the starting role and no one has been named the starter at this point. Hill has yet to be 100 percent cleared by doctors and is doubtful to participate in any 11-on-11 work this spring.
That leaves us with fall camp as to when the quarterback competition will likely take place in front of Detmer, who will also be in charge of coaching the quarterbacks.
If Mangum wins the starting nod, you have to think Detmer will still find a way to utilize Hill’s incredible talents. Just ask Texas how great of a runner Hill is.
3. Do we see a switch to the 4-3 right away?
Sitake and new BYU defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki made names for themselves in the coaching ranks at the University of Utah. It was at Utah under Kyle Whittingham where Sitake was taught the 4-3 defense that his boss has been running at Utah dating back to the days when his father, Fred Whittingham, was calling plays at BYU’s archrival.
Two years ago, Sitake and Tuiaki helped coach Utah to one of the best defenses in the country in 2014, and the Utes led the country in sacks that season. Which has led many to wonder if BYU sees a switch from a 3-4 to a 4-3 scheme with Tuiaki now running the defense.
A lot will rest on the talent that BYU has along the defensive line. There will be a few position changes to the DL, but will that be enough to have the personnel and depth necessary to run a 4-3 defense that also asks the cornerbacks to press the line of scrimmage more? Time will tell.
4. Return of the Swagdaddy: RB Jamaal Williams
Last summer, BYU held its annual Media Day and one of the big storylines from that day was 2015 was going to be the final chapter for two decorated players at BYU in Taysom Hill and Williams. The swan song was delayed by a year as Williams returned this season after withdrawing from school prior to fall camp last August.
Williams is less than 1,000 yards from being BYU’s all-time leading rusher. A three-year starter, Williams is back and anxious to return to the field. He’s added weight and is closer to 230 pounds now. A far cry from the 195 pounds he was at when he arrived in Provo as a true freshman in 2012.
When healthy, Williams has the talent to be one of premier running backs out west.
5. Competition everywhere you look
With a new staff that only has one coach held over from the previous regime, these new coaches are new attached to the previous depth chart or pecking order that was in place under Mendenhall. With the exception of a few positions, look for BYU to have a lot of battles as players jockey to prove to the new staff who should be in key roles.
Pre-Spring Outlook for BYU in 2016
As is life as an independent, the Cougars will have a tough schedule that will force them to go on the road early and often. Six of BYU’s first eight games in 2016 are against Power 5 teams, including a trip to the banks of the red cedar to face Big Ten champion and College Football Playoff participant Michigan State.
BYU returns a lot of experience from a year ago and has arguably the most talented quarterback unit in all of college football. The Utah game in week 2 will be big for the Cougars, as they have lost five in a row to their rival. If BYU knocks off Arizona in a neutral site game in Glendale and then beats Utah in Rice-Eccles Stadium, Cougar fans will probably want to go ahead and erect a statue of Sitake and Detmer.
— Written by Mitch Harper, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Harper is publisher of Rivals' BYU site, CougarNation.com, and also is the BYU reporter and insider for 1320 KFAN and co-host of "The Cougar Center" podcast. Follow him on Twitter @Mitch_Harper.