The Cougars appear to have a rising star in quarterback Zach Wilson
After a shocking and downright awful 4-9 2017 season, BYU’s '18 campaign showed signs of progress as they went 6-6 and qualified for a bowl game in year three under Kalani Sitake.
BYU made a switch at quarterback going from Tanner Mangum to Zach Wilson and the Cougars now head into the postseason with some excitement and more importantly, hope that greater days for this once proud and storied program are on the horizon once again.
But before we start looking too far down the road, let’s take a look back at the 2018 BYU football season by dishing out some team awards from the regular season.
Offensive MVP: Zach Wilson, QB
BYU didn’t have a big-time statistical performer in 2018 so I’m going to go with the guy that the future of the program rests with. Wilson also represents one of the up and coming players at the quarterback position all of college football.
Wilson has had his ups and downs throughout the 2018 season just like the rest of the BYU team, but his play helped the Cougars start to create an offensive identity with read option, shotgun formations, tempo, etc. Wilson has great mechanics when throwing the football and he has the athleticism to run the ball as well.
Defensive MVP: Corbin Kaufusi, DL
I don’t think there’s anyone else that you can go with here other than Kaufusi. Out for the remainder of the season, Kaufusi finishes his senior season with 55 tackles, 8.5 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks. Wherever BYU needed him, Kaufusi was able to perform at a high level and cause havoc for opposing offenses. Besides the numbers, Kaufusi provided versatility, playing end, spy, outside linebacker, middle linebacker and defensive tackle. Like his father Steven and older brother, Bronson, Corbin Kaufusi appears to have a future in the NFL.
Best Freshman: Zach Wilson, QB
Pretty easy choice here. There were other candidates as BYU experienced a youth movement with more than 20 freshmen paying during the season, but Wilson stands out among his classmates.
Best Play of the Season: Aleva Hifo's 31-yard TD pass to Moroni Laulu-Pututau vs. Wisconsin
At the time, Wisconsin was ranked sixth in the nation and BYU was searching for a signature win in the Kalani Sitake era. With the game tied 7-7 early in the second quarter, BYU pulled off a trick play as Tanner Mangum threw a backwards pass to wide receiver Aleva Hifo who then threw the ball to a wide-open Moroni Laulu-Pututau for a touchdown. BYU never gave up the lead from there, shocking the Badgers 24-21 in Madison, handing them their first non-conference loss at home since 2003.
Best Performance by a Player: Corbin Kaufusi vs. Utah
Entering BYU’s home finale against New Mexico State, Kaufusi had been ruled out for the remainder of the season due to a foot injury. While he didn't play against the Aggies, the senior decided to give it a go against archrival Utah after being told he couldn't make the injury any worse. In his final game as a Cougar, Kaufusi posted seven tackles and literally left everything on the field for his team to try and help beat the Utes.
Best Game (Team Performance): 24-21 Road Upset of No. 6 Wisconsin
No question this was the best game and biggest win for BYU this season. Wisconsin didn’t end up being the Big Ten contender it was projected to be entering the season, but that doesn't take away from the Cougars' accomplishment. BYU not only scored an upset of a top-10 team, it was the first win by a non-conference opponent in Camp Randall Stadium in 15 seasons. Besides giving the team an early boost, it also ended up being a critical one as it relates to the Cougars' bowl eligibility.
Biggest Surprise: Development of Young BYU secondary
For any BYU historian out there, they will tell you the one position that has had a history of unfortunate events would be cornerback or the secondary as a whole. But this season has been different in that a young group of defensive backs including D’Angelo Mandell, Isaiah Herron, Malik Moore paired with Chris Wilcox (who suffered a season-ending injury), Austin Lee, Dayan Ghanwoloku and Michael Shelton to be one of the strengths of the Cougars' defense. The future looks bright for the back end of BYU's defense.
Biggest Disappointment: WR Dylan Collie’s Impact
When Collie announced that he was transferring from Hawaii to BYU, there were big expectations for the younger brother of Cougar legend Austin Collie. But the production and the targets just weren’t there from the graduate transfer. Entering the bowl game, Dylan Collie has totaled just 18 receptions for 153 yards and a touchdown. That's a far cry from what was expected when he announced he was coming to Provo to finish his college career.
Senior That Will Be Missed the Most Next Season: Corbin Kaufusi, DE
BYU lacks a pass rush (24 sacks in 12 games, tied for 73rd in FBS), but Kaufusi was the one guy who could be counted out to put some pressure on the quarterback. Both his production and his leadership will be greatly missed. The good thing is that there is another Kaufusi waiting in the wings to fill Corbin's shoes in freshman Devin Kaufusi.
Player to Watch in 2019: Zach Wilson, QB
Wilson is going to be the face of BYU football heading into the offseason and when the 2019 season rolls around. BYU will have higher expectations in 2019 because of Wilson at quarterback.
Biggest Offseason Question Mark: Can BYU Add Playmakers on Offense?
One thing we learned from BYU this season is that they lack playmakers at the skill positions. BYU needs game-changers at running back and wide receiver. They’ve got the quarterback, now they need the weapons around him. That will be the big task for BYU this offseason and they are going to be very active in the junior college and graduate transfer markets to try and get that done.
— Written by Mitch Harper, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Harper is BYU Insider for ESPN 960 Sports and Publisher of Cougar Nation, part of the Rivals network. Follow him on Twitter @Mitch_Harper.
(Top photo courtesy of @BYUfootball)