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BYU Football: 2017 Cougars Preview and Prediction

Fred Warner, BYU Football

Fred Warner, BYU Football

After taking a back seat to Taysom Hill last season, Tanner Mangum is back as BYU’s starting quarterback. His experience should help the Cougars’ offense stay productive, although replacing the program’s all-time leading rusher won’t be easy. On defense, BYU is strongest in the back seven thanks to the return of its top three tacklers, all linebackers. Once again the Cougars are facing a challenging schedule that features teams from the Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC but another eight- or nine-win season should be the expectation.

Previewing BYU Football’s Offense for 2017

In ordinary circumstances, BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum’s 2015 and 2016 seasons would have been reversed. He logically would have played behind Taysom Hill as a freshman, then taken over the starting job as a sophomore. Instead, Mangum started 12 games as a freshman after Hill was lost for the season with an injury in the opening game, and then Hill returned last season. Mangum’s only start came in the Poinsettia Bowl after Hill was injured again.

The positive aspect of his career arc is that Mangum was able to watch and learn for a year in offensive coordinator Ty Detmer’s system, and he will be protected by a more experienced line in 2017. Mangum passed for 3,377 yards and 23 touchdowns as a freshman and is a classic drop-back passer in the BYU tradition.

With the loss of career rushing leader Jamaal Williams, the Cougars will rely on several running backs. Squally Canada should get his shot after running for 315 yards in relief of Williams. KJ Hall showed some flashes of speed late in the season as a runner and receiver.

The Cougars must replace their top three receivers, so the re-stocking of the passing game features the tight end, a key element of Detmer’s own quarterbacking era. To accelerate the process, Detmer moved Moroni Laulu-Pututau, who had 27 receptions last season, from receiver to tight end. Jonah Trinnaman is the top returning receiver, having caught 28 passes as a junior college transfer.

Four offensive line starters return, with Thomas Shoaf moving from right tackle to left tackle.

Previewing BYU Football’s Defense for 2017

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Defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki has given himself a more difficult job in 2017. Tuiaki is taking over the defensive line, switching roles with coach Steve Kaufusi, who as the new linebackers coach inherits some of the team’s best players at any position.

Tuiaki must replace three starters on the line, and he likes Trajan Pili’s development. At linebacker, Fred Warner, Butch Pau’u and Francis Bernard produced nearly identical statistics last season as the team’s top three tacklers.

The Cougars will miss safety Kai Nacua, who led the team with six interceptions last season and picked off 14 passes in three years. Aside from games against Toledo and Boise State, BYU played consistently in the secondary and should improve in 2017. Dayan Ghanwoloku and Troy Warner, Fred’s younger brother, are capable cornerbacks, and Micah Hannemann is a solid safety.

Previewing BYU Football’s Specialists for 2017

In the first half of the season, BYU won two games with field goals on the final play — by two different kickers. Rhett Almond delivered the game-winner vs. Toledo and finished with 17 field goals in 21 attempts. Jonny Linehan’s 2016 season is best remembered for his failed effort on a fake punt, when the Cougars faced fourth-and-19 from their 5-yard line at Boise State and he barely made it out of the end zone. As a rugby-style punter, though, Linehan was effective. He averaged 42.5 yards, and the longest return for any opponent was nine yards.

Final Analysis

BYU coach Kalani Sitake’s first season was an adventure. In addition to those two last-play wins, BYU lost four games by a total of eight points.

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The Cougars should have more close games in 2017 as they tackle another ambitious, front-loaded schedule in the program’s seventh season of independence. BYU will meet LSU, Utah, Wisconsin, Boise State and Mississippi State by mid-October, so Mangum and his offense will have to be sharp from the start. The season likely will play out much like 2016, when the Cougars won their last five games to finish 9–4.

National Ranking: 39