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BYU Football: 2018 Cougars Preview and Prediction

Tanner Mangum, BYU Football

Tanner Mangum, BYU Football

Kalani Sitake took steps to address last year's disappointing 4-9 record -- the worst at BYU since 1970. The main culprit in last season's slide was an offense that averaged just 17.1 points per game. Veteran offensive line coach Jeff Grimes -- most recently at LSU -- was hired to call plays for the first time in his career, and he's one of five new offensive assistants in Provo. In addition to the scheme and coordinator change, BYU faces uncertainty at quarterback. Tanner Mangum is recovering from an Achilles injury suffered in 2017 and will be pushed by Beau Hoge and Joe Critchlow. The defense returns seven starters and is the strength of this team once again. With four games against Power 5 opponents, along with a trip to Boise State, BYU faces a difficult path to bowl eligibility.

Previewing BYU Football's Offense for 2018

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Boise State Football/2018 Athlon Sports College Football Preview Magazine

BYU's first losing season in 13 years resulted in the upheaval of Kalani Sitake's coaching staff. The arrival of offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes from LSU brought a new scheme. Three quarterbacks started multiple games last season, and all three have returned, joining freshman Zach Wilson in a four-way competition that likely won't be resolved until just before the season opener. Tanner Mangum, who has started 20 games in his career, has recovered from an Achilles injury sooner than expected but was limited in the spring. Beau Hoge, also injured late in 2017, took most of the first-team snaps in the spring. Joe Critchlow, the starter in the final three games, and Wilson also received a lot of spring work.

Sitake was frustrated that BYU never developed an offensive identity last season. He hoped to build an offense around running back Ula Tolutau, but Tolutau's injuries and a midseason suspension spoiled that plan. Squally Canada overcame injuries to have a strong November, and he showed explosiveness in the spring. Redshirt freshman Zach Katoa is a future standout.

The inability of BYU's receivers to get open may have been the offense's biggest limitation in 2017. The Cougars lost only one player who caught more than two passes last season and have upgraded the position with graduate transfer Dylan Collie from Hawaii and freshman Gunner Romney. BYU will continue to build its passing scheme around tight end Matt Bushman, who caught 49 passes for 520 yards as a freshman.

The Cougars must replace four-year starting center Tejan Koroma, but the offensive line overall appears stronger than last year's. Notre Dame transfer Tristen Hoge will take one of the guard positions.

Previewing BYU Football's Defense for 2018

BYU's defense played well enough for the Cougars to win more games last season, but defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki wants his group to be more disruptive with sacks and takeaways. That starts up front, where end Corbin Kaufusi is an athletic pass rusher who should improve on his six sacks of 2017.

BYU will miss Fred Warner, a playmaker who was the team's leading tackler. Sione Takitaki, who led the Cougars with 12.5 tackles for a loss, is expected to thrive at outside linebacker. The staff's main strategy is to find faster linebackers. Zayne Anderson moved from safety to linebacker in the spring. "For some of the schemes we are asking our guys to do, we are going to need more speed on the field," Sitake says.

The secondary was the BYU defense's weakness last season. It is a good sign that the coaches felt good enough about their depth at cornerback to move Dayan Ghanwoloku and Troy Warner to safety.

Previewing BYU Football's Specialists for 2018

The struggles of BYU's offense limited the field goal opportunities for kicker Rhett Almond in 2017. Almond will have to improve to keep his job over Skyler Southam, who's returning from a church mission. Like many programs, BYU has looked to Australia for punting help. Danny Jones is an excellent athlete who should take the job.

Final Analysis

BYU's sudden drop to 4-9 has created quite a challenge for Sitake in his third season on the job. "There's a huge urgency to get better," Sitake says. That can happen if the Cougars start putting points on the scoreboard. BYU scored 17 or fewer points in eight defeats in 2017, continually frustrating Sitake. An improved offensive line and receiving corps, along with more continuity at quarterback, should help in this pivotal year for the independent program.

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National Ranking: 86