Fresh off its most successful football season since leaving the Mountain West Conference, BYU enters a new season breaking in new starters at several key positions on offense and defense. The Cougars will also have a new coordinator, Aaron Roderick, taking control of the offense.
The Cougars replace three-year starter Zach Wilson at quarterback and leading receiver Dax Milne, along with several offensive linemen and defensive standouts. Baylor Romney, Jaren Hall, Jacob Conover, and Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters are all battling to replace Wilson, who entered the 2021 NFL Draft after a successful junior campaign, as the new starting quarterback. Romney and Hall both have previous starting experience and Conover is considered the quarterback of the future with how he impressed in scout team duties last season.
The good news for BYU is that top running back Tyler Allgeier is back and experienced receivers like Gunner Romney and Isaac Rex will give the new quarterback reliable targets to keep the passing game a threat. A challenging schedule awaits, with seven Power 5 opponents slated to face the Cougars in 2021. If BYU can reload at key positions on both sides of the ball, it has a chance to make some noise nationally again this fall.
Here's how BYU's schedule breaks down for 2021...
Bye: Week 11
Week 1 — Sept. 4 vs. Arizona (Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas)
BYU will get to open its season at the home of the Las Vegas Raiders. The Cougars and Arizona are meeting in a season opener for the third time in six seasons. Both previous meetings resulted in narrow BYU victories. New Arizona head coach Jedd Fisch will be making his debut with the Wildcats and working to boost the fortunes of a program that has lost 12 consecutive games dating back to 2019. Fisch served as interim head coach for UCLA during the final two games of 2017, posting a 1-1 record that included a 35-17 loss to Kansas State in the 2017 Cactus Bowl. Arizona holds a 12-11-1 lead in the all-time series with the Cougars.
Week 2 — Sept. 11 vs. Utah (Provo, Utah)
The Holy War resumes after a one-year hiatus and the Utes have had BYU's number for quite a while in this bitter rivalry. Utah leads the overall series 62-34-4 and has reeled off nine straight victories over the Cougars dating back to 2010. BYU hasn't beaten the Utes at home since prevailing 26-23 in overtime in 2009. Snapping the long losing streak will be difficult considering Utah returns every key contributor on a defense that ranked second in the Pac-12 in yards and third in points in allowed per game scoring defense last season.
Week 3 — Sept. 18 vs. Arizona State (Provo, Utah)
The Sun Devils will offer a tough test for BYU's defense. Jayden Daniels enters his third season as the starting quarterback, having made a name for himself as an efficient passer and mobile runner. He is the type of athletic dual-threat quarterback who traditionally gives the Cougars problems. Arizona State owns a 20-7 lead in the series with BYU. The Cougars won the two most recent meetings, however, beating the Sun Devils in 1997 and '98.
Week 4 — Sept. 25 vs. USF (Provo, Utah)
A 27-23 loss to a reeling USF squad marked one of the low points of the 2019 season for the Cougars. BYU lost starting QB Jaren Hall to injury in the game and gave up 13 straight points in the fourth quarter after taking a nine-point lead midway through the third. This is the first of three straight years that the Cougars and Bulls will face each other. USF lost eight straight games to end the 2020 season and finished last in the American Athletic Conference in the team's first season under head coach Jeff Scott.
Week 5 — Oct.1 at Utah State (Logan, Utah)
The Battle for the Old Wagon Wheel resumes after a one-year hiatus. New head coach Blake Anderson will have his work cut out rebuilding an Aggie program that bottomed out under Gary Andersen last season. Anderson does have a track record for building winning programs. He helped Arkansas State win a pair of Sun Belt titles and reach six bowl games in seven seasons with the Red Wolves. BYU leads the series 49-37-3 but Utah State has won two of the last three meetings.
Week 6 — Oct. 9 vs. Boise State (Provo, Utah)
The Broncos enter a new era under head coach Andy Avalos, but will still be the team to beat in the Mountain West. Quarterbacks Hank Bachmeier and Jack Sears and running back George Holani are all major offensive threats who can test the Cougars if they're healthy. BYU finally broke through against Boise State last season, routing the Broncos 51-17 for their first-ever victory on the Smurf Turf. The Cougars own a two-game winning streak in the rivalry but Boise State leads the series 7-4.
Week 7 — Oct. 16 at Baylor (Waco, Tex.)
Former BYU offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes will face his old team when the Cougars visit the Bears in October. Grimes left Provo to take the same position at Baylor. His new task is to revive a Bears offense that ranked ninth in the Big 12 in both yards and points per game. This will be BYU's first true road game outside the state of Utah in 2021. The Cougars split two previous meetings with Baylor in 1983 and '84. BYU is 2-2 against Big 12 teams since going independent in 2011.
Week 8 — Oct. 23 at Washington State (Pullman, Wash.)
This is the second half of a home-and-home series that began back in 2012. BYU beat Washington State 30-6 in Provo that season, ruining former head coach Mike Leach's debut. BYU leads the series with the Red Cougars 3-1, which includes a win in the 1981 Holiday Bowl. WSU head coach Nick Rolovich beat BYU the last time he faced the Blue Cougars, coaching Hawaii to a 38-34 victory in the 2019 Hawaii Bowl.
Week 9 — Oct. 30 vs. Virginia (Provo, Utah)
Former BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall returns to Provo for the first time since leaving at the end of the 2015 season to take over at Virginia. Mendenhall has quickly built the Cavaliers into a winning program, much like he did with the Cougars a decade earlier. Virginia has gone to three bowl games in the last four seasons and won the ACC Coastal Division title in 2019. The Cavaliers hold a 3-2 lead in the series with the Cougars.
Week 10 — Nov. 6 vs. Idaho State (Provo, Utah)
BYU has never lost to the Bengals, a team who regularly pops up on the Cougars' schedule as the annual FCS opponent. Idaho State is 0-6 all-time against BYU, most recently falling 42-10 in 2019. The Bengals have never scored more than 13 points in any of those previous six meetings.
Week 12 — Nov. 20 at Georgia Southern (Statesboro, Ga.)
The Eagles will be BYU's fourth Sun Belt opponent in the last two seasons. The Cougars went 2-1 against the league a year ago, beating Troy and Texas State and suffering their lone loss of the season in an instant classic against Coastal Carolina. Georgia Southern and BYU have never played in football, and this first meeting will offer a nice late-season challenge for the Cougars. The Eagles have posted three straight winning seasons under head coach Chad Lunsford behind their consistent triple-option attack.
Week 13 — Nov. 27 at USC (Los Angeles, Calif.)
Revenge will be on the Trojans' minds in this season finale. USC fell to BYU 30-27 in overtime two years ago when Dayan Ghanwoloku intercepted a tipped pass from Kedon Slovis on the game's final play. The defending Pac-12 South champions are a favorite to claim the divisional crown once again this season. Slovis is entering his third season at quarterback and has the talent and experience to put up ridiculous passing numbers in the Trojans' Air Raid offense in 2021. USC is 2-1 all-time against BYU.
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports, and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.