BYU enters its fourth season of independence poised to push for 10 wins for the second time in four years.
The Cougars are coming off back-to-back eight-win campaigns, but the return of 13 starters, combined with the development of quarterback Taysom Hill, should allow Bronco Mendenhall’s team a chance to finish in the final top 25 poll.
Hill is one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation, and junior running back Jamaal Williams could push for All-America honors with another 1,000-yard season.
BYU’s biggest question mark is on the offensive line, and the defense needs to find a linebacker to replace Kyle Van Noy.
Related: BYU 2014 Preview | 2014 Bowl Projections | All-America Team for 2014
The Expert Panel:
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven), AthlonSports.com
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR), AthlonSports.com
Mitch Harper (@Mitch_Harper), LawlessRepublic.com
Braden Gall (@BradenGall), AthlonSports.com
Jeremy Mauss (@JeremyMauss), MWCConnection.com
David Fox (@DavidFox615), AthlonSports.com
Kevin Schaefer (@KevinVTF), VanquishTheFoe.com
Kyle Kensing (@kensing45), CFBHuddle.com
Early BYU Game-by-Game Predictions for 2014
at Boise State
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
BYU is going to be a fascinating team to watch in 2014. The Cougars have a realistic shot at winning every game on the schedule, and in college football’s new playoff format, 11 wins has to at least get them in the conversation for one of the top bowl games on New Year’s Day. While I don’t expect BYU to go unbeaten, getting to 10 wins in the regular season would be a solid year for Bronco Mendenhall’s team. Quarterback Taysom Hill and running back Jamaal Williams form an explosive backfield, with a revamped receiving corps and offensive line the biggest question marks on offense. Hill is a dynamic dual-threat quarterback, but he still needs to take the next step as a passer. And with the losses at receiver, it may take a couple of games for the passing attack to improve. Standout linebacker Kyle Van Noy is gone, but six starters return on defense. The schedule is favorable, as BYU should be favored to win at least 9 or 10 games. I do think the late-season road trip to an improving California team is tougher than some expect, but dates at Boise State and UCF are manageable. In Athlon’s projected final top 25 for 2014, we projected BYU to finish No. 35. However, if the pieces fall into place on offense, the Cougars should have a good shot at finish in the final top 25 poll.
Kevin Schaefer (@KevinVTF), VanquishtheFoe.com
I'm really curious to see how BYU's offense looks this season. The Cougars had a very exciting rushing attack last season, led by two 1,000+ yard rushers in QB Taysom Hill and RB Jamaal Williams. Unfortunately, the Cougars passing game couldn't match that success and the offense as a whole left too many points on the field in the their losses. Now with a full year under offensive coordinator Robert Anae's uptempo offense and a few new weapons at wideout, the Cougars should have the improved passing attack they will need to have a more successful season than they did a year ago.
BYU's schedule isn't nearly as demanding as it was last season and it should set the Cougars up nicely for double digit wins. The trip to Austin in the second week of the season will likely be the most difficult test the Cougars will face, but BYU should also watch out for UCF, Houston, and Boise State.
Mitch Harper (@Mitch_Harper), LawlessRepublic.com
This schedule sets up very well for BYU. There’s not one team on this schedule that BYU can’t beat. But there are some trap games. The biggest game though is in Week 2 against Texas. If BYU gets out of the gates with a 2-0 start, and one of those wins coming against the Horns in Austin; the nation will be talking about the Cougars as a team to get one of the at-large spots in the New Year’s Day bowls. As the last true independent in college football, that’s all BYU can ask for at this point is being in the national conversation on a weekly basis. With all that said, picking that BYU-UT game today, I have the Cougars falling in a close one. BYU is only 1-6 in games away from Provo in the month of September since becoming independent in 2011.
BYU will go undefeated at home this season without breaking much of a sweat. The game against Houston on a Thursday night in week three could be dicey. UH and BYU put on a 47-46 shootout last year in Reliant Stadium, so expect more offensive fireworks in BYU’s home opener on ESPN.
The other two games that raise concern on this 2014 slate are Central Florida and Boise State. UCF obviously lost Blake Bortles and Storm Johnson to the NFL, but the Knights were one of the youngest teams in the country last year, and everyone returns this season. Then with Boise State, it’s all about the blue turf. In BYU’s two visits to Boise in program history the Cougars have came up short in both games. Losing by a total of two points in those games. Remember the 7-6 thriller in 2012? I try to forget as well.
The key for BYU, as it always has been under Bronco Mendenhall, will be to get off to a fast start with a pair of wins on the road. All the pieces are in place for BYU to have a big season with QB Taysom Hill, RB Jamaal Williams, & a pair of transfer wide receivers in Jordan Leslie (UTEP) & Devon Blackmon (Oregon) at the skill positions. The Cougar offense will continue to “go fast & go hard” and the defense has built an identity of being one of the most consistent defenses in the country.
Kyle Kensing, (@kensing45), CFBHuddle.com
BYU's 2013 schedule was pretty much the gold standard the program was striving for when it went independent in 2011. There were teams from the Pac-12, Big 12, Big Ten and ACC on the docket, as well as quality non-AQ opponents. The strong Group of Five teams like Boise State, UCF and Utah State remain, but the matchups with the Power 5 aren't quite as impressive. The exception is a rematch of BYU's marquee win since leaving the Mountain West, the return against Texas. That Week 2 contest will speak volumes about the potential of this BYU team. An undefeated season isn't inconceivable--but neither is a disappointing 7-win campaign.
Jeremy Mauss, (@JeremyMauss), MWCConnection.com
The 2014 schedule takes a giant step back form 2013 and anything less than 10 wins should be seen as a disappointment for the Cougars. BYU's offense should be in full swing in the second year of offensive coordinator's Rober Anae's go fast, go hard offense. Everyone has another year in the system which will make everything go much more smoothly, and the only question is how the new wide receivers will step up with transfers Jordan Leslie, Ashanti Blackmon and Nick Kurtz. If those wide receivers can pick up the offense then this offense could be one of the best in the country.
Mark Ross, (@AthlonMarkR)
BYU's status as an independent helps create one of the more interesting schedules in the nation. The Cougars will play teams from the ACC, Big 12, and Pac-12, as well as the American Athletic, C-USA and Mountain West. With dual-threat quarterback Taysom Hill a potential dark horse Heisman Trophy contender and running back Jamaal Williams an explosive threat out of the backfield, the Cougars should be a handful for opposing defenses. The defense has some key personnel to replace, but given the schedule, the only games that should pose any challenge appear to be Texas, Utah State and Boise State. Only two of these matchups are on the road, so as long as Hill stays healthy and the defense can stand its ground, Bronco Mendenhall's team could reach double digits in the win column before the bowl season.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
BYU might be the best non-Big 5 in the nation. The Cougars might have the best shot of reaching the playoff or going unbeaten of any team outside of the Big 5. Games on the road against Texas and Boise State look like the toughest games this team will face all year. Otherwise, it's a lot of home cooking and winnable games against solid but beatable mid-major teams like UCF, Utah State and Nevada.
David Fox (@DavidFox615)
This could be a mighty interesting season for BYU. There are few games on the schedule that I would say is a lock for a loss, and that’s not something easy to say about a team that went 8-5 the last two seasons. And the game I picked BYU to lose — a road trip to Texas — is a rematch of the game that was the beginning of the end for Mack Brown. Certainly, there’s not a lot of heavy lifting here for BYU. Cal is the lone representative from the Pac-12, Virginia the only team from the ACC and three from the American. If BYU can continue to have a steady defense and a playmaking offense with quarterback Taysom Hill, the Cougars should surpass the 10-win mark.