Change is the buzzword surrounding the BYU football program entering the 2016 season.
After 11 successful seasons, Bronco Mendenhall left Provo, Utah, for Charlottesville, Virginia, to help revive a Virginia Cavaliers team that’s looking to build a program once again.
Enter BYU’s new head coach Kalani Sitake, who comes to his alma mater with a decorated resume despite a lack of head coaching experience. Since accepting the job last December, Sitake has reenergized a BYU fan base that was growing more restless as the seasons went by with the trajectory of the program under Mendenhall.
Sitake has a respect for BYU’s past and present, along with a bright outlook for the Cougars’ future. Focusing on the present, what will be considered a success in year one with what is considered to be one of the toughest schedules in the country?
Sitake and his staff filled with former BYU players like himself will know how good this team is right away with a trio of games against Pac-12 South foes, a neutral-site game against West Virginia, a trip to Michigan State, a Friday night home tilt with Mississippi State, and then the annual contest against Boise State. That’s all before Halloween.
The good news for Sitake is that he has one of the best quarterback units in 2016 with the versatile Taysom Hill returning from a Lisfranc injury and Tanner Mangum, who set school freshman passing records last season.
The Cougars could be fighting for their bowl eligibility lives entering November, but on the flip side, they could also be one of the programs that are in the national conversation if they pull off some early upsets on this schedule.
BYU Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2016
Mitch Harper (@Mitch_Harper)
If BYU remains a football independent, this is the schedule that BYU ideally would like to have on a yearly basis. This year’s slate features six games against Power Five opponents, two of the best Group of Five programs in Boise State and Cincinnati, novelty in the Toledo and UMass games, along with regional games versus Utah State and Southern Utah.
Needless to say, it’s impressive to think how far BYU has come in regards to scheduling in six years as a football independent. That does not change the fact, however, that this is a bear of a schedule right out of the gates as there are no breathers until November.
BYU’s depth will be put to the test with this schedule and if first-year head coach Kalani Sitake pulls out eight wins like I’m predicting for this team, that would be a solid foundation for a program that is looking to resemble their glory days when LaVell Edwards was roaming the sidelines.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
New head coach Kalani Sitake won’t have many breaks in his first year guiding the Cougars. BYU’s schedule features 10 bowl teams, six Power Five opponents and tough road trips to Michigan State, Utah and Boise State, along with a neutral-site matchup against West Virginia. Considering the tough slate, Sitake’s debut could get off to a slow start. However, the Cougars should pick up momentum over the second half of the year and a 7-5/8-4 finish wouldn’t be a surprise. BYU has more than enough firepower on offense with the return of quarterbacks Tanner Mangum and Taysom Hill to give every team on its schedule problems. Additionally, the defense returns six starters and shouldn’t slip too much on the stat sheet after giving up 22.8 points per game in 2015. Sitake is the right hire for BYU, but the schedule will be tough to navigate in year one.
Bryan Fischer (BryanDFischer)
New BYU head coach Kalani Sitake won't get any sort of honeymoon period in Provo with the brutal schedule he faces in his first year as the man in charge of the Cougars. The good news is he at least has a lot of nice pieces to work with, starting with two good options at quarterback and what should be a solid defense at all three levels. There will be some growing pains with so many new faces on the staff though so the record might slip a tad from last year.
John Coon (@johncoonsports)
BYU returns a combined 12 starters on both sides of the ball. The Cougars will need every bit of that experience to get through one of the most rugged schedules in school history. BYU will play 10 teams who reached bowl games in 2015.
The Cougars will run a pro-style West Coast offense under new offensive coordinator Ty Detmer. Senior QB Taysom Hill is expected to start over Tanner Mangum. If Hill can stay healthy, he's a dynamic dual-threat QB who gives opposing defenses fits. Mangum also is a dangerous QB after throwing for 3,377 yards and 23 touchdowns as a freshman. BYU's running game should benefit from Jamaal Williams coming back after sitting out in 2015. Williams needs 929 yards to break the school's career rushing record.
Defensively, BYU will shift from a 3-4 to a 4-3 scheme. Depth on the defensive line is enough of a concern that Harvey Langi switched from linebacker to defensive end in fall camp. BYU should be strongest at linebacker where Fred Warner is a disruptive playmaker.
New head coach Kalani Sitake has energized the program, but the coaching staff is inexperienced at the FBS level. This means seven or eight wins is likely the ceiling for this group.
J.P. Scott (@TheJPScott)
With all of the focus outside of Provo being about BYU possibly joining the Big 12, the Cougars are staring at one of the toughest schedules in the country. Normally an older and more mature team, the 2016 BYU Cougars have youth and inexperience all through the starting lineup on both sides of the ball. It's looking like they are going to roll with co-starting quarterbacks, which I normally don't like. In their case, however, they have two very good ones that excel in different facets of the game. Regardless of who is under center, this team is going to lean on the running game to try and control the tempo --especially in some very hostile atmospheres on the road. New head coach Kalani Sitake is an upbeat, high-energy guy. Hopefully his demeanor rubs off on a team that is going to take some lumps this season.