How many wins can Kalani Sitake's Cougars earn playing one of the nation's most intriguing schedules?
Kalani Sitake’s debut as BYU head coach last season was a successful one, as the Cougars went 9-4 including a win over Wyoming in the Poinsettia Bowl. As an FBS Independent, BYU typically puts together one of the most interesting and challenging schedules in the country and this season is no different.
In September alone the Cougars will play LSU in Houston and host both Utah and Wisconsin. BYU also has home games against Boise State and Mississippi State before the middle of October. The Cougars will be tested pretty much every week throughout the first half of their slate, but the good news is things should get significantly easier after that.
In fact, should BYU find a way to pull off an upset or two early, there’s a strong chance this could be a 10-win team, thanks in part to the fact the Cougars are playing 13 games this season. If that happens, then Sitake and company could find themselves ranked in the polls, and probably will end up somewhere other than the Poinsettia Bowl come the end of the season.
So just how many wins can this BYU team put together this season? Athlon polled a few writers to get their take on the Cougars’ realistic win/loss projection in 2017.
BYU Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2017
Mitch Harper (@Mitch_Harper)
Double-digit wins needs to be the expectation for BYU to show progress this season in year two under head coach Kalani Sitake. It’s doable. With 13 games on the schedule and the last six on the slate looking like BYU could be double-digit favorites in all of them, 10 wins will be the barometer for success. But five of the first six games (excluding Portland State) will put that goal of double-digit wins for the first time since 2011 to the test.
Contests against LSU, Utah and Wisconsin in consecutive weeks might be the toughest three-game stretch in BYU football history, but the positive is that none of those games are true road contests. BYU will be competitive in every game, and that was a signature in Sitake’s first year. But can the Cougars break through and not settle for the moral victories? If they get a win over LSU in Houston, the national spotlight is BYU’s for the taking. The happiness and well-being for BYU fans will come down to the Utah game. Don’t expect many warm and fuzzy feelings around Provo if the Cougars drop a seventh straight to the rival Utes.
High risk, high reward. That’s the name of the game in life as an FBS Independent not named Notre Dame, but BYU will take it. For decades, BYU wanted the chance to prove its worth against the best of the best in college football; independence gives the Cougars that chance in September.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
After a standout debut season at BYU in 2016, second-year coach Kalani Sitake has the Cougars poised to push for double-digit victories. Quarterback Tanner Mangum was the full-time starter after Taysom Hill’s injury in 2015 and is set to take over once again as the No. 1 signal-caller. Mangum is a good fit for coordinator Ty Detmer’s offense, and BYU should expect improvement from a line that returns four starters, including one of the nation’s top centers in senior Tejan Koroma. Finding a replacement for running back Jamaal Williams is the top priority for Detmer, but a committee approach could be utilized in 2017. The defense limited opponents to 19.5 points per game last fall and should be solid once again with six returning starters. BYU lost three games against Power 5 opponents by three points or less last year. Expect more close calls against Power 5 teams, but even though this team may fall short in those games, another 9-4 record is a strong season in Provo.
Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer)
BYU fans can probably copy and paste the overall direction of the team from last year to this this one because things look awfully similar in Provo – a thrilling QB running the offense, a solid defense that creates turnovers at key points and a brutal early schedule that gives way to a nice finish. These Cougars will be a bit steadier under Kalani Sitake this go-around though, which should mean fewer wild finishes in the final few minutes and another eight or nine wins prior to going bowling. The Tanner Mangum/Squally Canada combo is a nice building block in the backfield but the key to a high ceiling for this team will be if anybody emerges at wideout and, defensively, if anybody can come close to replacing ball hawk Kai Nacua. We probably won’t talk about BYU much from October to December but the Cougs will still wind up in everybody’s final top 25 come January.
John Coon (@johncoonsports)
BYU exceeded expectations in Kalani Sitake's debut season. The Cougars bounced back from a 1-3 start to win nine games – including a Poinsettia Bowl victory over Wyoming. BYU's schedule this season sets up for a strong finish. The Cougars face LSU, Utah and Wisconsin over three straight weeks and then have Boise State and Mississippi State in back-to-back weeks before finishing out against a string of cupcakes.
There are some question marks on offense. BYU must replace its top three receivers and all-time leading rusher Jamaal Williams. Bringing back Tanner Mangum at quarterback should help the offense continue to progress. Mangum has a skill set that seems suited for Ty Detmer's pro-style offense. As a freshman in 2015, Mangum passed for 3,377 yards and 23 touchdowns. He was limited to mostly mop-up duty behind Taysom Hill last season. If either Riley Burt or Squally Canada can emerge at running back, it will help BYU have a balanced attack to keep defenses honest.
Defensively, BYU promises to be strong and tenacious. The Cougars lost some key playmakers from last season like Kai Nacua and Francis Bernard. Still, Fred Warner and Butch Pau'u are back at linebacker. The duo was BYU's top two tacklers a year ago. BYU is more formidable in the secondary than in past seasons. Troy Warner and Dayan Ghanwoloku are smart and speedy cornerbacks who will anchor the unit. Sione Takitaki returns after sitting out a season and could give the Cougars the edge rusher up front that they need.
A 10-win season is within reach. BYU's schedule is very forgiving. An upset or two early on top of that could be enough to boost the Cougars toward a Top 25 finish – something they haven't accomplished since leaving the Mountain West Conference.
J.P. Scott (@TheJPScott)
As always, I love BYU's experience. The strength of this team will be the offensive line, and that will be their biggest advantage over at least eight teams on their schedule. Tanner Mangum should have a huge season behind that solid protection and the Cougars shouldn't have any trouble putting up points. On defense, they'll be tough to pass against, which doesn't bode well for many teams on the latter part of their slate. After navigating a brutal first six weeks, it's smooth sailing to the finish for head coach Kalani Sitake and his Cougars.