BYU stumbled down the stretch a year ago while enduring a string of major injuries on both sides of the ball. The Cougars capped off an uneven 7-6 campaign that included wins over USC, Tennessee, and Boise State with losses to former conference rivals San Diego State and Hawaii.
Taking a step forward in 2020 may turn out easier than expected. BYU was poised to face the team's most challenging schedule yet since leaving the Mountain West Conference in 2011. That all changed when the Pac-12, Big Ten, and Mountain West all postponed their football seasons due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It gutted the Cougars' original schedule, forcing athletic director Tom Holmoe to schedule several new games at the 11th hour.
The end result is a schedule highlighted by road contests with Navy and Army and a home slate headlined by Houston. BYU will not face a Power 5 team this season and in-state rivals Utah and Utah State are simultaneously absent from the schedule for the first time in school history.
It opens the door for the Cougars to make a splash right away. BYU returns Zach Wilson at quarterback and the junior is fully healthy after enduring a thumb injury that sidelined him for a large stretch of the 2019 season. An experienced offensive line will help Wilson do big things. The defense should also be improved with several top linebackers and defensive backs returning.
Athlon asked a few editors and one of its college football contributors to share their realistic win/loss projection for BYU in 2020.
BYU Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2020
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
BYU's schedule looks nothing like the original 12-game slate, as just two contests (Houston and North Alabama) remain for 2020. The other six opponents were added after the COVID-19 pandemic forced some conferences to cancel, but the revamped slate provides a favorable path for coach Kalani Sitake's team. BYU is an underdog for its opener against Navy but could be favored in its other seven matchups. The combination of a healthy year out of quarterback Zach Wilson and the potential for a standout line should help BYU take a step forward on offense after averaging 28.5 points a game last fall. The biggest question mark on this side of the ball remains at receiver and finding weapons to stretch the field. The Cougars bring back five starters in the front seven but need to be better against the run. Better luck in the health department would shore up the secondary, but early games against Navy and Army won't provide much insight into this unit. BYU's schedule is favorable, but the guess here is Sitake's team stumbles one more time outside of the opener at Navy to fall to 6-2.
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)
Of all the FBS teams that are playing, no one saw their schedule gutted more than BYU. An independent, instead of matchups against Big Ten, Pac-12, and SEC opponents as well as a trio from the Mountain West, the Cougars are now taking on Navy and Army on the road to open their season and have six home games scheduled against teams from the AAC, Conference USA (two), Sun Belt (two), and FCS ranks. The end result is a slate that doesn't have near the same wow factor but one that should be very manageable for BYU. Even with 15 returning starters, there are plenty of question marks for Kalani Sitake's team but a home-friendly schedule (that could see more games added) should bode well for the Cougars.
John Coon (@johncoonsports)
With a considerably easier schedule than in years past, BYU has a real opportunity to run the table in the regular season. The biggest obstacle to an undefeated record is questionable run defense. Can the Cougars impose their will at the line of scrimmage and put consistent and constant pressure on opposing quarterbacks? An inability to stop chunk plays and force turnovers undid BYU in many winnable games a year ago. The Cougars also need to do better at finishing drives on offense. They stalled too often inside the opponent's 30-yard line a year ago. September road games against Navy and Army will provide a nice barometer to see how well things have progressed. A rebuilding Houston team looks to be BYU's toughest remaining opponent. BYU has won seven games each of the previous two seasons. Another seven-win season with an eight-game schedule will finally mean positive progress for a program that hasn't seen much in recent seasons.