BYU faces the tough task of building on its best season since LaVell Edwards roamed the sidelines. The Cougars won 11 games and finished ranked No. 11 in the AP top 25 last season – their highest final ranking since 1996. Now BYU faces a much tougher schedule in its effort to show that the team's success in 2020 is not an anomaly.
The Cougars face seven opponents from power conferences – including the top three Pac-12 South teams. This is the highest number of P5 teams BYU has ever faced in a single season.
Are the Cougars capable of another Top-25 finish in 2021? Here at Athlon Sports we share our thoughts on BYU's chances of having another memorable season.
BYU Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2021
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Replicating last year’s 11-1 record isn’t going to be easy for BYU coach Kalani Sitake. In addition to a schedule featuring seven Power 5 opponents, the Cougars have to replace quarterback Zach Wilson, a couple of key pieces along the offensive line, and No. 1 receiver Dax Milne from an offense that averaged 43.5 points a game. Additionally, the reloading effort continues on defense as seven of the team’s top 10 tacklers in 2020 were seniors. Whether it’s Jaren Hall, Jacob Conover or Baylor Romney, the quarterback position is still in relatively good shape for play-caller Aaron Roderick, while running back Tyler Allgeier anchors the ground game after rushing for 1,130 yards and 13 scores last fall. Sitake and coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki also have talent to work with on defense, but a tougher schedule and a rebuilt line will challenge this group. While this team lost its share of talent, 9-3 is within reach. Toss-up games against Washington State, Boise State, Baylor and Virginia will decide just how high the win total climbs this fall.
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)
BYU returns seven starters on offense from a unit that put up nearly 44 points and 522 yards per game last season. The problem is the four that are gone include record-setting quarterback Zach Wilson, his No. 1 receiver and two standout offensive linemen. So add expected drop-off in offensive production with only four starters returning on defense and multiply by a schedule that, unlike last season, includes seven Power 5 opponents, and what do you get? A Cougars team that will have to scratch and claw its way to bowl eligibility.
John Coon (@johncoonsports)
Replacing a quarterback of Zach Wilson's caliber is never an easy task. If that were all BYU had to do, the Cougars would have a decent shot at stringing together consecutive 10-win seasons. The problem for BYU is that it must also replace the team's top receiver, Dax Milne from a year ago, and three offensive linemen – led by Brady Christensen. The Cougars also lost some key leaders on the defensive line and in the secondary.
These aren't insurmountable losses. BYU has enough returning talent to keep from falling off a cliff. Jaren Hall and Baylor Romney both have previous starting experience at quarterback. The Cougars also return a 1,000-yard rusher (Tyler Allgeier) to the backfield. Isaac Rex is a rising star at tight end. Gunner Romney and Neil Pau'u are playmakers at receiver. Defensively, the Cougars are loaded at linebacker. If BYU can fill the holes up front, having another successful season is within reach.
The schedule looks formidable on paper, but it is more manageable than it seems at first glance. Home contests against Utah and Arizona State and a road tilt at USC will be tough. But Baylor, Arizona, Washington State, and Virginia are all coming off mediocre seasons and are entirely beatable for a rebuilding BYU team.
BYU isn't likely to be a fixture in the Top 25 polls this season. But there's no reason the Cougars can't carve out eight wins as long as they stay healthy.