BYU returns 14 starters from last year’s 8-5 team, and with a favorable schedule, the Cougars could be poised to win 10 games for the first time since 2011.
Quarterback Taysom Hill had a standout debut as BYU’s starter, throwing for 2,938 yards and 19 touchdowns, while rushing for 1,344 yards and 10 scores. Hill has to find new receivers with the departure of Cody Hoffman, Skyler Ridley and JD Falslev, but UTEP transfer Jordan Leslie and junior college recruits Nick Kurtz and Devon Blackmon should provide an easy transition in the passing game.
Running back Jamaal Williams is an underrated player nationally after rushing for 1,233 yards and seven touchdowns in 2013.
While the offense should have no trouble scoring in 2014, BYU’s defense is a concern with the departure of linebacker Kyle Van Noy.
BYU played a challenging schedule in 2013, but the 2014 slate is manageable. The Cougars could be favored to win 10 games this year and will be a darkhorse to play in one of college football’s top bowl matchups if they could finish 11-1.
Athlon Sports’ preseason magazines are set to hit the newsstands in late May/early June, and it’s time to settle some of the biggest debates for 2014. Over the next few weeks, AthlonSports.com will dive into some of the key topics by conference and some of the debates that will shape preseason predictions for this year.
How Many Games Will BYU Win in 2014?: Over/Under 9.5
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I’ll take the under and say BYU finishes 9-3. The schedule is very manageable for coach Bronco Mendenhall’s team, as the Cougars could be favored in 10 contests. Games at Texas and Boise State appear to be the toughest on the slate, but Utah State is one of the top teams in the Mountain West, while the season finale at an improving California team will be tough. There’s a lot to like about this team, starting on offense with the one-two punch of quarterback Taysom Hill and running back Jamaal Williams. Hill will have to adapt to a new set of receivers, but UTEP transfer Jordan Leslie and junior college recruits Devon Blackmon and Nick Kurtz should provide an instant fix. The defense returns six starters, and this unit received help at linebacker with the return of Zac Stout. However, Kyle Van Noy was one of the nation’s top defenders and replacing his production won’t be easy. Although the schedule says to take the over and pick BYU to finish with 10 wins, I think the Cougars stumble on a game we don’t expect, perhaps at California or at UConn in the opener. Even if BYU finishes 9-3, I think this team has a good shot at finishing among the top 25-30 in the final Associated Press poll.
BYU is always an interesting case study because of the schedule flexibility its independent status allows, and this season is no different. The Cougars will face at least one team from six different conferences, including one each from the ACC, Big 12 and Pac-12. Bronco Mendenhall's teams have won fairly consistently and this year's team certainly brings some offensive firepower to the table in dynamic, dual-threat quarterback Taysom Hill and running back Jamaal Williams. The defense has to replace standout linebacker Kyle Van Noy, but from my perspective the Cougars have enough talent and experience on both sides of the ball to win a fair amount of games. In fact, there are only four matchups — at Texas, Utah State, at UCF and at Boise State — on their slate that look troublesome to me. These four games will not be easy, especially the road trips to Austin and Boise, but I have enough confidence in Mendenhall and the duo of Hill/Williams to say that the Cougars will find a way to claw out at least one win from this group. I'm just not so sure about coming up with two, which is why I'll take the under. But it's close and I wouldn't be shocked if BYU got to double-digits by the end of November.