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BYU Football: 3 Reasons for Optimism About the Cougars in 2022

Puka Nacua, BYU Cougars Football

Wide receiver Puka Nacua's return should help quarterback Jaren Hall and the Cougars' offense as a whole

BYU is building some positive momentum ahead of joining the Big 12.

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The Cougars have put together back-to-back 10-win seasons and AP Top 25 finishes for the first time since 2007. BYU showed an ability to reload last season after quarterback Zach Wilson left for the NFL. The Cougars went 10-3, which included a 6-1 mark against Power 5 opponents, and finished No. 19 in the AP Top 25 following a 31-28 loss to UAB in the Independence Bowl.

Even after last season's disappointing bowl finale, BYU enters its final season as an FBS independent with a realistic shot at putting together another 10-win campaign. The Cougars must replace running back Tyler Allgeier, but return plenty of skilled and experienced players on both sides of the ball. If BYU can stay healthy, the Cougars will be a tough opponent to deal with and potentially enter the Big 12 as a program that can be an immediate factor.

Will BYU live up to the expectations facing the Cougars in 2022? We explore three reasons why BYU fans should be optimistic about the season ahead:

1. Jaren Hall

BYU must replace one of its best running backs in school history. Still, the Cougars aren't rebuilding a whole offense from scratch. Hall is a skilled quarterback who knows how to make winning plays. He made 10 starts last fall and made strides in leading the offense as the season progressed. His mobility and strong arm kept defenses on their heels.

Hall threw for 2,583 yards and 20 touchdowns while completing 64 percent of his passes. He tossed only five interceptions and his efficiency helped BYU move the chains late in the season when injuries decimated the defense. He ranked in the top 25 nationally in passing yards per game (258.3), passing yards per attempt (8.7), and QB Rating (156.07). Two of his top three receivers – Puka Nacua and Gunner Romney – are back and others like Keanu Hill, Kody Epps, and Chase Roberts are rising stars, giving Hall a chance to pick up right where he left off.

The only question mark surrounding Hall is his durability. He missed three games with injuries – including the Independence Bowl. If he can stay healthy in 2022, the Cougars should still be potent on offense while breaking in a new primary running back.

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2. Experienced defense

Extensive injuries on defense forced BYU to dig deep into the depth chart late in the season. The Cougars were forced to plug multiple holes both in the front seven and the secondary. One of the positive outcomes from battling the injury bug is BYU is poised to have a much more experienced defense in the two-deep in the season ahead.

Nearly every starter returns on that side of the ball from last season. The defensive line has grown bigger and stronger, which should help the Cougars improve a run defense that broke down late in the season. Major contributors like Tyler Batty, Caden Haws, Gabe Summers, and Pepe Tanuvasa return up front. Linebackers Payton Wilgar and Keenan Pili are both on target to heal up by fall camp, which will put BYU's two best defenders back on the field. The secondary could get a boost if Chaz Ah You and Micah Harper return successfully from injuries. They will add a pair of playmakers to go with the likes of Malik Moore, Jakob Robinson, and Hayden Livingston – a trio that combined for eight interceptions – and Kaleb Hayes, who had a team-high 11 pass breakups.

3. Reloaded backfield

Allgeier left BYU as one of the most prolific running backs in school history, after rushing for a school-record 1,606 yards and 23 touchdowns last fall. Replacing a playmaker of his caliber would have caused the Cougars to take a big step back on offense in the past. This season, BYU already has a talented back waiting in the wings who is capable of taking on the mantle of being a featured back.

California graduate transfer Christopher Brooks joined the Cougars in the offseason. Brooks rushed for 1,734 yards and 14 touchdowns for the Bears, while leading his team in rushing in two of his final three seasons in the program. Brooks has the size, explosiveness, and work ethic to be a difference-maker in the backfield. He also is a receiving threat out of the backfield.

Related: 5 Newcomers to Watch for the Cougars

Lopini Katoa is back for one more season as a change-of-pace back, which should lighten the load on Brooks. Jackson McChesney and Miles Davis are both speedsters who can gobble up some carries if they're fully healthy. It could take a combination of backs to fully replace Allgeier, but the cabinet is far from empty in terms of running talent.

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Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sports journalist based in Utah. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.