BYU crossed a major hurdle in its quest for an unbeaten record by defeating Texas 41-7 in Week 2. The Cougars handled the Longhorns with ease, scoring 28 points in the third quarter to pull away after a 6-0 halftime lead over Charlie Strong’s team. Running back Jamaal Williams returned from a one-game suspension to record 89 yards on 19 carries, but quarterback Taysom Hill carried the offense with 280 total yards and three scores.
Hill has launched himself into Heisman discussion after throwing for 489 yards and three scores (73% completion percentage) and rushing for 196 yards and five touchdowns.
But Hill isn’t a one-man show. Williams is a 1,000-yard rusher, and the defense is allowing just 4.2 yards per play this year.
Going into the season, the road trip to Texas was considered one of the toughest games on BYU’s 2014 slate. After the Cougars victory in Austin, the schedule suddenly becomes more favorable to an unbeaten record. And with an unbeaten record comes the discussion about BYU’s spot in the playoff mix.
As with any college football opinion in September, it’s important to keep in mind that it’s early and a lot is going to change over the next few weeks.
But looking at BYU’s schedule – assuming quarterback Taysom Hill stays healthy – where are the losses going to come from?
Let’s rank the Cougars’ 10 remaining games, with No. 1 the most likely loss to No. 10 being the least likely. Will BYU be favored to win all 10 remaining games?
Ranking BYU’s Toughest Remaining Games for 2014
1. at Boise State (Friday, Oct. 24)
This year’s matchup will be the third consecutive season these two teams have played. Boise State won 7-6 in 2012, but the Cougars got revenge by winning 37-20 in Provo last year. The Broncos are always tough to beat at home, and running back Jay Ajayi will challenge a BYU defense that held Texas to 82 yards on 35 attempts in Week 2. Quarterback Grant Hedrick bounced back from a rough opener against Ole Miss to throw for 352 yards and two scores against Colorado State. Boise State’s defense will also improve as the season progresses, especially with a veteran secondary and solid pass rush (four sacks in two games). It’s a close call for this spot, but winning in Boise is never easy, and this game takes place at the end of a challenging October for Bronco Mendenhall’s team.
2. at California (Saturday, Nov. 29)
The Golden Bears have made strides in coach Sonny Dykes’ second season, winning on the road at Northwestern to open the year, followed by an easy win over Sacramento State in Week 2. California is the regular season finale, so there could be a lot on the line for BYU. The Golden Bears are a work in progress on defense, but the offense is explosive (five plays of 40 or more yards in two games).
3. at UCF (Thursday, Oct. 9)
These two teams have met only once, with BYU scoring a 24-17 victory over UCF in 2011. The Knights started slow in the opener against Penn State, but the offense rallied when Justin Holman was inserted into the lineup in the second half. Depending on how Holman plays this Saturday against Missouri, UCF could rank higher on this list. The Knights return eight starters from a defense that allowed 21.3 points per game last season.
4. Virginia (Saturday, Sept. 20)
The Cavaliers knocked off BYU in a rain-soaked opener last year (19-16). Virginia’s personnel hasn’t changed much with 15 returning starters, but the offense still has uncertainty at quarterback and a questionable offensive line.
5. Nevada (Saturday, Oct. 18)
The Wolf Pack appears to be on the right track in coach Brian Polian’s second year. A healthy Cody Fajardo at quarterback certainly helps, but the defense – allowed 505.3 yards per game in 2013 – held Washington State to 13 points in Week 2. Nevada also catches BYU after a road trip to UCF.
6. Utah State (Friday, Oct. 3)
Is Chuckie Keeton back to full strength by Oct. 3? If he is, the senior quarterback is enough to give Utah State a shot at an upset. A bigger problem for the Aggies is an offensive line that lost four starters is still trying to find the right mix after two weeks. The defense also lost standout linebacker Kyler Fackrell for the season.
7. at MTSU (Saturday, Nov. 1)
The Cougars won last season’s matchup 37-10 in Provo, and the Blue Raiders return only three starters on offense from 2013. However, MTSU has a bye before playing BYU, and the defense has held opponents to a respectable 4.6 yards per play through two games.
8. Houston (Thursday, Sept. 11)
BYU and Houston played an entertaining 47-46 shootout last season, so this is no guaranteed victory. However, it’s a short week for both teams, and Houston struggled in its Week 1 loss to UTSA. Houston quarterback John O’Korn tossed four picks in the opener against the Roadrunners.
9. UNLV (Saturday, Nov. 15)
Rebels took a step forward under coach Bobby Hauck last year, making a bowl for the first time since 2000. However, the Rebels lost 58-13 to Arizona in Week 1 and barely defeated FCS opponent Northern Colorado (13-12) in Week 2.
10. Savannah State (Saturday, Nov. 22)
BYU shouldn’t have much trouble with the Tigers. Savannah State lost 61-7 to MTSU in Week 1 and was outscored by a combined score of 143-10 by Miami and Troy in 2013.