Last week’s news of BYU running back Jamaal Williams withdrawing from school and opting to redshirt in 2015 sent some shockwaves through the Cougars’ program. BYU is taking on one of the toughest schedules in program history, and many were resting the success of the Cougars this season on the dynamic backfield of quarterback Taysom Hill and Williams.
Williams is expected to return for the 2016 season according to the press release issued by BYU last Thursday, but that’s a long ways away. The Cougars have more important tasks at hand with fall practices starting this afternoon and the Sept. 5 season opener at Nebraska looming.
The question now is how will BYU fare without Williams?
In my personal view, nothing much has changed for BYU. With Williams, I had them pegged for a 7-5 or 8-4 season. Williams was recovering from a devastating ACL injury he suffered last November, and his health was a huge concern heading into camp. The thought was that Williams would be a work in progress to get back to 100 percent over the first month of the season.
When you have one of the nation’s best quarterbacks in Hill, 7-5 or 8-4 is still attainable. The problem now for BYU is that after losing Williams, the possibility of winning nine or more games shrinks immensely.
BYU has finished exactly 8-5 each of the past three seasons. Most of the same team from a year ago returns, but now a three-year starter at running back is gone. There isn’t enough star power on this team that isn’t named Taysom Hill to navigate this difficult of a schedule for BYU standards, and think nine or ten wins is something these Cougars can achieve at the moment. There are seven teams on the slate that BYU could be underdogs in this year. Hill is only one man.
In order for BYU to shock the nation and get to nine or ten wins, it will need a lot of players to improve this season. Otherwise the Cougars will be about where they’ve been the past few years. But now the ceiling will be lower, and the basement could fall deeper as well. This is a scary thought for a BYU program that wants to bolster its on-field resume in hopes that a Power 5 conference eventually comes calling.
— Written by Mitch Harper, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Harper is the BYU reporter and insider for 1320 KFAN and co-host of "The Cougar Center" podcast. Follow him on Twitter @Mitch_Harper.