Tanner Mangum and the Cougars open their season at home against the Vikings from the Big Sky Conference
Year two of the Kalani Sitake era at BYU kicks off in front of a nationally televised ESPN audience against FCS foe Portland State, a member of the Big Sky Conference.
It’s not often an FBS team gets a chance to be on a national stage against an FCS team, but BYU gets the national treatment because, what other game would you choose?
This is a great opportunity for BYU to identify playmakers and build confidence for young personnel that had promising fall camps, to show their talents with the lights on in front of 64,000 fans.
Portland State vs. BYU
Kickoff: Saturday, Aug. 26 at 3 p.m. ET
Three Things to Watch
1. Replacing Francis Bernard
Bernard’s announcement that he is redshirting was unexpected to the BYU football program. Bernard, a junior linebacker, decided to redshirt due to a violation of the school’s honor code, according to reports.
Bernard is considered to be a future NFL prospect with how he excelled switching from running back to linebacker in defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki’s 4-3 scheme last year. Now the task of replacing Bernard is in front of the Cougars, but they feel confident they have the personnel to do so.
Senior Matt Hadley has earned the start to fill the void left by Bernard. Hadley was expected to be the team’s starting safety, but now he’s moving into the box to fill a hybrid linebacker and safety role. Coaches expect the transition to be smooth and it allows Hadley to not have to worry about dieting. Who wants to diet when they are in their 20s anyway?
2. Running back by committee
BYU lost the school’s all-time leading rusher in Jamaal Williams to the NFL and the Green Bay Packers. The void left by Williams has been bigger than anyone expected entering this season, as no running back in the 2017 stable has risen up to say they are ready to be the feature back.
Expect BYU to give a majority of the carries on Saturday to junior Squally Canada and sophomore Riley Burt. Canada has the most game experience out of this year’s backs, but this will remain a group that offensive coordinator Ty Detmer expects to change week-by-week depending on who has the hot hand.
3. Both quarterbacks starting their first season openers
BYU’s Tanner Mangum returns to his role as starting quarterback after one season as Taysom Hill’s backup. Mangum, who was thrusted into the starting spot in 2015 after Hill suffered a Lisfranc injury in the opener of that season, went through his first offseason where he was the starter and will line up under center in his first season-opening start.
For Portland State, the Vikings announced they would be handing the offense over to true freshman Jalani Eason. Portland State is hoping Eason can continue the success Alex Kuresa had the past two seasons in head coach Bruce Barnum’s offense, which is called, #BarnyBall.
This is a tune-up game for BYU in preparation for LSU in Houston the following week, and it’s needed. BYU hasn’t opened up a season against a FCS opponent since 2008, and it’s only the second time since the Cougars became an independent in 2011 that they are opening a season against a non-Power 5 opponent.
BYU won’t unload the playbook on the Vikings, but the defense should be able to force turnovers and plenty of three-and-outs to give Mangum and the offense short fields and the opportunity to build an early lead and coast in the second half.
If the game is boring in the second half – which it probably will – just remember, college football is back and there’s nothing better!
Prediction: BYU 34, Portland State 7
— Written by Mitch Harper, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Harper is publisher of Rivals' BYU site, CougarNation.com, and also is the BYU reporter and insider for 1320 KFAN and co-host of "The Cougar Center" podcast. Follow him on Twitter @Mitch_Harper.