Harvey Langi is making the move from linebacker to defensive end for the Cougars this season
BYU will implement new offensive and defensive schemes in Kalani Sitake's debut season as head coach. Gone are the no-huddle offense and 3-4 defensive alignment employed by former head coach Bronco Mendenhall. In their place are a pro-style offense and 4-3 alignment.
The Cougars will benefit from having experienced and talented players at multiple key positions to ease the transition. It could be enough to help BYU do better than expected against a schedule filled with tough opponents through the first two months of the season.
1. Jamaal Williams, RB
Williams returns to the program after sitting out last season for personal reasons. In 2013, his last full season, he rushed for 1,233 yards and seven touchdowns while averaging 5.7 yards per carry. At full strength, the senior is the type of smart and speedy runner that can tear through many opposing defenses.
Coming into his final season, Williams needs just 930 yards to become BYU’s career rushing leader. His presence is guaranteed to add a dynamic running threat to the West Coast scheme installed by new offensive coordinator Ty Detmer.
2. Taysom Hill, QB
After playing just five games over the past two seasons because of serious injuries, Hill looks to end his BYU career on a positive note. He won the starting quarterback job over sophomore Tanner Mangum in fall camp and is fully healthy heading into the season opener at Arizona.
If Hill can stay healthy, the senior could put together a memorable final year for the Cougars. He already ranks as BYU’s career leader in quarterback rushing yardage (2,212 yards) and rushing touchdowns (24). He enters the season 13th on the program’s passing list (4,606 yards).
3. Fred Warner, LB
Warner has turned being a disruptive defensive force into an art form. The junior linebacker has a knack for finding ways to make life miserable for opposing offenses. Warner proved it repeatedly during a breakout sophomore season a year ago.
He led BYU with four fumble recoveries, while finishing second in tackles for a loss (11), and ranking third on the team in both tackles (67) and sacks (4).
4. Travis Tuiloma, DL
Tuiloma is the engine that makes BYU's run defense operate with precision. When he missed the team's first four games in 2015 while dealing with an injury, it hampered the Cougars' ability to stop the run. Once Tuiloma returned to the lineup, things changed in a hurry.
The nose guard totaled 25 tackles and 2.5 sacks over nine games. His best performance came against Utah State, where he totaled a career-high nine tackles and recorded a sack. Tuiloma has played in 35 career games entering the 2016 season.
5. Tanner Mangum, QB
No BYU quarterback has ever put together a better freshman season than Mangum did a year ago. He became the first freshman quarterback in school history to pass for more than 3,000 yards. After stepping in for an injured Hill in the season opener against Nebraska, Mangum threw for 3,377 yards and 23 touchdowns while completing nearly 60 percent of his passes.
If Hill struggles with injuries again this season, Mangum gives BYU another steady hand in running the offense. The Cougars have no plans to redshirt the sophomore this season and he is expected to see some playing time.
6. Kai Nacua, DB
Nacua is probably the biggest standout in a secondary loaded with talent and experience. The senior safety made his presence felt from start to finish last season. He snagged six interceptions – including a pair of pick-sixes – and totaled 137 return yards.
To put it in perspective, Nacua totaled the most interceptions and return yardage in a season among BYU players since Jernaro Gilford hauled in six interceptions for 131 yards in 2001.
7. Nick Kurtz, WR
Kurtz is the team's top returning receiver from a year ago. The senior only made a pair of starts in 2015, but that didn't stop him from making a ton of big plays. He finished third on the team in both receptions and receiving yards, totaling 578 yards and three scores on 39 catches.
If Kurtz is healthy, he gives Hill a proven target with the size (6-6, 215) to create mismatches downfield and the skills to consistently make huge plays. Kurtz is coming back from an injury. He fractured his foot in June, the second time in three years he has done so. While the injury limited the senior in fall camp, he is expected to be ready to play against Arizona in the opener.
8. Harvey Langi, DE
BYU's move to a 4-3 alignment has led to multiple players changing positions. Langi made one such move, going from linebacker to defensive end. If the senior can match his impact from a season ago, the Cougar defense could be a consistent headache for opponents.
Langi enjoyed a breakout junior season, appearing in 11 games at linebacker. He wound up second on the team in tackles (68) and sacks (4.5). It helped Langi, a former running back at Utah, become a key defensive leader by season's end.
9. Ului Lapuaho, OL
Good offensive linemen are worth their weight in gold. Lapuaho certainly holds tremendous value for the Cougars in the trenches. The junior has started 18 of the 21 games he’s played thus far. He also is versatile enough to play at guard or tackle.
Last season, Lapuaho helped anchor an offensive line that paved the way for 3,854 passing yards. It marked the highest single-season total for a BYU offense since 2008.
10. Algernon Brown, RB
Brown did a good job of leading BYU in the backfield in Williams' absence last season. He proved to be a steady and talented runner, totaling 709 yards and 11 touchdowns while averaging 5.6 yards per carry. Now a senior, Brown has added muscle and will to fullback.
If Brown can transition successfully into a blocking and short-yardage role, it could help buy Hill more time to pick apart defenses and also keep the quarterback healthy.
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.