As the season draws nearer and nearer, expectations for BYU's football team grow higher and higher. With a tough road schedule up ahead and the loss of several key players, the Cougars may have a tough time reaching 10 wins.
Of course, they could also have a great season. With quarterback Riley Nelson and several other playmakers returning, it is not absurd to think that this team can succeed.
The question is, if this squad is going to live up to the hype, what factors will prove decisive?
Read on to find out.
BYU's defense was strong and consistent all season long in 2011, and finished the season ranked 13th in the nation. The Cougars return linebackers Uona Kaveinga, Kyle Van Noy and Brandon Ogletree, along with several other key players.
Although BYU no longer has Jordan Pendleton or Hebron Fangupo, the defense should still be great.
"I think this is the most talented (the defense) will ever be since Coach Mendenhall has been here," Kaveinga said (h/t AOL Sporting News). "I mean, talent level, athletic ability, it is just crazy. We got depth, too, and man, it's just scary."
I sure hope he's right.
Last season, it took BYU five games to realize that the team had running backs who could make plays.
This season, I hope the team has already realized that.
The Cougars no longer have Bryan Kariya, JJ Di Luigi or even Josh Quezada in the backfield, Therefore, Michael Alisa, Adam Hine and David Foote will have to carry the rushing load for BYU.
With tough teams early on the Cougars schedule, it is vital for the rushing game to start off hot.
Riley Nelson has a gritty, hard-nosed style of play that has often led to improbable fourth-down conversions and great plays.
However, it may also lead to injury.
Last season, Nelson was hurt in a November game against Idaho. He was out until the season-ender against Hawaii.
During the time he was out, backup quarterback Jake Heaps took over the offense and led them to two victories. This year, Heaps is gone and backup James Lark is nowhere close to Nelson's level of play.
To say the least, Riley Nelson can't get hurt if the team wants to meet BYU's high expectations. This team needs him on the field as a leader and a playmaker.
The team's four toughest road games this season are scheduled in pairs, with Utah and Boise State back-to-back, along with Notre Dame and Georgia Tech.
Much responsibility will be placed on the coaching staff, who will have to prepare the team for these tough competitions.
The fact they're all away games makes a win in each even more improbable, but if coach Bronco Mendenhall keeps his players ready, this team should be fine.
BYU has one of the greatest starting receiving duos in the nation, with stellar players in Cody Hoffman and Ross Apo.
The question is, will they live up to expectations?
Since Riley Nelson was named the starting quarterback in September, Apo hasn't been the same. He went from three receptions per game before the QB change to just over 2.5. If he can adjust and get back to his original, pass-catching self, the Cougs should be fine.
As far as Hoffman goes, he went from 50 yards per game to 86.625 after the change.