BYU has a very talented squad this season, and with the season debut two days away, I have compiled a complete preview for this year.
From offseason news to player previews to game predictions, this is all you'll need to get ready for the upcoming season. With a Thursday night game against Washington State coming up, you'll want to read all you can about the Cougars (of BYU, that is).
Who will start for BYU? What is a reasonable final record to expect? Are there any NFL prospects on this year's squad?
To find out, read on.
Since BYU's thrilling victory over Tulsa in December, a whirlwind of events have occurred. From injuries, to new staff members, to spring and fall camps, there hasn't been a dull moment in Provo.
Injuries: Ross Apo, Brandon Ogletree, Kyle Van Noy, Justin Sorensen and Brock Stringham were some of the players who battled injuries or surgeries during camp. All of them, with the exception of Sorensen, are back and shouldn't be worried about. It is currently unknown when Justin Sorensen will be back to kick.
Out with the old, in with the new: Jeff Hurst was named the new head football trainer after long-time trainer Kevin Morrison left the school. Hurst has been with the program since 2005, when he acted as the assistant football trainer.
Camp Surprises: Sophomore Alani Fua and freshman Jamaal Williams have come up big time during camp, playing at strong-side linebacker and running back. Fua is competing for the starting role with Spencer Hadley, while Williams is certainly a fan- and team favorite.
Quarterback: BYU returns senior playcaller Riley Nelson at the quarterback position. If he doesn't get injured throughout the season, Nelson's gritty style of play and untouched playmaking ability could lead the Coughttp://bleacherreport.com/slideshow/1310946/newars to a great year.
Running Backs: Although Josh Quezada is no longer a Cougar, there is still plenty of potential at the position. Junior Mike Alisa will most likely sit atop the depth chart, and be followed by Adam Hine and true freshman Jamaal Williams. With Iona Pritchard and David Foote at fullback, BYU's backfield is filled with multiple rushing threats.
Tight Ends: With news buzzing around Marcus Mathews' recent move to wide receiver, Kaneakua Friel and Austin Holt sit as the next to TE options. Both of them are juniors, and received experience last season.
Linemen: BYU took a big blow to the line with the loss of four-year starter Matt Reynolds, but still has plenty of experience. Starters will be Ryker Mathews, Houston Reynolds, Blair Tushaus, Braden Hansen and Braden Brown.
You can read the complete defensive preview here.
BYU's defense is stacked.
That's the only way to put it. Although the line is shallow, there is talent at every position that exceeds any other Cougar defense as far as I can think back. With star players such as linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Brandon Ogletree, secondary Preston Hadley and Daniel Sorensen and lineman Romney Fuga, ther isn't a shortage of skill.
Van Noy is on his way to being one of the most statistically strong Cougars of all time, and if he can wait to enter the NFL Draft until his senior season achieving that could be very possible. With a secondary that has been called "the best we've had athletically" by Bronco Mendenhall (via the Deseret News) and one of the strongest linebacker corps in the history of BYU football, once again, this defense is stacked.
Look out, Washington State.
Although Justin Sorensen has been injured lately and was a major spot of worry for fans and coaches alike, the Salt Lake Tribune announced today that he will be starting at the kicker position come Thursday. Sorensen should be completely healthy, but if not, punter Riley Stephenson is confident that he could take over the kicking duties.
Obviously, Stephenson will be punting, with Reed Hornung at long snapper and JD Falslev at holder. Falslev and Cody Hoffman will return punts and kickoffs, and should do a tremendous job. Both returned a kick for a touchdown last season, against TCU and UCF, respectively.
Bronco Mendenhall will continue to hold his dual-role of head coach and defensive coordinator, and has worked wonders with both positions. As HC, he has produced the highest winning percentage (.733) in the history of the program, and has lured in several top recruits. Last season, his defense finished with a overall ranking of 13th in the country, and has pieced together perhaps the strongest D the Cougars have ever seen.
On the other side of the ball, offensive coordinator Brandon Doman enters his second year at the position. Although he received criticism for the majority of last year simply because of lack of experience, he is more seasoned this time around and will have a much better year.
Working with all sorts of playmakers on both sides of the ball, both coaches should have great seasons.
Week 1: Washington State
Week 2: Weber State
Week 3: at Utah
Week 4: at Boise State
Week 5: Hawai'i
Week 6: Utah State
Week 7: Oregon State
Week 8: at Notre Dame
Week 9: at Georgia Tech
Week 10: Idaho
Week 11: at San Jose State
Week 12: at New Mexico State
BYU's November schedule is jam packed with (once again) cupcake WAC games. The easiest win out of the trio will most likely come in the 10th, when the Idaho Vandals travel to Provo.
Idaho finished with a lackluster record of 2-10 last season, which was good for last in their conference. Despite playing without quarterback Riley Nelson for the majority of the game, the Cougars easily handled the Vandals 42-7 when the teams met last season.
With a more experienced squad and a great defense, BYU should easily win this game.
With the exception of last year's mysterious blowout, the segments of the "Holy War" always seem to come down to the final minutes, and in some cases, seconds. That should be no different this year when the Cougs travel up to Salt Lake to face Utah.
BYU and the Utes are fairly well-matched, having strong defenses and good offensive players. Both teams just barely fell short of the AP Top 25 poll, but have hopes of being ranked early on in the season.
If the Cougars are well-prepared and don't collapse like last year, it should be a great game.
No matter Notre Dame's former record, their expectations for the upcoming season or their current position, it is always hard to travel to South Bend and win.
The Fighting Irish are always accused of being overrated, but you never know when they could have a breakout year and and return to their former dominance. With a game the week before against Oregon State and the following week at Georgia Tech, this contest could be very hard to win for the Cougars.
With perhaps the best tight end in the country in Tyler Eifert and a great linebacker in Manti Te'o, Notre Dame has a great team and will be a challenge for BYU.
Not much surprise here, as Riley Nelson is a team captain and the undisputed leader on offense. If history decides to repeat itself, he should have a great season. On average, senior Cougar quarterbacks have won about ten and a half games in a season, and Nelson could do even better.
With 19 passing touchdowns of of 1,717 yards and only seven interceptions last season, Nelson is not only a threat with his arm. He had 393 rushing yards and a touchdown last year, also.
Riley Nelson has a unique ability to spark comebacks with his gritty, selfless style of play that helped him lead BYU to two last- second comeback wins last season, against Utah State and again against Tulsa in their bowl game. With wide receivers Cody Hoffman and Ross Apo, Nelson deserves the Cougar Offensive MVP award.
This award shouldn't be much of a surprise either, as Kyle Van Noy is one of the greatest defensive linebackers BYU has seen in years. He has a playmaking ability that is simply unmatched, and his stats prove it.
With 68 total tackles, fifty of which were unassisted, Van Noy racked up 15 tackles for loss and seven sacks. He also had three interceptions and a blocked punt.
As stated earlier, as a member of a loaded defense, he could help the Cougars reach new heights in 2012. Van Noy will have plenty of opportunities to shine, playing at Utah, Georgia Tech, Notre Dame and Boise State.
Jamaal Williams was one of the biggest surprises of camp, and for a good reason. The Californian speedster has gotten more and more carries since Josh Quezada transferred, and although he is not in the top three running backs at his point, he could make his way closer to the top.
Behind Mike Alisa, Adam Hine and Iona Pritchard, Williams could use his speed and agility to continue to surprise coaches and teammates alike. I wouldn't be surprised if he was in the top three running backs by the end of the year.
Greg Wrubell, @gregwrubell
The Voice of the Cougars on BYU and KSL radios and the author of the "Cougar Tracks" segments on KSL.com.
Joe DuPaix, @CoachJoeDuPaix
BYU's running backs coach.
Tom Holmoe, @TomHolmoe
BYU's athletic director.
Jay Drew, @drewjay
BYU basketball and football beat writer for the Salt Lake Tribune.
Wide Receiver for BYU.
And, if you feel obliged, you can follow me on Twitter also: @sambbenson
A BCS bowl, despite being very possible, is a long shot for the currently unranked Cougars. If their regular season record is 11-1 or lower, they will most likely play in the Poinsettia Bowl.
The Poinsettia Bowl takes place in San Diego every year, and this year, will play host to a MWC school and BYU (unless, of course, a BCS bowl is reached). Boise State and TCU have both played in it in the past few years.
Sure, it isn't the most prestigious bowl, but for fans, where's a better vacation spot than San Diego?
BYU has a great shot at going 11-1. They also have a chance of going undefeated.
But, realistically, 10-2 may be a stretch, but also very possible. I bet they will lose at Notre Dame and Georgia Tech or Utah, and beat BSU.
If they don't choke like they have been known to in the past, the Cougars could have a great year.
My Final Prediction: 10-2