Unlike any previous season in memory, the BYU Cougars have relied on a bevy of freshmen in 2010.
No less than 13 freshmen, nine of them being true frosh players, contributed in a significant manner on the field during this past regular season.
Considering those numbers, it’s no minor feat that BYU was still able to reach bowl eligibility and finished tied for third in its final season in the Mountain West Conference.
College programs typically shy away from playing freshman.
That has certainly been the modus operandi at BYU under Bronco Mendenhall, but this season was not a typical one in Provo.
A lack of returning experience, along with injuries and suspensions forced the Cougars’ hand.
Four redshirt freshmen, Cody Hofffman (WR), JD Falslev (WR/KR), Mike Muehlmann (TE) and Richard Wilson (TE) all contributed on offense, as did true freshmen Jake Heaps (QB), Joshua Quezada (RB), Devin Mahina (TE), Austin Holt (TE) and Marcus Mathews (TE).
Four true freshmen, Kyle Van Noy (LB), Thomas Bryson (DE), Zach Stout (LB) and Graham Rowley (DL), made significant contributions on the defensive side of the ball. All of the above-mentioned players, with the possible exception of Rowley — who has been undecided about mission plans, are expected to return in 2011.
Even with the inordinate number of freshmen making the field of play this season, a good number of the Cougars’ highly-touted incoming freshmen class of 2010 ended up redshirting, including Ross Apo (WR), Drew Phillips (RB/WR/KR), Alani Fua (LB), Tayo Fabuluje (DE), Jordan Johnson (CB), Travis Tiuloma (NT), Bryan Sampson (TE), Blair Tushaus (C), Alge Brown (RB) Jordan Black (OT), Manu Mulitalo (OL), Kori Gaines (DB) and Collin Keoshian (LB). Of this group Tuiloma, Sampson, Brown, Black and Mulitalo are all possible loses to missions next year.
Apo and Phillips figure to add explosiveness to the Cougar attack in 2011 as redshirt freshman, but unlike 2010, few if any of these redshirt freshmen will be forced into action like many of their teammates were this season.
As much as 2010 was about breaking in youth, 2011 should be the beginning of a run of stability that should see BYU enters its new era of football independence on very solid footing in terms of talent and experience.
Assuming that Matt Reynolds forgoes entering the NFL draft early, the starting offensive line will return intact in 2011, save the loss of Jason Speredon at guard. Jason, Nick Alletto (OT) and Luke Ashworth (WR) are the only seniors on the BYU offensive depth chart.
Speredon’s replacement could well end up be Houston Reynolds. The potential opportunity to start along side his younger brother on the offensive line could be a factor in Matt’s decision whether or not to go pro.
Defensively the Cougars will need to find replacements for Vic So’oto (DE), Shane Hunter (LB), Brian Logan (CB), Brandon Bradley (CB) and Andrew Rich (SS).
Of all of the players being lost, Rich will be the most difficult to replace.
It is hoped that junior college transfers Joe Sampson and Preston Hadley will be strong candidates try to fill the big shoes left by Andrew. Jray Galea’i should also be in that mix. Travis Uale, the current starter at free safety, is probably more suited to playing strong safety and could end up there next year as well.
With the addition of USC transfer Uona Kaveinga at inside linebacker and the continued development of Austen Jorgenson and Zach Stout, the inside linebacker play should be a real strength on this team next year.
The responsibility of replacing Logan and Bradley at the corners could fall to Corby Eason and JC transfer DeQuan Everett next year, with Robbie Buckner, Jordan Johnson and Kori Gaines also in the mix.
So’oto’s replacement would likely be Eathyn Manumaleuna, if Jordan Richardson and Romney Fuga can return as hoped to bolster the nose tackle spot. Bryson and Rowley (assuming he forgoes a mission) look to be solidly entrenched in the rotation at defense end next year as well. Fabuluje could also be a factor if the rumors of his interest in transferring are unfounded.
BYU will also receive significant talent from the mission field in 2011.
Notable players such as Ian Dulan, Michael Alisa, Iona Pritchard, Justin Sorenson, Daniel Sorensen, Cameron Comer, Trevor Bateman and Adam Hine are just of few of the talented athletes expected to be in the fold next season.
Everyone knew that 2010 would be a rebuilding season in Provo. The ride from here on out gets very exciting.