Brigham Young’s first season as a football independent was pretty successful in 2011. The Cougars finished 10-3 – their fifth 10-win season in the past six – capped by a victory over Tulsa in the Armed Forces Bowl. But in reality, BYU didn’t beat anyone of note. In fact, they only played really three quality opponents in Texas, Utah and TCU and lost all three.
The Cougars are hoping to crash a BCS bowl this season, but if that’s not the case the school already knows where it will be playing in the postseason (presuming it qualifies): the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego against an opponent from BYU’s old league, the Mountain West Conference, on Dec. 20. Such is the life of an independent school if you aren’t named Notre Dame. There continue to be rumors that BYU eventually may have to re-join a conference, whether it’s the Pac-12, Big 12 or Big East.
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Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall enters his eighth season as the BYU head man. He took over a program in 2005 that was coming off three straight losing seasons and has led the Cougars to a bowl every year.
The Cougars ended last season No. 25 in the country to finish nationally ranked for the fifth time in the last six seasons. BYU is 66-24 (.733) under Mendenhall and is one of only six FBS programs to win 10 or more games during at least five of the last six seasons. Mendenhall also serves as the team’s defensive coordinator.
Brandon Doman, whose offense got off to a slow start last season, is back for a second straight season as the offensive coordinator.
This group had belonged to QB Jake Heaps, a former top national recruit, but the Cougars offense was terrible in the first five games last year. Riley Nelson took over and led a big-time turnaround. In the first five games with Heaps leading the way, BYU was ranked No. 78 in the nation in third-down conversions (39 percent). After Nelson took over, BYU was No. 1 in the nation over the next seven games.
Heaps has transferred to Kansas, so it’s Nelson’s offense now. He ranked 16th nationally in passing efficiency last year, completing 57.4 percent of his passes for 1,717 yards with 19 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Nelson also brings a running element to the position as he rushed for 392 yards on 88 carries in 2011.
The Cougars likely are going to go with a committee at running back, although Michael Alisa should get the most carries. He blossomed when Nelson took over and finished the year with 455 yards on 85 carries and three touchdowns. The star of the offense could well be receiver Cody Hoffman. He caught 61 passes for 943 yards and 10 touchdowns last year, including three TDs in the bowl win over Tulsa. The line lost stud Matt Reynolds but still should be a good group led by potential all-Americans in seniors Braden Brown and Braden Hansen.
This group projects to have seven starters back, and Mendenhall himself has said he expects it to be better than last year’s unit, which ranked No. 13 in total defense. If you include returned missionaries and transfers factored in, there are 10 or 11 players on defense who have plenty of experience.
The linebacking group should be the heart and soul of the defense and is led by Kyle Van Noy. Last season, he had seven of the team’s 24 sacks and 15 tackles for loss despite not even being a full-time starter. Fellow returnee LB Brandon Ogletree led the team with 76 tackles overall. The secondary is "probably deeper and more athletic than a year ago," Mendenhall said to the Salt Lake Tribune, although safety Travis Uale and cornerback Corby Eason will have to be replaced.
2012 BYU Cougars Schedule Analysis
The only way that BYU gets a BCS bowl is if it runs the table. And to do that, the Cougars have to start better. Under Mendenhall, BYU is just 15-13 in its first four games of the season. And in Week 3, the Cougars are 1-6.
The opener vs. Washington State welcomes opposing Cougars Coach Mike Leach back to big-time football and you know Leach will have that offense humming. There’s no reason, however, why BYU shouldn’t sweep its home games, also facing Weber State, Hawaii, Utah State, Oregon State and Idaho.
However, the Cougars may go no better than 2-4 on the road as they figure to be underdogs at Utah (the Utes pummeled BYU in the Holy War last year), at Boise State (a Thursday quick turnaround for both teams), at Notre Dame and at Georgia Tech. Games at San Jose State and New Mexico State close out the schedule.
2012 BYU Cougars Futures Odds
At 5Dimes, BYU’s wins totals are set at 7.5 (“over” -295 favorite), 8 (over -175 favorite) and 8.5 (“under” -135 favorite). To win the BCS Championship, the Cougars are +45000. To just play in the game, BYU is +10000.
2012 BYU Cougars Football Predictions
I do believe the Cougars lose those four road games noted above, especially having them grouped in back-to-back stretches in September and then October. That Utah matchup should be crazy because it’s the last Holy War until at least 2016 and the Cougars want payback for last year’s embarrassment. Plus, there’s BYU’s whole Week 3 hex. I would mark down an 8-4 record for BYU in 2012 and that Poinsettia Bowl berth.
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