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College Football Preview 2014-2015: 21. BYU Cougars

21. BYU Cougars
Coach: Bronco Mendenhall (10th year)

2013-2014 Record: 8-5 (Independent, No Conf. Record)
Taysom Hill

August 29th @ UConn
September 6th @ Texas
September 11th vs. Houston
September 20th vs. Virginia
October 3th vs. Utah State
October 9th @ UCF
October 18th vs. Nevada
October 24th @ Boise State
November 1st @ Middle Tennessee
November 15th vs. UNLV
November 22nd vs. Savannah State
November 29th @ California

The Cougars began their season with a three-point loss to Virginia (who would go 1-10 the rest of the season) but soon found their groove and ended up going 8-5 in the first year of offensive coordinator's Robert Anae's go-fast-go-hard offense. Their defense did lose a lot of leadership including linebacker Kyle Van Noy but the offense has the talent to be extremely dangerous, especially on the ground. With a schedule that is pretty favorable, a breakthrough season could be in store for BYU.

Jamaal Williams
Backfield: Junior Taysom Hill had a strong first season as starter in Provo, rushing for 1,344 yards. Not a lot of quarterbacks possess his speed or elusiveness and he could definitely put up 1,000 or more in 2014-2015. Though, his passing game left something to be desired. He completed less than 60% of his pass attempts and threw 14 interceptions. He looks improved this spring and he does have the potential to really grow into a more complete QB this year. Also back is junior back Jamaal Williams, a shifty playmaker who rushed for 1,233 yards. Senior Paul Lasike rushed for 350 yards as well, averaging nearly six yards a carry. Senior Michael Alisa is returning, giving the Cougars an extremely deep stable of fantastic backs. Last year, BYU had the 10th best rush offense in the nation, averaging 267.3 yards per game, that number could increase this season.

Receivers: In order for Hill to take the next step, he will need his receivers to step up around him, so the loss of Cody Hoffman, BYU's all-time leading receiver, does not help. The good news is that the Cougars have a number of incoming playmakers, including UTEP transfer Jordan Leslie and Stanford transfer Keanu Nelson. Leslie, as a sophomore at UTEP reeled in 51 catches for nearly 1,000 yards and could put together an impressive year at BYU. Senior Ross Apo is still in Provo, he is still a player that make plays, although injuries have really impacted his career with the Cougars in a very negative manner. JUCO transfers Nick Kurtz and Devon Blackmon (a four-star prospect) are also ready to make a big impact. Kurtz is a 6'6" talent with great leaping ability who could become reliable for Hill because he can make plays on jump balls. Massive tight end senior Devin Mahina could be ready to make a real impact as an option in the intermediate passing game.

Offensive Line: Injuries really hurt the offensive line last year for BYU but they should be healthier in 2014 and more experienced. Three starters return on the line, and the left side of the O-Line should be a real strength, which is important, considering it is Hill's blindside. Senior tackle De'Ondre Wesley is likely to start at left tackle. Wesley is a 6'7' giant of a man who has great instincts and is stronger than most opposing pass rushers. Guard Solomone Kafu, also a senior, has the chance to start at left guard, he should play an important role in helping this ground game function accordingly. The addition of three-star prospects Chandon Herring and Austin Chambers should help give this line depth and they should also be important players in the future. Both are tackles with considerable upside who already have the size to develop into very productive players. Senior Michael Yeck, who measures in at 6'8" and nearly 300 pounds has the chance to start at right tackle, but has the versatility to do a number of other things.

Defensive Line: The loss of versatile and ferocious defensive linemen Eathyn Manumaleuna, who graduated this offseason hurts, but this defensive line should still be able to put pressure on the opposition. Defensive tackle Remington Peck started 12 games last year and appeared in 13, proving to be a pretty solid pass rusher, recording 3 sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss. Joining Peck in the middle is nose tackle Marques Johnson, an experienced senior who could develop into a monster this year with the correct amount of snaps. He has an immensely high motor and is very disruptive, he recorded 31 tackles in '13. The defensive line was the strength of this recruiting class, four-star defensive end Isaiah Nacua is a local talent who is the No. 28 recruit in the Class of 2014. Also coming in is another pipeline find in three-star defensive tackle Zac Dawe. The defensive end position is a relative question, though junior Graham Rowley brings a lot of experience.

Linebackers: Van Noy meant so much to the BYU defense, he was the heart and soul of it and he always flying all over the field making big plays in pivotal points of the game. To help compensate for the loss, Mendenhall and defensive coordinator Nick Howell moved athletic junior Bronson Kaufusi from defensive linemen to outside 'backer, where he could be a beast. He is a relentless pass rusher, who had four sacks with seven tackles for loss, and also returned an interception for a touchdown. Standing up as a blitzing linebacker off the edge, Kaufusi could put up even more impressive numbers. On the other outside linebacker position senior Alani Fua returns, the 6'5" stud has great range and is also a versatile player. Four-star outside linebacker Fred Warner has the talent and agility to be the next great pass rusher in Provo, they have had a long line of talented pass rushers, including most recently, Ezekiel Ansah and Van Noy. Senior Zac Stout is back, he should start at one of the inside linebacker slots, he could be a tackling machine with his range and his toughness.

Secondary: The secondary also lost some experience and talent when safety Daniel Sorensen exhausted his eligibility. Though this unit still has loads of talent including senior safety Craig Bills, who will more than make up for the loss of Sorensen. He is likely to switch from free safety to strong safety to help replace Sorensen; he is a hard hitting player who doesn't have any durability issues. Also returning is another senior, Skye PoVey, who will take over for Bills at the free safety slot. The cornerback spots are likely to manned by two seniors, Robertson Daniel and Jordan Johnson. Johnson could put together a big year, he already has pretty developed coverage skills and has the speed and jumping to make a number of big plays. Although undersized incoming cornerback Michael Shelton could be a valuable depth player. He comes all the way from Raleigh, North Carolina and is a three-star find for Mendenhall and staff.

Special Teams: The loss of kicker Justin Sorensen, who completed 21 of 26 in 2013, recording a long field goal of 45. He is gone, leaving the kicking duties to sophomore Moose Bingham, who has the leg to be a solid kicker. Senior punter Scott Arellano returns which should definitely help the Cougars in field position. BYU has an abundance of players who can do dangerous things in the return game.

The season hinges on Hill, he has to stay healthy (backup Ammon Olsen transferred to Southern Utah) and take the next step in the passing game. If he does, the Cougars have a legitimate shot of going undefeated or winning at least double-digit games with the way their schedule works out. The team's toughest matchups are Texas (who was definitely struggled stopping the run, BYU's strength) and UCF on the road. If they can get past tough Mountain West meetings with Utah State and Boise State, don't overlook these Cougars.

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