No. 45 BYU
BYU had a perplexing, although wildly entertaining, 2016 season. The Cougars lost four games by a field goal or less and won two games on the last play. They return 13 starters from that nine-win team, along with an experienced quarterback who's very family with last-play victories, and have the talent and depth for another run at 10 wins.
But that first-half schedule. Hide the women and children.
2016 Record: 9-4
The first season of the post-Bronco Mendenhall era went about as well as BYU could have expected, at least in terms of win total. However, the nine-win campaign could've been much better. All four losses came by a total of eight points — a TOTAL of eight points.
They beat three Power Five teams — Arizona, Michigan State and Mississippi State — and narrowly missed wins over three more — Utah (20-19), UCLA (17-14), West Virginia (35-32) — and Boise State (28-27).
Head Coach: Kalani Sitake Name (2nd year, 9-4 overall)
Kalani Sitake has spent most of his adult life in the state of Utah but hadn't lived in Provo full-time in nearly 15 years. He played football at BYU (1994, 1997-2000) and was an assistant with the Cougars (2002), Southern Utah (2003-04) and Utah (2005-14).
The former fullback then spent one season as associate head coach and defensive coordinator at Oregon State before returning to his alma mater as head coach last year, where he delivered their second-straight nine-win season.
"I feel a lot more comfortable going into it this season," Sitake said in June. "Last year, all we had was spring ball and not really a full offseason. So this year, we have a full season, another spring and then an offseason where we actually tested our guys and saw our guys get bigger and stronger and faster. So I have a lot more confidence going into it."
Key Returning Offensive Players
QB Tanner Mangum, RB Squally Canada, RB K.J. Hall, WR Jonah Trinnaman, TE Tanner Balderree, OT Thomas Shoaf, G Keyan Norman, G Tuni Kanuch, C Tejan Koroma
Two years after electrifying college football with his Hail Mary heave against Nebraska, Tanner Mangum is back. The junior quarterback never left; he just attempted 33 passes last year as a backup to Taysom Hill and didn't start until the bowl game.
“There’s pressure, but I like it,” Mangum said of taking over as starter. “It’s a good pressure; it’s motivating, it’s exciting, it’s feeling like everything is coming together. I feel good. From a leadership standpoint, I’m feeling confident.”
He led the Cougars to a 9-4 mark in 2015 and set the program's freshman record for wins, touchdowns (23) and passing yards (3,377).
With their top three receivers gone, Mangum will rely heavily on senior Jonah Trinnaman. The Utah native played well — 28 receptions for 321 yards — in his first season as a three-star JUCO recruit from Snow College. He and tight end Tanner Balderee could combine for 75 catches.
BYU's all-time leading rusher Jamaal Williams is in the NFL, leaving junior Squally Canada, K.J. Hall and freshman Ufa Tolutau to shoulder the load. Hall averaged 5.3 yards per carry in a hybrid runner-receiver role.
And the offensive line returns four starters, including sophomore right tackle Thomas Shoaf. He moved from the left side, where 6-foot-8, 305-pound junior Austin Hoyt — a former defensive end prospect — is expected to take over. Three seniors lead a strong interior line.
Key Returning Defensive Players
DE Trajan Pili, LB Fred Warner, LB Butch Pau'u, LB Francis Bernard, CB Dayan Ghanwoloku, CB Troy Warner, CB Micah Hannemann
BYU's defensive coaching staff did some shuffling after their unit allowed just 19.5 points per game (14th nationally) in 2016. Coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki takes over the defensive line, and former line coach Steve Kaufusi, who is now with a superb group of linebackers.
Though Tuiaki's defense generally played well, they ranked 96th against the pass and yielded 28 or more points three times during five-game mid-season stretch, including 53 to Toledo.
They're led by senior outside linebacker Fred Warner — whose younger brother Troy is a starting corner. The elder Warner is a former four-star prospect who's been a violent menace the last two years, racking up 22.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks.
“We have other guys in our linebacker room that are competitive and are trying to get their way onto the field too,” said Warner, referencing fellow upperclassmen starters Butch Pau'u and Francis Bernard. “But, yeah, all three of us are all very competitive, especially me and Francis Bernard. We’re always joking with each other and yapping our mouths. It’s fun.”
Troy Warner and Dayan Ghanwoloku — both sophomores — are rising stars on the outside. They combined for three interceptions and 10 passes defended as freshmen.
The biggest question marks come on a defensive line that lost three starters. Sitake has repeatedly stressed adding size and depth to his front four and has commended veterans like end Trajan Pili for their development and leadership.
“On the D-line we had to bulk them up a little bit for what we’re trying to do,” Sitake said this summer. “Our mentality and philosophy as a team is in the trenches. We’ve committed to that position with recruits on the O-line and D-line and we’ll see how well it does for us on the field.”
Notable Player Losses
QB Taysom Hill, RB Jamaal Williams, WR Nick Kurtz, WR Colby Pearson, WR Mitchell Juergens, DE Sae Tautu, S Kai Nacau
Taysom Hill is finally gone after a frustrating, winding career that featured three season-ending injuries and some spectacular performances. His numbers are mediocre but he'll always be remembered as a legend.
Four major offensive weapons are also gone, particularly Jamaal Williams. He had two 1,200-yard seasons and scored 36 total touchdowns in four years.
Defensively, Sae Tautu — their lone reliable pass rusher — graduated, as did safety Kai Nacau. Nacau ranked seventh nationally with six interceptions in 2016. He also had six in 2015.
Notable Player Additions
RB Ula Tolutau, LB Isaiah Kaufusi, DE Uriah Leiataua
Ula Tolutau is a big, big dude. The true freshman running back, a three-star prospect and former Wisconsin signee, is 6-foot-1 and 255 pounds.
"We love where he's at right now," Ty Detmer said of his backup running back in March. "He's getting his legs underneath him following his mission — getting his workouts going — so we feel he has a pretty good grasp of things."
Two redshirt freshman are competing for snaps on defense, linebacker Isaiah Kaufusi and end Uriah Leiataua. Both were three-star prospects who could earn No. 2 roles during fall camp.
Look. At. That. September. Schedule.
After opening against Portland State on Aug. 26, the Cougars are pelted by big-time opponents: LSU, Utah and Wisconsin. Though the latter two are at home — and LSU in Houston — you won't find many more difficult stretches in college football.
Oh, and it's followed up with Utah State, Boise State and Mississippi State.
|Saturday, Aug. 26||vs. Portland State|
|Saturday, Sept. 2||vs. LSU|
|Saturday, Sept. 9||vs. Utah|
|Saturday, Sept. 16||vs. Wisconsin|
|Friday, Sept. 29||at Utah State|
|Friday, Oct. 6||vs. Boise State|
|Saturday, Oct. 14||at Mississippi State|
|Saturday, Oct. 28||vs. San Jose State|
|Saturday, Nov. 4||at Fresno State|
|Friday, Nov. 10||at UNLV|
|Saturday, Nov. 18||vs. UMass|
|Saturday, Nov. 25||at Hawai'i|