The countdown to the 2012 college football season marches on. Today we preview the No. 46 team on the Rant Sports 100 in 100 college football preview series, the BYU Cougars.
In their second year as an Independent, BYU will hope to follow up last season’s success (10-3), which includes an exciting 24-21 victory over the Tulsa Golden Hurricanes in the 2011 Armed Forces Bowl. Unfortunately, only two of those wins came against teams with winning records (Utah State Aggies and Tulsa), so there is room for improvement.
The Cougars return seven offensive starters, including senior quarterback Riley Nelson. In 2011, Nelson threw for 1,717 yards and 19 touchdowns to seven interceptions, while adding 392 yards and a score on the ground on 88 carries. However, BYU lost junior Jake Heaps, who transferred to Kansas earlier this year. Last season, Heaps played in 10 games and had 1,452 yards passing with nine TDs and eight INTs. Heaps was a five-star recruit (Scout) and ranked the top QB in the country in 2010.
They also lost two running backs, leading rusher JJ Di Luigi (584 yards and three touchdowns) and Bryan Kariya (298 yards and six touchdowns). Primarily enforcing a running back-by-committee last season, but the Cougars could utilize junior Mike Alisa as their first option this year. In 2011 Alisa rushed for 455 yards and three TDs on 85 attempts, playing sparingly in the first five games.
Alisa and Nelson will have the protection of a deep and experienced offensive line in front of them, despite losing Matt Reynolds and Terrence Brown. Six players should be ready to go for opening kickoff in Braden Hansen, Houston Reynolds, Braden Brown, Walter Kahaiali’i, Ryan Freeman and Ryker Mathews as well as four other players who will be used as backups on the line.
The receiving corps returns junior Cody Hoffman who was 2011’s team leader with 61 receptions for 943 yards and 10 touchdowns, and sophomore Ross Apo who was second on the unit with 34 catches for 453 yards and nine TDs. Hoffman at 6’4” 208 Lbs. and Apo at 6’3” 206 Lbs. will give Nelson two big, viable targets.
The defense ended last season ranked 14th in the nation in total defense, allowing 312.9 of offense per game and 22nd in scoring with an average of 20.4 points per game allowed. The Cougars allowed an average of 112 yards (19th in the FBS) on the ground to their opponents and will return seven starters. Five of those starters were the team’s leading tacklers last season in senior LB Brandon Ogletree (76), Junior LB Kyle Van Noy (68), junior DB Daniel Sorenson (61), senior LB Uona Kavienga (57), and senior DB Preston Hadley (51).
Up front, the Cougars will have two starters in seniors DE Eathyn Manumaleuna and NT Romney Fuga, while junior Ian Dulan is thought to have the edge at end replacing Hebron Fangupo who was signed undrafted by the Houston Texans.
Because BYU is an Independent, their travel schedule adds an extra level of difficulty for their 2012 campaign. They will also host some talented west coast teams.
BYU opens the season against the coaching return of Mike Leach and his Washington State Cougars of the Pac-12 at home in Provo. The Cougars will face two other teams from that conference in Salt Lake City against the Utah Utes in Week 3 and the Oregon State Beavers in Week 6 at home.
The two toughest matchups for BYU will be road games at Bronco Stadium against the Boise State Broncos (Week 4) in their final season in the MWC and in South Bend against fellow Independent, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (Week 7).
They will face the Weber State Wildcats Week 2 and Hawaii Warriors in Week 5 at LaVell Edwards Stadium, and will travel cross-country to take on Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in Atlanta in Week 8 before having an open date the follow week.
The Cougars close out their regular season with three schools from the WAC the Idaho Vandals (Week 10), RS No. 98 San Jose Spartans (Week 11), and the New Mexico Aggies (Week 12).