2010 Record: (7-6, 5-3 in MWC)
Head Coach: Bronco Mendenhall (56-21 at BYU)
Last Bowl Game: 2010 New Mexico Bowl: beat UTEP 52-24
9/3: at Ole Miss
9/10: at Texas
9/17: Utah (2010 result: lost 17-16)
9/30: Utah State (2010 result: lost 31-16)
10/8: San Jose State
10/15: at Oregon State (2009 result: won 44-20)
10/22: Idaho State
10/28: at TCU (2010 result: lost 31-3)
11/19: New Mexico State
12/3: at Hawaii
2010 Offensive Statistics:
Scoring: 26.2 ppg (5th in MWC, 70th in Nation)
Rushing Yds/Game: 168.08 yds/game (3rd in MWC, 42nd in Nation)
Passing Yds/Game: 198.4 yds/game (5th in MWC, 76th in Nation)
Total Yds/Game: 366.5 yds/game (5th in MWC, 72nd in Nation)
2010 Defensive Statistics:
Scoring: 21.6 ppg (4th in MWC, 32nd in Nation)
Rushing Yds/Game: 138.62 yds/game (3rd in MWC, 45th in Nation)
Passing Yds/Game: 192.2 yds/game (3rd in MWC, 23rd in Nation)
Total Yds/Game: 330.8 yds/game (2nd in MWC, 24th in Nation)
2010 Misc Stats:
Turnover Margin: +0.08 per game (3rd in MWC, 50th in Nation)
Penalties: 44.8 yds/game (4th in MWC, 35th in Nation)
Top Returning Statistical Leaders:
Passing: QB Jake Heaps, Soph (219 for 384 for 2,316 yds, 15 TD, 9 INT)
Rushing: RB JJ Di Luigi, Sr (178 for 917, 5.1 ypc, 8 TD)
Receiving: WR Cody Hoffman, Soph (42 rec for 527 yds, 7 TD)
Tackles: LB Brandon Ogletree, Jr (51)
Sacks: CB Corby Eason, Sr (3.5)
Interceptions: LB Brandon Ogletree, Jr; LB Jameson Frazier, Sr (2)
Athlon Sports: Armed Forces Bowl (vs Southern Miss)
Phil Steele: Armed Forces Bowl (vs Tulsa)
BYU got off to an ominous start last year when they dropped five of their first seven games. In that stretch they beat two pretty good teams in Washington and San Diego State but they also fell to a Utah State team that won only four games. The season turned against Wyoming as they went on a four game winning streak including that victory and finished 7-6 despite starting a woeful 2-5. Of course, it helps getting a 4-game winning streak when your opponents during that stretch finished the season at a combined 7-42. BYU proved it could hang with a Nationally ranked team when they lost a nail biter to then #20 Utah when they had a 42 yard field goal attempt blocked.
The 2010 season was an important one for Freshman Jake Heaps. He took his lumps early against the likes of FSU and TCU as he threw for just 1 TD over the first 7 games of the season and added 6 INT. Over the last 6 games Heaps threw for over 200 yards in every game but Wyoming and turned over the TD:INT ratio as he threw 14 TD to only 3 INT. The biggest reason for optimism with the Cougars from the outside is the growth of Heaps and the fact that he returns his offense almost fully intact. Add that to a coach who has made his money through defense and you should have a well balanced team.
BYU went independent this year and on paper they play a similar schedule to last year. They start at Ole Miss and then play on the road against Texas. Both of those teams will be searching for an identity and BYU catches them at the best time as both will be looking for a lot of answers. Then BYU plays Utah and UCF, both really solid teams but not world-beaters. Those are the four games that look to me like they will define the BYU season. If BYU can come out of that stretch 3-1 (or even 2-2) I think they will be favorites in the rest of their games with the exception of the road game at TCU (unless Oregon St or Hawaii play better than expectations). Keep your eye on the Cougars. They look like a team on the rise. To find out a local take on the 2011 BYU Cougars we talked to our friends over at Blue Cougar Football.
Going into the season, what do you see as the biggest areas of opportunity on this team?
The biggest area for opportunity on defense is the secondary. Both cornerbacks and the strong safety graduated. Free Safety and 2011 team captain Travis Uale is the only returning starter. Corby Eason has the inside track for one of the cornerback positions due to his game experience last year (13 games played, 22 tackles, 3 pass breakups, 2 forced fumbles).
The overall competition will be fierce. Several newcomers and reserves made more than good impressions during spring, including Preston Hadley, Daniel Sorenson, Robbie Buckner, Mike Hague, and Jordan Johnson. Highly touted JC transfer Joe Sampson will be a wild card in fall practice. Hype is high on Sampson, but he just arrived on campus a few weeks ago. Hard to say if he will have enough time to learn the defensive schemes and find a role on the team this year.
On offense, the tight end spot is the greatest area for opportunity. Every other position has established players returning. BYU went all of 2010 without a real presence at tight end. Devin Mahina appears to lead the competition right now, but Austin Holt and Richard Wilson are both capable of coming out of the competition as the best. Kaneakua Friel, a sophomore from Hawaii, is the wildcard at this position. He is returning from his 2-year mission and has potential. How quickly he can get back into game shape will be the key to how much he contributes this year.
As a freshman Jake Heaps struggled early last year but came on strong at the end of the season. What do you expect from him in 2011?
Big things are expected from Heaps. It is likely that 2011 will be his best season in a Cougar uniform. His numbers might not be eye-popping the first few games (at Ole Miss, at Texas), but he will play poised, he will make big plays, and he will prove he belongs on the Davey O’Brien Watch List. Jake Heaps showed last year that he has that “it” factor that all great quarterbacks have. He is battle tested, and a great decision maker.
Statistically, Heaps will probably finish the year with more than 3,500 yards passing and approximately 30 touchdown passes. His pass efficiency rating will be in the 160 range.
Who are some under-the-radar players to keep an eye on for the Cougars this year?
Corby Eason: He missed spring practice recovering from off-season shoulder surgery, and suddenly become the forgotten man in the secondary. He should emerge as a starter and become a shutdown corner. As mentioned above, he got a lot of playing time in 2010. His speed brought a new dimension to the defense—the corner blitz. Eason made 3.5 sacks last year.
Joshua Quezada: The sophomore running back was not on the Doak Walker Watch List like teammate J.J. DiLuigi was. However, make no mistake about it, Quezada will be BYU’s leading rusher and feature back this year. He was the team’s leading rusher in 2 of BYU’s final three games in 2010, including 101 rushing yards in the New Mexico Bowl.
Richard Wilson: Wilson was an elite tight end prospect in 2008. After making three receptions for 45 yards in the season opener, he disappeared from the offense. It is rumored that there was some friction between Wilson and former offensive coordinator Robert Anae. With Anae gone this year, Wilson may get his chance to shine.
Ross Apo: This former Texas prep star was forced to redshirt last season with a hand injury. Reports from the practice field continue to rave about Apo and his talent. One reporter called him a “pass interference penalty waiting to happen.” He and quarterback Jake Heaps are best friends off the field, and Apo attributes his decision to come to BYU being the special connection he felt on the field with Heaps. Don’t be surprised when Apo ends up on the freshman All-American team.
Jordan Pendleton: BYU fans are well aware of Pendleton and what he can do. Injuries, however, sidelined him and kept him under the national radar in 2010. Phil Steele has listed Pendleton as the 72nd best draft eligible outside linebacker, but don’t be surprised if he ends up a candidate for the Butkus Award late in the season.
Looking at the schedule, what are the most important games this year?
With this being the first year of independence, BYU has an unusually high number of important games. It is very important, almost critical, that BYU get off to a fast start.
Game 1: Ole Miss—The first game of independence will be on ESPN and in SEC country. BYU wants to get off on the right foot. Ole Miss was voted to finish last in the SEC West, so a loss will definitely damage BYU in the national picture.
Game 2: Texas—Anytime you play in Austin, you have to take advantage of it. BYU needs a win in this game if they want to be taken seriously, regardless of how well Texas rebounds from last year’s disaster.
Game 3: Utah—The Utes are BYU’s traditional rival. Utah has moved up to the Pac-12. Utah won a controversial game last year, 17-16, when BYU was clearly the better team. It is BYU’s chance to deliver payback and earn bragging rights after being snubbed by the Pac-12.
Game 4: UCF—The reigning Conference USA champions and victor over Georgia in the Liberty Bowl comes to Provo. The Golden Knights are one of the up and coming non-AQ programs, however, they are still non-AQ. BYU cannot afford the stigma that would come with losing to a non-AQ at home. Even if BYU is 3-0 coming into this game, much of the good from that fast and impressive start would be wiped away. If BYU is not 3-0, then they cannot afford another loss.
Game 7: Oregon State—BYU only has two games after September that a will attract more than regional attention. This is one of them.
Game 9: TCU—The other game that will have some national appeal. TCU has owned BYU the last three years. With quarterback Andy Dalton gone, BYU needs to seize this opportunity to beat the future Big East member.
Game 12: Hawaii—Going to Hawaii at the end of the year is a huge trap game. Just ask the 2001 Cougar team. How this game turns out will have a lot to do with BYU’s mental state. BYU must be focused and ready. The Cougars cannot overlook the Warriors. With a bye week to prepare, the defense, and secondary in particular, should be ready for the air raid they are certain to undergo.
What do you see as the major advantages of being "independent" instead of conference affiliated in the short term and long term for BYU?
Several advantages of BYU’s independence status can already be seen. BYU made the move to independence to increase exposure to the program, and exposure is what BYU is getting. Sixty media members from across the nation descended on Provo on July 12. The Mountain West Conference (MWC) media days never had that kind of turnout.
BYU will play 10 games on one of the ESPN networks. One other game will be on BYUtv, which is available in 55 million homes nationally (check with your cable/satellite provider, you probably have this channel already). That rivals Notre Dame for the school with the most games broadcast nationwide.
Independence has already had a positive impact on recruiting. During the BYU media day, head coach Bronco Mendenhall said the typical reaction from recruits to BYU’s move to independence is, “Oh, you are independent like Notre Dame.” Rather than being associated with the MWC, teenagers are connecting BYU with the Fighing Irish.
In the long term, the exposure will continue. BYU’s contract with ESPN is eight years. BYU will be in front of the entire nation for the rest of this decade. Future BYU schedules will feature big name opponents. BYU is being aggressive and working to schedule the best teams in the country. Teams BYU has never played before will be on the schedule and even come to Provo to play. BYU will have several opportunities to make the statement that it is on the same level as the top half or top third of schools in BCS AQ conferences.
What is your gut feeling on the final record for the 2011 season and what makes the season successful in your eyes?
The buzz surrounding BYU as an independent needs to be alive and well at the end of the season for this year to be a success. That means more than winning. BYU needs to establish itself as a national player early in the season by playing well in (and preferably winning) the first two games. The Cougars have to play strong down the stretch, which cannot be done without beating TCU. BYU is locked into the Armed Forces Bowl to play a team from Conference USA at the end of this season, so a blowout win will be needed to help the cause.
Bottom line, BYU needs to finish the year ranked in the top 15. That will require losing no more than 2 games. It would also be nice if Ole Miss, Texas, Oregon State, and TCU can have good seasons, or at least make some noise, to give credibility to what BYU has done on the field.
Predicted Final Record: 11-2
While every game is winnable, BYU will probably be 3-1 after the first four games. The other loss will come from one of the three final challenges (Oregon State, TCU, and Hawaii).
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