The upcoming schedule is not an overly difficult one, and there are games against Texas, Houston, Virginia, Boise State and Cal that will be barometers for whether or not BYU belongs at the big kid table. And with a returning quarterback on many Heisman watch lists, a running back who had the most successful freshman and sophomore seasons ever at BYU and a wide receiver corp that is better than the Cougars have seen in years, they have the talent to prove they belong.
The question is the offensive line. They have been mediocre to bad since 2009, and the coaching staff has had some time to fix it. If there are not major improvements this season, this team will lose games it should not. It's that cut and dried.
Overall, I have to admit I am not that optimistic. I attended the Spring Scrimmage, and Taysom did not look very improved over last season. Overthrew some balls, underthrew some, shorted a few, etc. Accuracy was a big problem, in my opinion. And the offensive line needs to take such a big leap from last season to this, that I just don't see it happening. BYU will likely go 8-4, a middling record considering the schedule.
As for the Jazz, they are sitting on a potential top-5 pick in the best lottery of the last decade, are searching for a new head coach, and have five young players all taken in the top 12 of past drafts (Burke, Hayward, Kanter, Favors, Burks). That is a lot of talent, and adding another very nice piece this summer will put Utah is a fantastic position to succeed in the ensuing years.
And a lot of that is dependent on who the new coach is. If the new guy is like Mike Brown, the Jazz's young guys will wallow in a terrible system with no structure, little development, and few wins. If the new guy is the second coming of Greg Popovich, the young players will flourish, talent will develop into elite talent, and the Jazz could compete for the Western Conference title within three or four years.
Of course, that also hinges on the Jazz picking an alpha-level, franchise player in the draft. The Jazz have a lot of capable second and third bananas, but no one who can carry a team, scoring 25 points a game and getting 10 assists or rebounds to go along with it. Add one of these guys, and Hayward can slide back into his natural spot of being Robin to someone's Batman, as this last season clearly proved he is not capable of being The Guy.
So two jobs, Jazz brass: Find the next Greg Popvich and draft the next LeBron. No big deal.
And BYU? Just win. Stomp Virginia. Embarrass Texas again. Don't let Boise State sneak past you. Win the tough games, up the respect you have nationwide, and hopefully you won't be on the outside looking in when this Power 5 Conference thing is finalized.
This was far and away my favorite show when I was 6. Sure, the episodes were only 10 minutes long, but they came on every weekday at the end of Square One, and my little sister and I never missed if we could help it.
Watching it now, it's fun catching the little inside jokes I completely missed as a kid. "Angelenos know what's important, and are willing to wait for it." HA!
Now that my oldest is 5 and in kindergarten, I think maybe it's time to introduce him to the Mathnet. It's where I learned the Fibonacci sequence, after all.
It seems weird to be playing at Notre Dame for the second consecutive season, and this will be the third time in a row since 2005. Notre Dame was originally supposed to come to Provo in 2014, but they pulled out and now there's not one scheduled. I hope Notre Dame didn't trick BYU into giving them a 2 for 0 for nothing, but it sure looks like it right now.
But anyway, back to the game at hand. Highlights from last year's matchup: Riley Nelson missing a wide-open Cody Hoffman in the fourth quarter for what could have been a game-winning touchdown. The Fighting Irish passing a total of THREE times in the second half, as they ran all day on BYU's defense. Jamaal Williams averaging 4.6 yards per carry, but only getting 16 touches.
This year, BYU has upgraded from Riley Nelson to Taysom Hill, who is better in every way from his predecessor. Faster, better arm strength, better accuracy, you name it, Hill is better at it.
That said, he's had a couple bad games in a row. He's got four interceptions to four touchdowns in his last two games, and one of those was Idaho State. I hope this is just a minor setback and not a more permanent regression, and this game will be a good indicator of which is the truth.
Vegas has set this game at pick 'em, which means neither team is better than the other. Though if you factor in the 3-point home-field advantage, Vegas is actually saying they think BYU is three points better than Notre Dame on a neutral field, which is sort of interesting.
I hate to be a broken record here, but I see this as a repeat of the Wisconsin game. Top-25 opponent, on the road, against a tough run offense. If Taysom can get it done through the air, I like BYU's chances. If he cannot, the Cougars will lose, and have gone 1-3 against Boise, Utah, Wisconsin and Notre Dame on the year. Honestly, that would be a disappointment.
But we'll have to wait and see what happens on Friday. I believe!
The Wisconsin game went how I thought it would for BYU's defense. The Badgers ran hard and ran effectively. They didn't break as many long runs as I expected, but they got he job done on the ground. Wisconsin's quarterback, Stave, had a pretty good outing, completing 70% of his passes for 200 yards and a touchdown. BYU's blitzes just could not get through his protection, giving him upwards of six or seven seconds to find open guys, and BYU's secondary is nowhere good enough to handle that.
What disappointed me was the offense. Taysom struggled to find guys when he had time, and he had more time than I expected he would. Without being able to see the entire field, I can only go with what ESPN showed me on Saturday, and what they showed me was Taysom having time to find receivers. Greg Wrubell, BYU play-by-play guy extraordinaire, has stated that the Cougar receivers could not get any separation from the Badger secondary. Either way, I am disappointed. If Taysom had open guys and just didn't find them, it's sad. If this BYU receiving corp was unable to get open, that's sad. Just an offensive fail all the way around.
In other news, 4-star forward from Arizona Payton Dastrup changed his commitment from Ohio State to BYU today. It was less than a week ago that he made his initial choice to join the Buckeye program, and it's weird he had such an about face.
Anyway, he's 6'9" and 230 and pretty coveted across the country for his big man skills. Let's have a look.
From this video, Mr. Dastrup looks incredibly earthbound and slow. He has decent passing instincts, and a decent shot, but man, that turnaround will get blocked out of the gym in college.
Dastrup is going on a mission before ever suiting up for the Cougars, however, so don't expect to see him until 2016, at the earliest. Such is the life of a BYU fan.
How about that Boise State game, huh? BYU's offense looked nigh unstoppable in the first half, and then sort of fell apart in the third and fourth quarter. This is a pattern that's becoming a concern. I'd like to see an uptick in production after halftime, but maybe that's asking too much.
Anyway, Taysom further showed that he can consistently hit people in stride downfield, a skill BYU has been missing in its quarterbacks for far too long. The offensive line even looked fairly competent, giving him upwards of four seconds to throw sometimes. Amazing.
In the end, it was a convincing win over a pretty good team. Nice work, guys.
Next up, the Wisconsin Badgers. A perennially good, never championship-level team. Their finishes over the last five years have been between 8-5 and 11-2. This year they are 6-2, and have already lost to Arizona State (on a controversial call) and Ohio State. These are not losses to be ashamed of, but they show this Badger team can be beat.
Wisconsin relies heavily on their massive offensive line and two star running backs. The O-line average over 6'4 and 300 pounds across the board, and back Melvin Gordon is averging 8.7 yards per carry on 124 touches. That's insane. That's Luke Staley-level running insane. And to add to that, Badger James White is averaging 6.3 yards a carry on his 127 attempts. Just thinking about this, combined with memories of BYU at Notre Dame 2012, gives me nightmares. The Irish racked up almost 300 yards on the ground at over 6 yards per carry, and passed the ball three times in the second half.
If Wisconsin gets a lead on Saturday, I fear BYU will get a steady diet of run, run, run, and suddenly the game will be over. BYU needs Taysom to open the game up early. They need him to find Matthews or Hoffman or Apo on a few deep balls, score quickly in the first quarter, and then score quickly again. If they can force Wisconsin to panic a bit, to come away from the power run game, I like the Cougars' chances.
But if the offense comes out sluggish after the bye, and stalls early and often, it's going to be rough to get the ball back often.
That said, I believe in Taysom. I know I was really down on him after the Utah game, but in fairness, he was historically, epically bad through three games this year. Then a miracle happened, and he figured out how to put touch on the football. I can't explain it. No one can. I'm just happy it happened.
But back to the Wisconsin game. Taysom will be rushed and hurried and have two seconds to find an open guy and get rid of the ball. But with how he showed his ability to use the tight ends against Boise, he's going to be really unpredictable to defenses from now one. He can go deep, middle, dump it short to Jamaal, find crossing routes and fades. And if you worry too much about his arm, he'll take off and pick up 20 yards on the ground. An absolute nightmare to handle.
I'm more worried about being on the road against a decent BCS team. BYU just historically does not win those games. And Wisconsin is 43-4 at home since 2004, a ridiculous number that really makes you pause.
That said, games are not won on the backs of history. BYU can go into Camp Randall and win. Wisconsin can lose a home game in November. Taysom can get the biggest win a sophomore BYU quarterback has ever had.
9/20/2012 Boise State 7 BYU 6
9/24/2004 Boise State 28 BYU 27
10/30/2003 Boise State 50 BYU 12
It's just odd that two mid-major teams within 400 miles of each other have only played three times, but I guess they've never been in the same conference, so that helps.
The last two losses were both heartbreakers, as Matt Payne missed an easy chip shot at the end of the game to give Boise the win in 2004, and Riley Nelson supplied the Broncos with their only points on a pick-six to secure the loss for BYU in 2012.
This time around, Boise State is playing the gritty, run-first, doesn't really have an arm quarterback. Taysom Hill is on a roll, having increased his passer rating every game this season, and settling on an impressive 161.88 against Houston.
The BSU starting quarterback, Grant Hedrick, did put up okay passing numbers against Nevada last week. Completing 18 of 21 passes is nice, but he threw zero touchdowns and did have a pick. His eight rushes for 123 yards is more impressive, until you take into account Nevada's 114 ranking in team defense for the NCAA.
And let's be honest: BYU's defense can corral running quarterbacks. I'm much, much more worried about a quarterback passing for 400 yards than I am a quarterback rushing for 200.
I expect an easy win for BYU. The offensive line gave Taysom some honest to good protection at times on Saturday, and if they keep improving, and Hill gets more and more time to throw, he's going to be impossible to stop.
"That doesn't mean those leagues won't play BYU, it means the Cougars have been branded -- somewhat formally by a couple of Big Five conferences -- as something less than worthy. The two leagues came to this conclusion independently and, if nothing else, reminded BYU of its place in the playoff era. The program kind of falls between the cracks as an independent."
I'm a graduate from BYU-Idaho with a degree in Communications with a print journalism emphasis. I currently work as a test engineer for a software company. I've been married for seven years and have three kids.