I have to admit, I am not particularly excited about the 2014 BYU football season.
1. That beat down the Cougars took from Washington last December has really stuck with me. The Huskies were nothing special, but they rolled over BYU on offense and defense the entire night, with an interim coach on the sidelines. I don't know that nine months is enough time for the players involved in that debacle to improve a whole lot.
2. Taysom sounds like he is still Taysom. Incredible runner, but in fall camp, he struggled with accuracy. One play he'll hit a streaking Kurtz perfectly in stride down the sideline for a TD, and the next play a 15-yard pass over the middle to a tight end is in the dirt. It's maddening that he can't seem to put it together.
3. BYU hasn't won their first three games of the season since 2008. 2008! It's almost a guarantee that this team will drop a game sometime in the next couple of weeks, and now that BYU is Independent, that solidifies a trip to the Miami Beach Bowl in December, no matter what.
So here we are. BYU starts its campaign against the mighty Huskies of Connecticut, a team that won three games last season and is very much a football team at a basketball school. I mean, some schools can manage to be good at both major sports (see Florida), but mostly, to be elite at one, you must be terrible at the other. The saving grace for UConn is that BYU is traveling to the Eastern Time Zone for this game, and has historically been pretty awful when asked to fly that far east in the past. Look no further than the 2013 opener against a terrible Virginia team; spoiler: BYU lost 19-16. This was Virginia's only Div-I win of the entire year. Ouch.
Also in the Huskies' favor is their returning quarterback, Casey Cochran. All three of the team's wins last season came at the very end of the season, and Cochran started all three of those. He even had four touchdown passes in the final game of the year in a 45-10 win over Memphis. While BYU's secondary is rumored to be the best its had since 1996, I still worry when a capable passer matches up against the Cougars.
And while I am very excited about BYU's wide receiver corp this season, we won't see two significant pieces of that group in this game. Nick Kurtz is out for at least four weeks, and probably closer to 6, and junior college transfer Devon Blackmon is suspended for the Connecticut game after an unspecified violation of either team or BYU rules. That said, UTEP transfer Jordan Leslie has also turned a lot of heads at fall camp, and he'll be ready to go, along with returning wideout Mitch Matthews, who is fully recovered from a shoulder injury he sustained last season.
Another missing piece is starting running back Jamaal Williams, who will miss the Connecticut game due to an arrest earlier this year for underage drinking. Backups Algernon Brown and Adam Hine should be enough to match up against the Huskies, however.
But for me, the million-dollar question is: how improved will the offensive line be? Those guys were anywhere from bad to awful much of the 2013 season, and memories of them getting beat up the middle and to the outside time and time again are seared into my memory. Taysom's accuracy issues can in part be attributed to the line not giving him much time at all.
BYU's latest depth chart, released today, shows some familiar names from last fall, but the important thing is that reportedly, there are fewer guys being rolled in and out of the offensive line on a play-to-play basis. Cohesion is important in the trenches, and know what the other guys on the line with you are capable of is valued. Here's hoping coach Tujague can find some consistent starters.
All things considered, I see an ugly win for BYU this Friday, along the lines of 19-13, to go with a 9-win season and a general meh feeling to the season. If, however, BYU stomps the Huskies by 40 and Taysom looks unstoppable, let the hype train begin!
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.
"Competition has driven the pace of production of our team," Mendenhall said the last time he met with reporters, last Tuesday. "It is probably the number one takeaway from our fall camp this year, is the effect of competition. There really hasn’t been a place where we haven’t had it, which has really increased the production at every spot."
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.