Here’s the third installment of my “First Look” series. Today I’m taking a quick glance at two-time defending Mountain West Conference champ (and 2008 favorite) BYU. Scroll down to previous posts to see looks at Wyoming and New Mexico.
2007 Record: 11-2, 8-0
Off/Def Starters Back: 10/3
Last Year vs. AF: BYU 31, Air Force 6
This Year vs. AF: Nov. 15 at Air Force
Roster Report: The 2007 BYU offense, which led the MWC in points per game (30.1) and yards per game (442.8), will return virtually intact in 2008. The Cougars have 10 starters back, including all of their skill position players. Lineman Sete Aulai is the only 2007 starter the Cougars lost to graduation.
Here’s how stacked BYU is at the skill positions: Senior running back Manase Tonga is academically ineligible and will not play in 2008 … and the Cougars likely won’t miss a beat without him. Tonga was BYU’s second-leading rusher and sixth-leading receiver in 2007, and and is regarded, according to an article this spring by Jeff Call of the Deseret Morning News, as one of the Cougars’ top blockers. But BYU returns leading rusher Harvey Unga, who ran for 1,227 yards and earned MWC Freshman of the Year honors in 2007, as well as senior Fui Vakapuna, who is healthy after an injury-plagued 2007. Add in a couple newcomers and Tonga becomes expendable.
The Cougars also return junior quarterback Max Hall, who earned first-team All-MWC honors last season and – incredibly – picked up right where John Beck (now with the NFL’s Miami Dolphins) left off. Beck has his top four receivers from 2007 back as well as most of his 2007 offensive line.
The Cougars have some questions on defense, having lost eight starters to graduation, including three of four linebackers and their entire secondary. But head coach Bronco Mendenhall’s specialty is defense, so expect the replacements to make smooth transitions.
Fast Facts: During the last two seasons, BYU has gone unbeaten against MWC competition (16-0) and unbeaten in home games (12-0). … The Cougars have won four straight over Air Force by an average of 41.8-21.3.
What Caught My Eye: How about the 10 starters back on offense? Ten! Returning starter statistics often can be misleading – what’s the big deal if a bunch of starters return from an offense that was inept? But the Cougars’ offense was the class of the MWC in 2007. Four of the 10 returners (Hall, tight end Dennis Pitta and linemen Ray Feinga and Dallas Reynolds) were first-team All-MWC selections last season.
Final Thought: BYU has the talent, experience and schedule to break into the BCS. Stewart Mandel of SI.com said in one of his recent mailbags that “BYU has all the right ingredients” to be the mid-major that earns a bid to a BCS bowl in 2008. Here’s a link to Mandel’s take on the Cougars. It’s definitely worth a look.
Jake’s Way Early Line vs. AF: BYU -13.5. Expect the Cougars to extend their winning streak against the Falcons to five games.