The Cougars started 2011 on the slow side but caught fire in the second half of the season and carried that momentum in to a pounding of UTEP to open the Bowl season. If Brigham Young is to get back to the postseason it will do so as an Independent as they leave the Mountain West Conference with a tailor made schedule to open the year that is guaranteed to bring in the revenue. With Texas, Mississippi, Utah and Central Florida scheduled the first four weeks there are no freebies and this isn’t a schedule conducive for a quick start and this team needs to ump out of the gates much better than in past years too have a successful season. A poor start could turn up the pressure on HC Bronco Mendenhall as patience might be short as his teams have generally been slow starters.
The focus on the offense will be on quarterback Jake Heaps who like his team was slow out of the gate but got better as the season progressed a year ago. Heap and the offense as a whole will have to adapt to new offensive coordinator Brandon Doman and his West Coast attack. The receiving corps will be led by the duo of Ross Apo and Cody Ross while there are several viable options at running back Brigham Young can turn to. The offensive line is an experienced group as well with Matt Reynolds destined to play on Sunday’s as the star of this group. The offense hopes to get off to a better start than in 2011 and the team is hopeful that ten returning starters and continued improvement from Heap will lead to a much more cohesive group than the one who looked overmatched in the first half of 2010
The Brigham Young defense is experienced as well which hopefully translates in to better performances against strong offensive teams that pushed the Cougars around in 2010. Romney Fuga gives the front three a boost as he comes in recovered from a knee injury. The secondary gets a lift from safety Daniel Sorensen also returns after completing missionary work. Linebackers Jameson Frazier and Brandon Ogletree will be prominent rushing the passer from the outside to team with defensive ends Matt Putnam and Eathyn Manumaleuna to give the Cougars a solid pass rush. The play of the front seven will be critical in defending the pass as the secondary is susceptible in this area. With the front three having plenty of depth, this group has the manpower to run multiple rotations and keep fresh legs on the field at all times which should only help the guys behind them.
The Cougars lose dependable PK Mitch Payne who hit 17 of 21 tries a year ago with Justin Sorensen scheduled to take over with a bigger leg that should give the team a shot at more points from long range. The punting is in excellent hands with Riley Stephenson possessing a cannon for a leg, having averaged 42 yards per boot. JD Falslev was solid in punt returns with nine yards per attempt and Cody Hoffman was outstanding bringing back kicks at over 27 yards per return.
The big question is can Brigham Young avoid another slow start against some decent competition. The positives are the team should be improved from where they were a year ago which says a better record is plausible and not far fetched. If the Cougars win when they should and can overcome early season doldrums a nine win campaign is not out of the question. The opposite is true if Heaps regresses but I can’t see him struggling that bad with a year of experience under his belt.