With the college football season only days away, it's the perfect opportunity to break down how the BYU Cougars will do this upcoming season and what fans can expect. Things can go in plenty of different directions, and we will take a look at each of those scenarios in what I like to call, the good, the bad and the most likely. What that means is the best-case scenario, worst-case scenario and what will probably happen.
The Cougars are coming off an 8-5 record and a loss to the Washington Huskies in the Fight Hunger Bowl. This time around, expectations are much higher for BYU thanks to a handful of returning stars and a much lighter schedule. While chances of success are high, there are still some big questions to answer thanks to some player suspensions and the loss of some all-time great players from both sides of the ball.
Taysom Hill is back under center after putting up the best rushing season by any Cougar signal caller in school history. The Cougars also return plenty of talent on the offensive line and in the back field. In fact, all five players who rushed for more than 200 yards last season are back, including junior speedster Jamaal Williams who rushed for 1,233 yards and seven scores in 2013.
BYU also returns a pair of talented wide-outs in Ross Apo and Mitch Mathews as well as a very capable tight end in Devin Mahina. They won't be Hill's only options through the air however. Thanks to some excellent recruiting and a pair of senior eligible transfers, the Cougars have one of their deepest groups of wide receivers in a long time. The most notable of the incoming receivers are junior college transfers Nick Kurtz and Devon Blackmon as well as transfers Jordan Leslie (UTEP) and Keanu Nelson (Stanford). While each player has different skill sets, they all have the talent to help BYU have a great season.
The defense also has plenty of talent coming back, including some players who missed last season due to injury. The strength of the defense just may be the secondary. Craig Bills, Robertson Daniel and Skye PoVey are all back after seeing significant time. They will be joined by Nebraska transfer Harvey Jackson and Jordan Johnson, who had a great year in 2012 before he missed 2013 with an injury. The front seven also has some notable players returning, including Bronson Kaufusi, Remington Peck and Alani Fua.
With all the good coming back for the Cougars, the best-case scenario would be a special season by all accounts. They are so deep and talented on the offensive end that the injury to Nick Kurtz and the early season suspensions of Jamaal Williams and Devon Blackmon won't slow them down a bit. Hill will continue to shine as a dual-threat quarterback and come away with another 1,000-yard season. He will also have a much better season through the air thanks to all of his extra weapons. Tallying 3,500 yards in the passing game is not out of the question as well as a 60 percent mark on his completions. Jamaal Williams will add another 1,000-plus-yard season and put himself on the doorstep of breaking the all-time rushing record at BYU.
Bills will pick up where he left off and lead the back end of the defense to another solid year. Fua will fill the huge hole left by the loss of Kyle Van Noy and will get plenty of help from Harvey Langi and Zach Stout. Kaufusi will make the transition from the defensive line to linebacker and become the All-American-caliber player that he has shown flashes of in the past few seasons.
With the lighter schedule, the Cougars have enough talent to run the table and find their way into a New Year's Day bowl game.
BYU lost more than its fair share of big-time players to graduation, and there are some big shoes to fill. The biggest of those are on the defensive end where the Cougars lost Eathyn Manumaleuna, leading tackler Uani Unga, hard-hitting safety Daniel Sorensen, Spencer Hadley and Van Noy. The offense was hit hard by departures as well, including the receiving core. Gone are JD Falslev, Skyler Ridley and all-time leading receiver Cody Hoffman as well as backup quarterback Ammon Olsen.
Taysom Hill really struggled with his accuracy a year ago and now his three favorite targets are gone. Also gone are his two biggest weapons in the passing game from the tight end spot in Brett Thompson and Kaneauka Friel. With so many new players to incorporate in the passing game, chances of Hill improving will be more difficult.
Although the ramifications seem much smaller than when first reported, there is still an NCAA ruling hanging over the Cougars. On top of that, they already have a pair of suspensions to deal with for the UConn game.
The worst-case scenario is that the brutal travel schedule and the loss of some very talented players will be very difficult for the Cougars to get over. While the schedule isn't as tough as a year ago, there are still some very good teams on the docket, and most of those games are on the road. Suspensions and injuries may be too much for BYU to overcome, and the Cougars may struggle to a 6-6 season.
The most likely
Thanks to a remarkable showing by the offensive line, the Cougars put on a show on the offensive side of the ball and put up more than 35 points a game. Taysom Hill makes improvements with his accuracy and ends up with plenty of weapons, taking trips to the end zone in the passing game. Jamaal Williams manages another 1,000-yard campaign while Algernon Brown, Paul Lasike and Adam Hine give the Cougars plenty of talented options in the backfield. The running game (including Hill) puts up more than 3,000 yards to make BYU one of the most balanced teams in the country.
The defense has a hard time replacing so many good players, but they have enough talent and leadership to stay in every game. Bills, Fua, Kaufusi and Johnson all make big plays along the way as the Cougar defense has another quality season. BYU overcomes one of the toughest travel itineraries in the nation and finishes with a 10-3 record.