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BYU Cougars Preview: Can the Cougars Shock the Big 12?

BYU Cougars

The BYU Cougars are coming off a somewhat disappointing 5-7 year, going 2-7 in Big 12 Conference play. Their debut wasn't exactly pretty, however, the Cougars will have a chance to rebound in their sophomore season in the Big 12. Where do the Cougars stand with just under two months to go until the season begins?

Cougars Offense: The Only Way to Go Is Up

The BYU offense's story was one of ineptitude in 2023. The Cougars ranked a measly No. 109 in passing in the FBS and with that, dead last in the Big 12 in passing offense, with 205.4 yards per game. When passing was needed most, it didn't show up, with tight games being all but lost because the passing game couldn't get going.

The run game didn't help either. It ranked No. 118 in the FBS with just 104.3 yards per game. Again, the lowest in the Big 12. An offense like this somehow won games in the Big 12, a conference known for high-powered offense, so that's a plus at least. The defense held up their end of the bargain in games that they won, but this year it's time for the offense to hold up theirs, especially with new teams coming into the fold. Being No. 118 in total offense will not cut it.

For the passing game in 2024, Kedon Slovis is gone, which means a battle at quarterback. As of now, the projected starting quarterback is South Florida transfer, Gerry Bohanon. He will battle Jake Retzlaff for the starting job, a battle that offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick said would be decided in fall camp. Bohanon does not have the arm Slovis did but does have more mobility, which could be beneficial in adding more to the BYU playbook.

BYU Cougars
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Retzlaff is a junior college product who was impressive at Riverside City College (Calif.) but saw little time in 2023. His throwing abilities are what could earn him the starting job, but with Bohannon's experience at the FBS level as well as his scrambling capabilities, it's still his job to lose.

In terms of a receiving corps, the top five wide receivers return, including leading receiver Chase Roberts and promising wideout Darius Lassiter. They will have a lot of experience, which will benefit whoever is quarterback immensely. Isaac Rex is gone, but BYU has a mix of personnel at their disposal. With 11 tight ends on the roster this is the deepest group on offense, and with a mix of skillsets, the play-calling possibilities are seemingly endless with that group, which will offer further dimensions to this offense that needs as much versatility as it can get.

In terms of the run game, again, returning players show a lot of potential and depth. Leading rusher LJ Martin is back and BYU only lost Nukuluve Helu to the transfer portal, who is their only departure from the running back room to date. Combined with Bohannon's strong scrambling capabilities, the ground game should be stronger as well.

The Cougars did lose top offensive lineman Kingsley Suamataia to the NFL, which has left a massive hole along the line. However, the BYU coaching staff has emphasized the position in the transfer portal, adding two decently strong transfer linemen in former Southern Utah guard Austin Leausa and former Colorado guard Isaiah Jatta. Both are projected to start and will hopefully help the run game flourish.

Cougars Defense: Depth, Health the Name of the Game

The BYU defense is perhaps the sole reason they were competitive in games last year, and even they were decimated by things such as injuries and the big play. On paper, it doesn't exactly look great, ranking No. 106 in total defense with 417.7 yards allowed per game. However, looking deeper, the Cougars have a lot of potential, especially up front.

Ben Bywater is back and proved to be one of the best linebackers in the Big 12 last year. FCS standout defensive lineman Jack Kelly makes his way to BYU via Weber State, along with former UCLA EDGE Choe Bryant-Strother. The front seven did lose quite a bit of talent, but they will have the pieces to be successful as long as they stay healthy. Depth will be an issue though if they don't.

The same goes for the secondary, who look to add a few pieces via the portal as well. Cornerback Marque Collins joins his former Weber State teammate Kelly in Provo, and the Cougars are doing their best in trying to get former Utah safety Darrien Stewart to stay on board. Unfortunately, he re-entered the transfer portal on April 16 after enrolling at BYU.

Safety Micah Harper, who was a tackling leader in 2022 with 62 tackles, will be making his return, as well as safety Talan Alfrey, but even so, depth is still a major concern. The cornerback group should be pretty much the only piece of this defense not missing depth. Led by Jakob Robinson, this unit will seek to improve on allowing 240 yards passing per game.

Proving Doubters Wrong

Lack of depth and injuries plagued the Cougars last year, and at this point, still could be an issue going into this year. If this BYU squad stays healthy, fills the holes along the offensive line, can have more success in the passing game with a more experienced receiver group and builds off what should be a successful front seven defensively, this could be a good year for the Cougars. As of now though, things are still very much up in the air and the Cougars are picked to finish in the bottom echelon of the Big 12 by practically every preseason poll.

It's going to take a lot to prove those doubters wrong, but BYU has managed to do so before. The resolve of this program and the ability to be competitive even when on paper they aren't is certainly something to take note of. They could certainly shock a few people, but again, it's going to be an uphill climb in a new-look Big 12. Stranger things have happened though.

Check out more BYU and Big 12 football news over at College Football Dawgs.


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