The big BYU football preview: Stats, identity, and the breakthrough

Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

BYU has been a top-30 team on paper for each of the last two seasons, but has only back-to-back 8-5 records to show for it. Can Bronco Mendenhall's Cougars break through against a weaker schedule this time around?

SB Nation 2014 College Football Countdown

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1. Spreadsheet vs. win column

Sometimes the numbers see it before the eyes do.

When Jimbo Fisher took over at Florida State, he inherited a program that had finished in the F/+ top 40 just once in Bobby Bowden's final three seasons. Fisher's Seminoles improved to 18th in 2010 and 10th in 2011, but FSU fans were still a bit impatient thanks to only decent win-loss records (10-4 in 2010, 9-4 in 2011). Injuries and close losses were holding them back. Even in 2012, when the 'Noles ranked fifth in the F/+ rankings, they still managed to figure out a way to lose to NC State and blow a late lead against Florida to finish 12-2.

FSU's rapid rise became clear in 2013, however. For the third straight season, FSU took a nice step forward on paper, and that finally translated to a truly elite record and season.

The numbers tell a slightly more confusing, if still somewhat encouraging, story about BYU.

On paper, Bronco Mendenhall's Cougars have rebounded. After a stellar 11-2 campaign in 2009 (with a No. 22 F/+ ranking), they fell to 7-6 and 58th in 2010. They rebounded to 40th in 2011, however, then put a top-30 product on the field in both 2012 (23rd) and 2013 (30th).

That sounds appealing. However, after going 4-1 in one-possession games in 2011 (which contributed to an overachieving 10-3 record), BYU has gone 2-6 in such games in 2012-13. The result: back-to-back 8-5 seasons and a feeling of general stagnation. Fan interest has waned a bit, both because of records and style of play, and while we'll save the "Is winning all that matters (or do we need to be entertained while winning, too)?" discussion for another time, the bottom line is that the spreadsheets have a different view of BYU football than the eyeballs do.

Is this the year the two views align? And would that be a good or bad thing?

2013 Schedule & Results

Record: 8-5 | Adj. Record: 11-2 | Final F/+ Rk: 30
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L 5-gm Adj. Avg.
31-Aug at Virginia 79 16-19 L 16.3 - 14.7 W
7-Sep Texas 35 40-21 W 38.3 - 28.2 W
21-Sep Utah 31 13-20 L 19.1 - 27.3 L
27-Sep Middle Tennessee 85 37-10 W 37.2 - 6.8 W
4-Oct at Utah State 32 31-14 W 32.7 - 19.0 W 9.5
12-Oct Georgia Tech 34 38-20 W 38.2 - 22.7 W 12.3
19-Oct at Houston 46 47-46 W 37.1 - 30.2 W 11.7
25-Oct Boise State 45 37-20 W 36.1 - 22.0 W 16.1
9-Nov at Wisconsin 19 17-27 L 26.2 - 20.0 W 11.3
16-Nov Idaho State N/A 59-13 W 29.1 - 19.5 W 10.4
23-Nov at Notre Dame 26 13-23 L 26.1 - 26.8 L 7.2
30-Nov at Nevada 88 28-23 W 29.1 - 24.1 W 6.8
27-Dec vs. Washington 18 16-31 L 28.3 - 18.2 W 6.0
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk Spec. Tms. Rk
F/+ +2.8% 51 +13.8% 15 -1.7% 95
Points Per Game 30.2 54 22.1 22
Adj. Points Per Game 30.3 52 21.5 15

2. A mid-season peak

BYU mastered the art of the competitive loss in 2013. After throttling Texas for 550 rushing yards in a 40-21 Week 2 win, the Cougars basically only got noticed while putting up a decent fight and eventually falling to ranked teams. They lost by 10 points at No. 22 Wisconsin and No. 20 Notre Dame, and after failing to capitalize on some second-quarter scoring opportunities (they crossed Washington's 40 on four consecutive possessions but settled for field goals three times), they eventually waned in the Fight Hunger Bowl and fell by 15.

In between those losses, when people weren't really paying attention, BYU looked awesome.

Adj. Points Per Game (first 3 games): BYU 24.6, Opponent 23.4 (plus-1.2)
Adj. Points Per Game (next 5 games): BYU 36.3, Opponent 20.1 (plus-16.2)
Adj. Points Per Game (last 5 games): BYU 27.8, Opponent 21.7 (plus-6.1)

After a frustrating home loss to Utah, BYU won five games in a row -- four by double digits, five against teams that went to bowls. This quite obviously boosted their ratings, and it raised expectations just enough to make the three losses at the end more frustrating.

BYU was clearly good in 2013, but the angst from BYU fans is understandable. The Cougars have everything you need as a good program other than actual, quantifiable breakthrough wins. Since 2010, BYU is 1-11 against ranked opponents and 32-8 against unranked opponents. In the last two years, those splits are 1-7 and 15-3.

When the Cougars have an athletic edge, they destroy you with it. But the offense has disappeared against good opponents (average score against ranked opponents the last two years: Opponent 21, BYU 14), and it has been costly. Does that change in 2014?

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.16 59 IsoPPP+ 108.2 27
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 41.9% 71 Succ. Rt. + 100.6 59
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 28.2 32 Def. FP+ 102.4 30
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 3.6 110 Redzone S&P+ 103.8 45
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 23.4 ACTUAL 21 -2.4
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 14 44 60 15
RUSHING 10 17 60 5
PASSING 73 68 60 51
Standard Downs 34 49 19
Passing Downs 66 64 72
Q1 Rk 51 1st Down Rk 54
Q2 Rk 21 2nd Down Rk 51
Q3 Rk 60 3rd Down Rk 33
Q4 Rk 84

3. The pace checklist

Robert Anae spent six seasons (2005-10) as Bronco Mendenhall's offensive coordinator at BYU before heading to Tucson to serve as Rich Rodriguez's run game coordinator at Arizona. His last BYU offense (2010) had fallen apart, but before that things were promising. BYU ranked 12th in Off. F/+ in 2007, 19th in 2008, and 22nd in 2009. And in his absence, the pace and points both slowed to a halt.

Mendenhall brought Anae back into the fold in 2013, promising an up-tempo, eyeballs-friendly offense. He delivered on the former. Based on run-pass ratios, BYU attempted 14.3 more plays per game than the average team last fall, the highest number in the country. Four of the top five rushers -- quarterback Taysom Hill, running backs Jamaal Williams and Adam Hine, H-back Paul Lasike -- averaged at least 5.5 highlight yards per opportunity (note: anything over 5.0 is pretty explosive). Leading receiver Cody Hoffman averaged 15.7 yards per catch.

BYU had big plays to go around and operated at a breakneck pace. So where did things go wrong? BYU's biggest issue was in simple efficiency: the Cougars didn't make enough mundane plays to go with the big ones. The downside of pace is that if you go three-and-out, you go three-and-out in the blink of an eye. Do that enough, and your defense suffers.

In terms of per-play and per-drive output, BYU's offense was basically the same in 2013 as it had been in 2012; the Cougars ranked 52nd in Off. F/+ in 2012 and 51st in 2013. Perhaps that was all BYU could have asked for, considering the Cougars were starting a new quarterback, working under a new system, and shuffling offensive linemen like a deck of cards.

But now the quarterback is familiar with the system, the backfield returns mostly intact, and last year's line shuffling is this year's rich experience. If BYU's offense is capable of improving, it will do so in 2014, perhaps by quite a bit. And if it doesn't, BYU will probably lose a few more 21-14 games.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Taysom Hill 6'2, 221 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 236 438 2938 19 14 53.9% 37 7.8% 5.7
Ammon Olsen 1 3 4 0 0 33.3% 0 0.0% 1.3
Christian Stewart 6'2, 201 Sr. NR

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Carry
Opp.
Rate
Jamaal Williams RB 6'0, 200 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 217 1233 7 5.7 6.4 36.9%
Taysom Hill QB 6'2, 221 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 209 1573 10 7.5 6.1 54.1%
Paul Lasike HB 6'0, 227 Sr. NR 59 351 1 5.9 5.5 44.1%
Algernon Brown HB 6'1, 219 So. 3 stars (5.7) 48 234 2 4.9 4.1 33.3%
Adam Hine RB 6'1, 202 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 38 224 1 5.9 9.6 31.6%
Michael Alisa RB 32 99 3 3.1 1.1 28.1%

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Cody Hoffman WR 110 57 894 51.8% 26.4% 56.3% 8.1 119 8.0 95.6
Jordan Leslie
(UTEP)
WR 6'3, 210 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 77 44 612 57.1% 27.6% 48.5% 7.9 45 8.7 67.5
Skyler Ridley WR 63 38 453 60.3% 15.1% 60.7% 7.2 -23 6.6 48.5
JD Falslev SLOT 46 35 329 76.1% 11.1% 55.6% 7.2 -62 7.3 35.2
Mitch Mathews WR 6'6, 206 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 39 23 397 59.0% 9.4% 50.0% 10.2 106 10.1 42.5
Ross Apo WR 6'3, 207 Sr. 4 stars (5.9) 32 14 204 43.8% 7.7% 60.0% 6.4 -6 6.8 21.8
Jamaal Williams RB 6'0, 200 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 25 18 125 72.0% 6.0% 70.8% 5.0 -81 5.3 13.4
Brett Thompson SLOT 6'3, 220 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 22 12 153 54.5% 5.3% 63.6% 7.0 -6 6.8 16.4
Kaneakua Friel TE 22 11 128 50.0% 5.3% 47.6% 5.8 -25 5.8 13.7
Devin Mahina TE 6'6, 247 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 10 7 64 70.0% 2.4% 90.0% 6.4 -17 8.2 6.8
Paul Lasike HB 6'0, 227 Sr. NR 9 5 30 55.6% 2.2% 33.3% 3.3 -35 2.7 3.2
Eric Thornton WR 5'10, 180 Jr. NR 8 1 6 12.5% 1.9% 0.0% 0.8 -31 0.5 0.6
Terenn Houk SLOT 6'4, 213 Jr. NR 8 2 8 25.0% 1.9% 83.3% 1.0 -35 3.2 0.9
Kurt Henderson WR 6'1, 180 Jr. NR 6 4 84 66.7% 1.4% 100.0% 14.0 36 3.3 9.0
Michael Davis WR 6'2, 180 So. 2 stars (5.3)
Colby Pearson WR 6'0, 190 So. NR
Nick Kurtz WR 6'6, 205 Jr. 4 stars (5.8)
Devon Blackmon WR 6'1, 185 Jr. 3 stars (5.5)

4. Transfusion

There's reason to be really excited about the BYU run game this year. Efficiency really was an issue, but the potential is obvious. The Cougars had 117 rushes of 10+ yards in 2013, sixth in the country, and they return their top five ball-carriers and a line with all sorts of continuity. I would expect said continuity to lead to increased rush efficiency, and if BYU is staying on schedule more frequently with that epic pace, opposing defenses will wear down.

Still, whether this is a solid offense or a very good one depends on the passing game. When the Cougars fell behind schedule, they were not very adept at catching back up, and that was with the services of all-or-nothing Cody Hoffman and possession receivers Skyler Ridley and JD Falslev. It's rare to improve your passing attack while replacing your top three targets, but BYU will have at least a chance of doing that.

Reason No. 1: Mitch Mathews. It probably isn't a coincidence that BYU's offensive output slowed down when Mathews was lost with a shoulder injury against Wisconsin. Mathews emerged as a solid No. 2 threat during BYU's five-game win streak, catching 17 passes for 312 yards and four touchdowns (three against Utah State).

Reason No. 2: Jordan Leslie. UTEP's leading receiver for each of the last two years, he's on his way to Provo as a graduate transfer. He averaged 16.7 yards per catch in 2012-13, and while there's no guarantee he can be as productive as Hoffman, he was close to that with lesser personnel in El Paso.

If Mathews and Leslie are able to provide a solid one-two punch, the rest of the receiving corps takes shape nicely. Between Ross Apo, Brett Thompson, and junior college transfers Nick Kurts (a four-star get) and Devon Blackman, the Cougars should be able to find a solid No. 3 guy. And with a potentially strong, more efficient run game, the Cougars probably won't need more than three key targets.

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 118.1 3.42 3.66 42.3% 76.7% 16.6% 79.9 7.5% 8.7%
Rank 7 9 30 33 17 23 95 112 91
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Career Starts Honors/Notes
Solomone Kafu LG 6'2, 315 Sr. 2 stars (4.9) 19
Ryker Mathews RT 6'6, 309 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 17
Michael Yeck RT 6'8, 292 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 13
Manaaki Vaitai LG 11
De'Ondre Wesley RT 6'7, 330 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 9
Terrance Alletto LG 6'3, 292 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 7
Kyle Johnson RT 6'4, 295 So. NR 7
Edward Fusi C 6'0, 317 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 6
Brock Stringham RG 6'6, 290 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 6
Brayden Kearsley RG 6'4, 295 So. 4 stars (5.8) 2
Brad Wilcox LT 1
Parker Dawe C 6'3, 284 So. NR 0
Austin Chambers OL 6'5, 297 Fr. 3 stars (5.6)
Tuni Kanuch RG 6'2, 325 Fr. 3 stars (5.6)
Ului Lapuaho LT 6'7, 230 Fr. 3 stars (5.5)

5. This line could be spectacular

In game one, BYU's starting line was (from left to right), Ryker Mathews, Solomone Kafu, Terrance Alletto, Brock Stringham, and Michael Yeck. Kafu struggled and was replaced by Manaaki Vaitai, with others shuffling around. Two games later, Kyle Johnson and De'Ondre Wesley entered the lineup, and Kafu reentered it. Then Brayden Kearlsey replaced Johnson.

By the end of the season, BYU had changed its starting lineup seven different times, and 11 different linemen finished the season with starting experience. That's crazy. Even crazier: BYU still ranked seventh in Adj. Line Yards. BYU's offense might have struggled against good teams, but against less-than-great defensive fronts, the Cougars dominated despite the revolving door.

That could mean great things for 2014. Nine of the 11 players with starting experience return (86 career starts), and BYU boasts quite a bit of depth overall, especially as Kearsley, a former four-star recruit, gets more experienced and three-star freshmen like Tuni Kanuch (a former defensive lineman who is back from a two-year mission) enter the mix.

Pass protection could be an issue, not in small part because Hill is a mobile quarterback who tries to do a bit too much at times, but BYU wants to run a lot and should have a line capable of providing running lanes.

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.09 40 IsoPPP+ 106.0 37
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 35.6% 9 Succ. Rt. + 114.2 19
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 29.8 73 Off. FP+ 100.5 55
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 3.6 11 Redzone S&P+ 122.9 8
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 28.4 ACTUAL 23.0 -5.4
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 48 21 19 26
RUSHING 57 11 20 19
PASSING 46 33 25 60
Standard Downs 18 15 26
Passing Downs 30 22 74
Q1 Rk 27 1st Down Rk 11
Q2 Rk 30 2nd Down Rk 29
Q3 Rk 3 3rd Down Rk 25
Q4 Rk 62

6. Bronco knows defense

BYU ranked 10th and 15th in Def. F/+ over the last two seasons. The Cougars were beefy up front and boasted the services of Kyle Van Noy, an all-time great at OLB, but even before 2012 the Cougars ranked in the Def. F/+ four times in five years.

Without Van Noy, and with quite a bit of turnover up front, we might be looking more at a top-40 defense than top-15, but it's hard to worry too much about a Bronco Mendenhall and Nick Howell defense. The Cougars run a sound, stout 3-4, and losses up front could be countered to a degree by a potentially loaded secondary.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 114.2 2.54 3.01 32.9% 55.3% 22.5% 91.3 3.3% 6.3%
Rank 21 16 31 9 7 22 77 99 75
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Eathyn Manumaleuna NT 13 34.5 4.2% 6.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Remington Peck DE 6'4, 250 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 13 30.0 3.7% 4.0 3.0 0 1 0 0
Marques Johnson NT 6'2, 308 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 13 25.5 3.1% 2.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Michael Doman DE 4 4.5 0.6% 2.5 1.0 0 0 0 0
Merrill Taliauli DE 8 4.0 0.5% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Logan Taele DE 6'2, 251 Jr. NR 10 3.0 0.4% 2.0 1.0 0 1 0 0
Graham Rowley DE 6'4, 280 Jr. 3 stars (5.7)
Kesni Tausinga DE 6'1, 285 Fr. 3 stars (5.6)
Travis Tuiloma NT 6'2, 320 Fr. 2 stars (5.4)
Kalolo Utu DL 6'1, 300 Sr. 2 stars (5.4)
JonRyheem Peoples NT 6'4, 339 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6)
Zac Dawe NT 6'4, 280 Fr. 3 stars (5.5)
Isaiah Nacua DE 6'3, 250 Fr. 3 stars (5.5)
Uriah Leiataua DE 6'3, 245 Fr. 3 stars (5.5)

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Uani' Unga MLB 13 99.5 12.2% 7.5 0.0 0 3 1 1
Kyle Van Noy WLB 13 54.0 6.6% 17.0 4.0 2 7 0 0
Alani Fua SLB 6'5, 215 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 13 47.0 5.8% 5.0 3.0 2 9 0 0
Austen Jorgensen LB 8 34.5 4.2% 1.0 0.0 0 0 1 0
Tyler Beck BLB 12 30.0 3.7% 2.5 0.0 0 0 1 0
Bronson Kaufusi DE/WLB 6'7, 263 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 13 29.0 3.6% 7.0 4.0 1 6 1 0
Spencer Hadley SLB 6 24.0 2.9% 2.5 1.0 1 2 0 0
Manoa Pikula BLB 6'1, 235 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 13 23.0 2.8% 4.0 3.0 0 4 0 0
Jherremya Leuta-Douyere BLB 6'0, 236 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 12 13.0 1.6% 2.5 0.0 0 0 1 0
Teu Kautai MLB 6'1, 220 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 3 3.5 0.4% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Michael Alisa SLB 6'1, 220 Sr. 2 stars (5.4)
Zac Stout MLB 6'1, 217 Sr. 3 stars (5.6)
Austin Heder MLB 6'1, 241 So. 3 stars (5.6)
Sae Tautu WLB 6'3, 245 So. 2 stars (5.3)
Fred Warner LB 6'3, 210 Fr. 4 stars (5.8)
Tyler Cook LB 6'3, 220 Fr. 3 stars (5.7)
Sione Takitaki LB 6'3, 240 Fr. 3 stars (5.6)

7. A test of recruiting and depth

System and coaching mean a lot on defense, and generally speaking, losses on defense are less costly than the same amount of losses on offense.

That said, 2014 will be a test of BYU's system, coaching, depth, recruiting, and everything else. The Cougars in no way had a one-man defense in 2013, but the loss of Van Noy is still significant. He was one of college football's best play-makers, and BYU is tasked with replacing not only him, but three other starters up front. The Cougars played basically four linemen all season (including Bronson Kaufusi, who appears to have moved to OLB in Van Noy's absence (and could be absolutely terrifying with his size), so while two of the three return, the loss of stalwart Eathyn Manumaleuna could hurt. There are plenty of candidates to replace him, and BYU is not hurting for size.

Still, we can't assume that newcomers to the rotation are automatically going to succeed.

Meanwhile, five of last year's top six linebackers are gone, leaving Alani Fua and Kaufusi to man the outside spots while relative newcomers fill in on the inside. Again, there is a wealth of candidates here, from Manoa Pikula to some highly touted freshmen. But the level of proven production has diminished significantly.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Craig Bills KAT 6'1, 205 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 12 64.0 7.8% 2.5 0 2 7 1 0
Robertson Daniel CB 6'1, 198 Sr. NR 13 56.5 6.9% 1 1 2 6 1 0
Daniel Sorensen KAT 13 52.0 6.4% 4 0 2 12 1 0
Jordan Johnson
(2012)
CB 5'10, 185 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 12 41.5 6.6% 1.5 0 1 15 0 1
Skye PoVey FS 5'11, 200 Sr. NR 12 39.0 4.8% 1 0 1 5 0 0
Mike Hague CB 8 33.5 4.1% 1 1 0 5 0 0
Blake Morgan DB 13 27.5 3.4% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Harvey Jackson
(Nebraska)
S 6'2, 210 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 10 26.5 3.8% 1 0 0 0 0 0
Michael Davis CB 6'2, 180 So. 2 stars (5.3) 9 15.5 1.9% 1 0 0 1 0 0
Dallin Leavitt FS 5'11, 198 So. 3 stars (5.5) 13 14.5 1.8% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Kai Nacua KAT 6'1, 205 So. 2 stars (5.4) 8 8.5 1.0% 2 0 0 2 0 0
Chris Badger DB 6'0, 197 So. 3 stars (5.7) 10 5.0 0.6% 0.5 0 0 0 0 0
Michael Wadsworth DB 6'1, 205 Jr. NR 13 4.5 0.6% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Trevor Bateman CB 5'9, 178 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 1 2.0 0.2% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Trent Trammell CB 6'0, 190 Jr. 2 stars (5.4)
Kavika Fonua DB 5'11, 185 Fr. 3 stars (5.5)

8. A loaded secondary

There's a decent amount of turnover in the secondary, but that might not be a bad thing. Pass defense was a relative weakness, from the pass rush to the secondary's propoensity for giving up big plays.

The pass rush might not improve (it might not regress, either), but with the return of cornerback Jordan Johnson and the addition of Nebraska transfer Harvey Jackson, BYU could be able to account for the loss of safety Daniel Sorensen (an underrated play-maker) and Mike Hague. Johnson was a breakout stud in 2012 but was lost with injury before the season began. With Craig Bills and Johnson back, one should once again expect BYU's secondary to get its hands on some passes and make plays near the line.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Scott Arellano 6'1, 190 Sr. 80 41.0 10 19 28 58.8%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Justin Sorensen 80 63.0 37 1 46.3%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Justin Sorensen 45-45 18-21 85.7% 3-5 60.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Adam Hine KR 6'1, 202 Jr. 31 27.2 0
Paul Lasike KR 6'0, 227 Sr. 10 20.8 0
JD Falslev PR 26 9.7 1
Cody Hoffman PR 8 8.6 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 95
Field Goal Efficiency 65
Punt Return Efficiency 98
Kick Return Efficiency 41
Punt Efficiency 102
Kickoff Efficiency 108
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 88

9. Field position wins, field position losses

BYU's relationship with field position was confusing in 2013. The Cougars had an inefficient offense and sketchy kick and punt coverage but still ranked 30th in (opponent-adjusted) defensive field position. Meanwhile, the defense was all sorts of efficient, and kick returner Adam Hine was awesome, but BYU ranked 55th in offensive field position.
Sometimes the pieces don't always fit together on the spreadsheet, I guess, especially when BYU's involved. Regardless, Hine returns, which is a good thing.

2014 Schedule & Projection Factors

2014 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
29-Aug at Connecticut 93
6-Sep Texas 38
11-Sep Houston 42
20-Sep Virginia 62
3-Oct Utah State 49
9-Oct at Central Florida 27
18-Oct Nevada 70
24-Oct at Boise State 23
1-Nov at Middle Tennessee 98
15-Nov UNLV 101
22-Nov Savannah State NR
29-Nov at California 82
Five-Year F/+ Rk 11.1% (28)
Two-Year Recruiting Rk 73
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* 2 / 5.0
TO Luck/Game -1.1
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 13 (8, 5)

10. A top-30 team goes 10-2 (in theory)

BYU's scheduling since leaving the Mountain West has been pretty fun and impressive; the Cougars have played Ole Miss, Texas, UCF, Oregon State, TCU, Washington State, Utah, Boise State, Notre Dame, Georgia Tech, Wisconsin, Houston, and Utah State over the last three years, among them those eight ranked opponents since the start of 2012.

BYU has also gone just 8-5 in each of the last two years, and the natives are getting restless.

So maybe it's a good time for a lesser slate. The Cougars play just two teams projected in the top 30, and one of the two (Boise State) is projected there more because of previous years' successes than anything that happened in 2013. Teams like Utah State or Boise State might end up ranked, but BYU might get to the end of the regular season having played only one ranked team (UCF). That's not exciting, but if the defense stays sound, that could result in a breakthrough in the win column. And if these wins coincide with an offensive surge -- certainly conceivable -- maybe that will do more to excite the fanbase than playing good teams and losing.

BYU's in an interesting spot right now; the Cougars are a top-30 team without top-30 results, a team going through a bit of a shift in identity. The Cougars struggled on offense recently but returns a lot of experience on that side of the ball, and they dominated on defense but have a lot of production to replace.

They are a pretty good "optimist vs. pessimist" test case, because whatever you think is going to happen with BYU this year, you've got evidence on your side.

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