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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|
|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?
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|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|
|Q1 Rk||51||1st Down Rk||54|
|Q2 Rk||21||2nd Down Rk||51|
|Q3 Rk||60||3rd Down Rk||33|
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.
Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Taysom Hill||6'2, 221||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||236||438||2938||19||14||53.9%||37||7.8%||5.7|
|Christian Stewart||6'2, 201||Sr.||NR|
|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%|
| Jordan Leslie
|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|
|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|
|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)|
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.
|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|
|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|
|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.
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|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|
|Q1 Rk||27||1st Down Rk||11|
|Q2 Rk||30||2nd Down Rk||29|
|Q3 Rk||3||3rd Down Rk||25|
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.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|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|
|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)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|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|
|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|
|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.
|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|
|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|
|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.
|Scott Arellano||6'1, 190||Sr.||80||41.0||10||19||28||58.8%|
|Adam Hine||KR||6'1, 202||Jr.||31||27.2||0|
|Paul Lasike||KR||6'0, 227||Sr.||10||20.8||0|
|Special Teams F/+||95|
|Field Goal Efficiency||65|
|Punt Return Efficiency||98|
|Kick Return Efficiency||41|
|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
|9-Oct||at Central Florida||27|
|24-Oct||at Boise State||23|
|1-Nov||at Middle Tennessee||98|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||11.1% (28)|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||73|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||2 / 5.0|
|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.