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Now would be a great time for a BYU breakthrough. Can a new head coach deliver?

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Former BYU fullback Kalani Sitake takes over for Bronco Mendenhall against another tricky schedule, all while the country waits to see if the Big 12 comes calling. This is Bill C's daily preview series, working its way through every 2016 team. Stay tuned!

Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here. Below, a unique review of last year's team, a unit-by-unit breakdown of this year's roster, the full 2016 schedule with win projections for each game, and more.

1. Change can be good

Bronco Mendenhall is a very good coach, probably the second-best BYU has ever had. A quick glance at SRS ratings shows LaVell Edwards fielded 17 of BYU's 25 best teams, but Mendenhall is in second place with six.

In a time of upheaval, with BYU leaving the Mountain West in favor of football independence amid ongoing Big 12 rumors, Mendenhall guided well. In five years as an independent, BYU never won fewer than eight games and three times ranked in the S&P+ top 40.

In 2015, for the sixth time in Mendenhall's 11-year tenure, BYU won at least nine games. The Cougars scored thrilling wins over Nebraska and Boise State, mostly dominated lesser opponents, and showed resilience after a disastrous start against Utah in the Las Vegas Bowl. Down 35-0 after 10 minutes and a deluge of turnovers, they got to within 35-28.

BYU seemed to hit a ceiling under Mendenhall, but it was a pretty good ceiling, one that nobody besides Edwards has managed. I defended Mendenhall pretty frequently to BYU fans. That Mendenhall wasn't as successful as Edwards was a point of resentment, but Edwards was a once-in-a-lifetime hire. Almost anybody BYU could hire would fail in comparison.

If Mendenhall would have stayed at BYU for another 10 years and then retired, that would have probably worked out just fine. A certain propensity for borderline-dirty play would have resulted in a few more incidents, but Mendenhall would have won about 75 to 90 games, probably with a couple of 10- or 11-wins seasons.

That said, his departure for Virginia might not be the worst thing. For one thing, he didn't think he was going to get another 10 years.

"There was a significant change toward the end of last season. It was pretty clear – no, that’s an understatement. It was crystal clear that I had done what I was capable of and supposed to do at BYU with the time I was there."

It appeared this was a coaching marriage gone stale. Mendenhall didn't know what else he could do to move the program forward through independence, and at some point BYU administration was going to get tired of only beating mediocre and bad teams. Mendenhall welcomed Virginia's advances, and BYU got a chance to start over.

Because the BYU head coach needs to be a member in good standing with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Cougars don't really have the option of making coaching changes too frequently, as the pool of qualified candidates isn't particularly deep. (Only three men have coached BYU since 1972.)

But in that pool were some intriguing names, and once Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo passed, the Cougars landed one of the more accomplished young defensive coaches in the West. Former BYU fullback and Utah/Oregon State defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake takes over.

The 40-year-old has spent 13 of his 15 years as a coach in Utah, taking a sojourn to Oregon State in 2015. He is familiar with the job and its requirements; he checks a lot of boxes. Now we get to find out if he's a good head coach.

2015 Schedule & Results

Record: 9-4 | Adj. Record: 9-4 | Final F/+ Rk: 35 | Final S&P+ Rk: 38
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Win
Expectancy
vs. S&P+ Performance
vs. Vegas
5-Sep at Nebraska 36 33-28 W 69% 77% +9.1 +12.0
12-Sep Boise State 37 35-24 W 72% 65% +15.6 +14.0
19-Sep at UCLA 28 23-24 L 35% 9% +15.9 +16.0
26-Sep at Michigan 8 0-31 L 4% 0% -23.8 -26.0
2-Oct Connecticut 80 30-13 W 84% 99% -2.4 -1.0
10-Oct East Carolina 73 45-38 W 66% 76% -2.6 -1.0
16-Oct Cincinnati 72 38-24 W 93% 100% -5.6 +7.5
24-Oct Wagner N/A 70-6 W 98% 100% +18.1
6-Nov at San Jose State 89 17-16 W 79% 94% -12.2 -12.5
14-Nov vs. Missouri 75 16-20 L 37% 36% -17.8 -10.5
21-Nov Fresno State 103 52-10 W 94% 100% +18.7 +16.0
28-Nov at Utah State 53 51-28 W 75% 86% +23.3 +20.0
19-Dec vs. Utah 22 28-35 L 40% 20% -6.2 -4.5

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 32.1 48 23.2 34
Points Per Game 33.7 40 22.8 34

2. Shaky when it counted most

Mendenhall's teams were their own worst enemy at times, making the one error they absolutely couldn't and sometimes wasting their best performances in games that didn't matter.

In 2015, the Cougars played three of their four worst games against the three best teams on the schedule.

  • Average Percentile Performance (vs. F/+ top 30): 26% (~top 95) | Record: 0-3 | Yards per play: Opp 5.2, BYU 4.1 (-1.1)
  • Average Percentile Performance (vs. everyone else): 77% (~top 30) | Record: 9-1 | Yards per play: BYU 6.6, Opp 4.8 (+1.8)

That's not how you ingratiate yourself to a fanbase. In two of these three, the Cougars' tenacity either kept them close (against UCLA) or allowed them to battle back (Utah), but on a per-play basis, an offense that was so good against almost everybody else was mistake-prone.

The UCLA and Michigan games came right after exhausting wins, and the Utah game came after Mendenhall's announced departure. Building narratives off of a small sample can be a pretty foolish exercise. Still, in a marriage that was already problematic, these performances didn't help.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.30 45 IsoPPP+ 113.2 31
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 42.3% 61 Succ. Rt. + 109.5 33
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 30.1 73 Def. FP+ 29.5 62
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 5.2 7 Redzone S&P+ 118.1 16
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 21.7 ACTUAL 20 -1.7
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 49 32 33 31
RUSHING 112 49 51 43
PASSING 21 35 22 38
Standard Downs 34 29 36
Passing Downs 33 39 27
Q1 Rk 26 1st Down Rk 31
Q2 Rk 41 2nd Down Rk 76
Q3 Rk 14 3rd Down Rk 8
Q4 Rk 36

3. A familiar face

Sitake was a fullback in college and spent two years as an offensive asisstant for Southern Utah (2003-04); he's not a total blank slate when it comes to offense. Still, one assumes he'll play more of a day-to-day role on defense.

And he's handed over the offense to somebody who might know a thing or two about running the BYU offense.

Detmer won the 1990 Heisman, threw for 15,031 yards and 121 touchdowns in his Cougar career, then threw for 6,351 more in a a decent pro career.

After a stint as an investor took a nasty turn, he ended up in coaching. In five years of leading St. Andrews Episcopal School in Texas, he converted a winless team into one that went 8-1 last year. And now he takes a huge leap, from a small private school in Austin to the coaches' box at LaVell Edwards Stadium.

High school coaching experience hones your teaching skills, but we'll see how Detmer does as a first-time play-caller at the college level. He is going to slow things down a bit, huddling between plays and attempting to vary formations -- think of something midway between last year's BYU offense and the typical Stanford offense. One assumes Detmer's mind is sharp, but we'll see if there are any growing pains.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Tanner Mangum 6'3, 215 So. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9448 267 446 3377 23 10 59.9% 29 6.1% 6.7
Taysom Hill 6'2, 230 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8484 21 34 268 1 1 61.8% 3 8.1% 6.9
Beau Hoge 6'1, 201 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8258 10 17 137 1 1 58.8% 1 5.6% 7.2
Koy Detmer Jr. 5'10, 170 So. 2 stars (5.2) NR 3 3 57 0 0 100.0% 0 0.0% 19.0
Jaren Hall 6'1, 195 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8549








4. This might be awkward

After throwing for 2,938 yards and rushing for 1,344 in 2013, the electric Taysom Hill missed most of the last two years with injury. In what was supposed to be his senior season last fall, he suffered a season-ending foot injury in the opening game. He was granted a sixth year of eligibility, which is great news, and he elected to stay in Provo.

One problem: In Hill's absence, freshman Tanner Mangum thrived. Recently back from a two-year LDS mission, the former blue-chipper threw for 3,377 yards. He struggled against some of the better defenses -- passer rating against UCLA, Michigan, Missouri, and Utah: 97.3; against everybody else: 160.3 -- but he cleared every hurdle you could ask a freshman to clear. And he seems tailor-made for whatever a Detmer offense becomes.

One would assume that if Mangum were to win the starting job, there could still be a short-yardage or goal line package to utilize Hill. Still, BYU basically has two returning starting quarterbacks, and that could be both a blessing and a curse. The moment one struggles, the urge to shuffle to the other could be strong.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Algernon Brown RB/FB 6'1, 245 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8495 127 709 11 5.6 6.4 37.8% 4 1
Jamaal Williams
(2014)
RB 6'2, 220 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8335 112 517 4 4.6 3.5 36.6% 2 1
Adam Hine RB 64 326 2 5.1 6.0 37.5% 1 1
Francis Bernard RB 52 334 7 6.4 5.1 53.8% 2 1
Nate Carter RB 37 148 2 4.0 10.5 18.9% 0 0
Tanner Mangum QB 6'3, 215 So. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9448 33 100 2 3.0 2.3 27.3% 5 3
Beau Hoge QB 6'1, 201 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8258 15 57 2 3.8 2.2 40.0% 0 0
Riley Burt RB 6'1, 206 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8166 14 86 0 6.1 7.3 42.9% 1 1
Taysom Hill QB 6'2, 230 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8484 6 83 2 13.8 9.4 83.3% 0 0
Colby Hansen RB 5'11, 195 Jr. NR NR 5 17 0 3.4 1.5 40.0% 0 0
Toloa'i Ho Ching RB 6'1, 240 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8525
Squally Canada
(Washington State)
RB 5'11, 200 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8520
Brayden El-Bakri FB 6'0, 236 So. NR NR
Sione Finau RB 5'11, 170 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8232

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
Yds/
Target
%SD Success
Rate
IsoPPP
Mitch Mathews WR 105 54 737 51.4% 21.9% 7.0 66.7% 41.0% 1.68
Devon Blackmon WR 78 46 669 59.0% 16.3% 8.6 57.7% 42.3% 1.81
Nick Kurtz WR 6'6, 210 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8705 63 39 578 61.9% 13.2% 9.2 61.9% 54.0% 1.57
Terenn Houk WR 55 37 490 67.3% 11.5% 8.9 56.4% 63.6% 1.24
Mitchell Juergens WR 5'10, 181 Sr. NR NR 55 37 471 67.3% 11.5% 8.6 58.2% 49.1% 1.54
Colby Pearson WR 6'0, 203 Sr. NR NR 30 22 210 73.3% 6.3% 7.0 56.7% 50.0% 1.19
Francis Bernard RB
20 17 156 85.0% 4.2% 7.8 65.0% 60.0% 1.20
Algernon Brown RB 6'1, 245 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8495 17 13 71 76.5% 3.5% 4.2 64.7% 35.3% 1.28
Remington Peck TE/DE 13 7 75 53.8% 2.7% 5.8 61.5% 53.8% 0.88
Moroni Laulu-Pututau WR 6'4, 211 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7867 10 6 112 60.0% 2.1% 11.2 60.0% 40.0% 2.44
Kurt Henderson WR 7 4 58 57.1% 1.5% 8.3 42.9% 28.6% 2.45
Adam Hine RB 6 4 15 66.7% 1.3% 2.5 100.0% 16.7% 1.09
Trey Dye RB/WR 5'9, 179 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8120 4 4 67 100.0% 0.8% 16.8 50.0% 75.0% 2.08
Josh Weeks TE 6'4, 232 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8590 3 3 23 100.0% 0.6% 7.7 66.7% 66.7% 0.90
Akile Davis WR 6'2, 191 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8164 3 1 9 33.3% 0.6% 3.0 100.0% 33.3% 0.69
Bryan Sampson TE 6'4, 235 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8484
Garrett Juergens WR 5'10, 184 Sr. NR NR
Tanner Balderree TE 6'3, 248 Jr. NR NR
Nate Sampton TE 6'2, 240 So. NR NR
Jonah Trinnaman WR 6'0, 190 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8743
Hank Tuipulotu TE 6'3, 225 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8083
Alevi Hifo WR 5'10, 180 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8267

5. The QB of choice can work with this

The reinstatement of center Tejan Koroma, who has been suspended for much of the offseason, should ensure BYU has a steady line. The Cougars' line stats were neither good nor bad last year, but they return almost their entire two-deep, sans guard Ryker Matthews. And size isn't an issue -- the eight returnees with starting experience average 6'4, 313.

But whether Detmer is going with a run-friendly look with Hill in the backfield or wants an all-out, five-receiver attack, it would appear he's got the pieces.

Jamaal Williams -- another veteran who got hurt last year (he got hurt, then withdrew from school for a semester, anyway) -- returns, and last year's leading rusher, Algernon Brown, will move to more of a fullback role. With Hill, that would give BYU three accomplished runners in the same backfield. And between Washington State transfer Squally Canada and sophomore Riley Burt, the Cougars could have decent halfback depth.

The receiver position has thinned out but returns solid weapons. Nick Kurtz averaged 9.2 yards per target and came up especially big against Nebraska and Cincinnati (combined: 11 catches, 242 yards), Mitchell Juergens has caught 65 passes over two years, and sophomore Moroni Laulu-Pututau had a couple of big catches last year and was a 2016 spring star. Four-star JUCO Jonah Trinnaman could play a role, too. Depth might be a concern with a couple of injuries, but if the injury bug is kind, this group could be excellent.

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 103.2 2.76 3.28 38.3% 68.4% 20.3% 91.2 5.9% 7.3%
Rank 55 85 62 75 47 85 75 86 62
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. 2015 Starts Career Starts Honors/Notes
Ryker Mathews LG 11 33
Kyle Johnson RG 6'4, 319 Sr. NR NR 7 27
Tejan Koroma C 6'0, 290 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7719 12 25
Ului Lapuaho LG 6'7, 333 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8373 10 18
Brad Wilcox LT 6'7, 310 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8081 12 12
Tuni Kanuch RG 6'3, 325 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8484 8 12
Parker Dawe C 6'3, 301 Sr. NR NR 2 2
Austin Hoyt RT 6'8, 282 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8549 2 2
Jaterrius Gulley LG 6'2, 346 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000 1 1
JJ Nwigwe LT 6'5, 278 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7948 0 0
Jacob Jimenez LG 6'5, 292 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7923 0 0
Quin Ficklin C 6'3, 280 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8009 0 0
Thomas Shoaf RT 6'5, 265 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8353

Austin Chambers OL 6'4, 270 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8416

Lisala Tai OL 6'7, 310 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8219

Caden Haws OL 6'2, 275 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8104


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Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.19 34 IsoPPP+ 104.4 48
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 39.2% 47 Succ. Rt. + 102.6 54
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 29.4 79 Off. FP+ 29.8 72
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 3.9 25 Redzone S&P+ 111.9 26
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 18.1 ACTUAL 22.0 +3.9
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 23 54 54 48
RUSHING 34 72 54 82
PASSING 31 49 60 41
Standard Downs 65 67 70
Passing Downs 33 41 31
Q1 Rk 60 1st Down Rk 47
Q2 Rk 6 2nd Down Rk 24
Q3 Rk 49 3rd Down Rk 61
Q4 Rk 61

6. A Sitake-Tuiaki defense

If you're a fan of a rival, you could point out that when Sitake left his job as Utah defensive coordinator to take the same job at Oregon State, OSU's defensive ratings plummeted (from 73rd to 110th in Def. S&P+) while Utah's improved (from 30th to 14th). That would be ignoring the talent Utah returned and the talent Oregon State didn't, but it's a reminder that Sitake's aggressive defense doesn't work with just any personnel.

New coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki served as Sitake's defensive line coach at Utah and linebackers coach at Oregon State. Their Utah defense was a unique mix of conservative run defense and ultra-aggressive pass defense. The Utes had a spectacular pass rush and an aggressive secondary that was willing to get beaten a few times in the name of making plays.

At first glance, it would seem the personnel could fit. BYU is incredibly experienced in the secondary, and while leading pass rusher Bronson Kaufusi is now a Baltimore Raven, six players with at least three sacks last fall return. Run defense might be a question mark, but experience is good up front, too.

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 99.8 2.68 2.62 33.1% 60.5% 25.1% 155.5 6.8% 11.5%
Rank 63 35 13 12 31 9 5 14 12
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Bronson Kaufusi DE 13 54.0 7.6% 19.5 10.5 1 2 3 0
Sae Tautu DE 6'4, 245 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8111 13 31.0 4.4% 9.0 4.0 0 0 0 0
Sione Takitaki DE 6'2, 240 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8510 6 17.0 2.4% 7.0 3.5 0 0 0 0
Tomasi Laulile DE 6'4, 288 Sr. NR NR 12 20.0 2.8% 5.5 3.0 0 0 0 1
Logan Taele DE 6'2, 299 Sr. NR NR 13 19.5 2.7% 6.5 1.5 0 0 0 0
Travis Tuiloma NT 6'2, 301 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7889 9 18.0 2.5% 3.0 3.0 0 0 0 0
Graham Rowley DE 13 14.0 2.0% 2.5 0.5 0 0 0 0
Kesni Tausinga DE 6'1, 309 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8432 11 6.5 0.9% 2.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Remington Peck DE 13 4.5 0.6% 1.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Tevita Mo'Unga NT 6'2, 322 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8478 7 3.5 0.5% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Moses Kaumatule DE 6'2, 262 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8600 7 1.5 0.2% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Troy Hinds DE 6'5, 245 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9230
Handsome Tanielu DT 6'2, 285 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8903
Zac Dawe DT 6'4, 274 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8479
Uriah Leiataua DE 6'4, 238 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8382
Trajan Pili DE 6'2, 225 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8282
Freddy Livai DE 6'4, 256 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8079

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Fred Warner OLB 6'4, 227 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8921 13 56.0 7.9% 11.5 4.0 2 1 0 1
Harvey Langi OLB 6'3, 249 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9068 11 54.5 7.7% 6.5 4.5 2 1 0 0
Manoa Pikula OLB 11 42.0 5.9% 3.5 2.0 0 0 0 0
Jherremya Leuta-Douyere ILB 11 39.0 5.5% 2.5 0.5 0 1 0 0
Teu Kautai OLB 11 12.5 1.8% 2.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Austin Heder ILB 6'2, 240 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8366 13 10.5 1.5% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Butch Pau'u ILB 6'0, 223 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8581 8 6.5 0.9% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Va'a Niumatalolo LB 6'2, 231 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) NR 3 3.5 0.5% 1.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Phillip Amone LB 6'0, 240 So. 3 stars (5.5) NR 2 2.0 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Scott Huntsman OLB 6'2, 227 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7826 5 2.0 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Lene Lesatele OLB 6'2, 245 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8269 4 2.0 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Rhett Sandlin OLB 6'3, 249 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.7900 7 2.0 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Tyler Cook LB 6'3, 230 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8478
Francis Bernard ILB 6'1, 239 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8081
Morgan Unga OLB 6'5, 205 So. NR NR
Keenan Pili LB 6'3, 210 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8465
Alema Pilimai LB 6'4, 205 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8405
Hirkley Latu LB 6'3, 200 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8287
Solofa Funa LB 6'2, 225 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8096
Johnny Tapusoa ILB 5'10, 225 Fr. NR NR

7. Depth? Check. Ace pass rusher? Not sure

Kaufusi was a constant distraction for opposing blockers, and it's possible that his presence created a residual effect, opening up opportunities for others. BYU ranked fifth in Adj. Sack Rate, and there's no guarantee that the Cougars will post another high rating despite Sitake's defensive mentality and the pieces he inherits.

It's hard to see the rating falling too far, however. After some position changes, BYU boasts three effective ends and a unique pass rushing weapon in tackle Travis Tuiloma. Outside linebackers Fred Warner and Harvey Langi also proved effective attackers.

Shuffling has placed interesting players in attacking roles, but it has opened up a hole at inside linebacker, where senior Austin Heder and Butch Pau'u could battle to prove they can quarterback this front seven effectively.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Michael Wadsworth SS 13 65.5 9.2% 2.5 0 0 4 0 0
Kai Nacua FS 6'2, 208 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7891 12 52.5 7.4% 1 0 6 6 0 0
Micah Hannemann SS 6'0, 200 Jr. NR NR 13 39.0 5.5% 1.5 1 2 7 0 0
Michael Davis CB 6'2, 190 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7785 13 24.5 3.5% 1.5 0 0 9 1 0
Michael Shelton CB 5'8, 175 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7954 12 21.0 3.0% 2 0 1 2 0 0
Jordan Preator FS 6'0, 180 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7783 8 18.5 2.6% 1 0 1 1 1 0
Kavika Fonua (2014) FS 6'0, 215 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7000 11 12.5 1.6% 1 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Hadley FS 6'0, 210 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8292 11 12.0 1.7% 2 0 0 2 0 0
Grant Jones SS 6'6, 205 Jr. NR NR 12 12.0 1.7% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Chris Badger FS 6'0, 191 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8641 13 10.5 1.5% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Eric Takenaka SS 5'10, 210 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8056 10 9.5 1.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Zayne Anderson DB 6'2, 198 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8268 8 3.0 0.4% 0 0 0 0 0
Sawyer Powell DB 6'1, 194 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8432
Akile Davis CB 6'2, 191 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8164
Dayan Lake CB 5'11, 203 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8730
Troy Warner CB 6'1, 192 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9008
Max Tooley DB 6'2, 195 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8608
Drew Jensen DB 6'2, 195 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8516
Isaiah Kaufusi DB 6'2, 175 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8015

8. The secondary should be strong

Sitake's approach can treaten to fail if the secondary isn't up to snuff. But after a year of shuffling and injury -- 10 players recorded at least 9.5 tackles, but only four played in all 13 games -- the Cougars appear to return both experience and play-making ability.

Safety Kai Nacua, corner Michael Davis, and corner-turned-safety Micah Hannemann combined to defense 30 passes last year, and every returning DB (plus sophomore Kavika Fonua, who missed 2015) proved they could make plays near the line of scrimmage. This unit will get burned here and there, which is scary considering some of the quarterbacks on the 2016 schedule (Arizona's Anu Solomon, UCLA's Josh Rosen, WVU's Skyler Howard, Boise State's Brett Rypien, Cincinnati's Gunner Kiel). But if the risk-to-reward balance is solid, and the pass rush is strong, BYU could survive.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Jonny Linehan 6'0, 201 Sr. 62 42.7 3 19 18 59.7%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Austin Brasher 6'0, 183 Sr. 74 63.2 33 3 44.6%
Corey Edwards 6'0, 217 So. 7 56.4 1 0 14.3%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Trevor Samson 52-55 9-10 90.0% 5-7 71.4%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Riley Burt KR 6'1, 206 So. 13 24.5 0
Devon Blackmon KR 5 16.8 0
Michael Shelton PR 5'8, 175 So. 10 11.0 0
Micah Hannemann PR 6'0, 200 Jr. 10 3.5 0
Category Rk
Special Teams S&P+ 51
Field Goal Efficiency 33
Punt Return Success Rate 97
Kick Return Success Rate 79
Punt Success Rate 94
Kickoff Success Rate 57

9. Shore up that coverage unit

Losing place-kicker Trevor Samson hurts; he was the best special teams weapon BYU had last year. But while we wait to see if a new kicker can produce similar reliability, BYU could help itself significantly by hemming in return men a bit better. Despite solid distance and quite a few fair catches from punter Jonny Linehan, BYU ranked just 110th in opponent punt return average.

2016 Schedule & Projection Factors

2016 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk Proj. Margin Win Probability
3-Sep vs. Arizona 64 5.7 63%
10-Sep at Utah 39 -2.9 43%
17-Sep UCLA 12 -4.6 40%
24-Sep vs. West Virginia 33 -0.8 48%
30-Sep Toledo 58 8.2 68%
8-Oct at Michigan State 22 -8.7 31%
14-Oct Mississippi State 21 -1.7 46%
20-Oct at Boise State 36 -3.4 42%
5-Nov at Cincinnati 70 3.4 58%
12-Nov Southern Utah NR 26.5 94%
19-Nov Massachusetts 127 29.0 95%
26-Jan Utah State 73 11.2 74%
Projected wins: 7.0
Five-Year F/+ Rk 19.4% (32)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 66 / 70
2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* 2 / -3.6
2015 TO Luck/Game +2.2
Returning Production (Off. / Def.) 70% (67%, 73%)
2015 Second-order wins (difference) 8.6 (0.4)

10. Another huge September

In a revealing offseason interview, Bronco Mendenhall said he didn't think BYU's football independence was viable long-term. And in what may have been a surprising response, AD Tom Holmoe more-or-less agreed. But whatever "long-term" means, BYU is attempting to prove itself with brutal early-season scheduling.

The Cougars faced Nebraska, Boise State, UCLA, and Michigan in September last year and take on Arizona, Utah, UCLA, Michigan State, and Mississippi State this time. LSU, Utah, Wisconsin, and Mississippi State are lined up for 2017. The Big 12 could come calling in that time, though if we've learned anything from the last six years, it's that the Big 12 cannot be counted on.

Regardless, the Sitake hire is fiercely important for the future. Sustainable for 50 years or not, BYU is independent right now and has a chance to prove itself in 2016 and beyond. And he should have a pretty good team. BYU appears to have the pieces its famous offensive coordinator needs, and if the secondary can avoid getting burned, the defense could be strong, too. This could easily be a top-30 team, and there are plenty of opportunities for statement wins.