Sports fans are getting antsy. Basketball season is ending, with the NBA Finals just about wrapped up, and let’s be honest here — nobody really watches baseball until October anyway. There are really no more sports to watch for a few months. So we, as sports fans, must move on to the next big thing: spring football.
BYU is getting ready for its second season as Independents, and the second of its eight-year deal with ESPN. The competition is getting tougher, the team is getting better and the fans are getting louder.
[media-credit name=”Luke Hansen” align=”alignright” width=”300″][/media-credit]
After the miserable 1-3 start to last year, including the infamous 54-10 loss at home to rival Utah, the Cougars faced a lot of questions. The quarterback play was questionable at best. The defense, aside from the debacle against the Utes, was solid enough to stop the opponents from scoring, but the BYU offense couldn’t capitalize on anything.
Everything changed in the fourth quarter against Utah State. Then-junior quarterback Riley Nelson replaced the struggling Jake Heaps and turned the game and the Cougars’ season around. Nelson connected on two touchdown passes, the last one coming on a 96-yard drive, capped off with tight end Marcus Mathews touchdown catch with 11 seconds left to send the sold-out LaVell Edwards Stadium into a riot as BYU came back to win 27-24.
Suddenly, head coach Bronco Mendenhall and his Cougars had an offense that could match the intensity of the defense, and put points on the scoreboard. The Cougars went on to win six of their last seven games, and added an Armed Forces Bowl win against Tulsa, in which Nelson threw for 250 yards and 3 touchdowns, all to Cody Hoffman.
The Cougars finished ranked No. 25 in the final standings of the USA Today poll at the end of the season.
Now, they move on to this-coming season with most of the questions answered. The only question remaining is how good will the Cougars be this year?
Nelson, now a senior, returns as the quarterback on offense, equipped with a preseason first-team All-Independent status. The Cougars also return a stable of powerful running backs to help him. Juniors Michael Alisa and Josh Quezada each proved their caliber as strong between-the-tackles runners last season, with many more halfbacks available for use.
Junior Cody Hoffman returns at wide receiver, along with sophomore Ross Apo and junior tight end Mathews, each receiving all-independent honors in the preseason.
The offensive line returns three starters from last year, each of which added to the all-independent honors: senior tackle Braden Brown, junior center Houston Reynolds and senior guard Braden Hansen. Hansen is also listed as 3rd team All-American on the preseason team.
The BYU defense adds seven more players to the All-Independent Team, showing the tenacity of the defense, which was always hard to score on. Seniors Eathyn Manumaleuna and Romney Fuga shore up the defensive line, while junior Kyle Van Noy and seniors Brandon Ogletree and Uona Kaveinga headline the linebacker corps. Bringing up the secondary is junior safety Daniel Sorensen.
Both junior kicker Justin Sorensen and senior punter Riley Stephenson join the honors list, along with junior punt returner JD Falslev. Hoffman also gets a second vote for his kick returning duties.
The 17 BYU players on the preseason All-Independent Team is second place to the other independent schools, with Notre Dame achieving 20 players on the team.
The 2012 schedule features tougher opponents than last year, with road games against Notre Dame, Boise State, Georgia Tech and Utah, and home games against Washington State and Utah State.
The football team is having their media day Wednesday, June 27, in which these matchups and the season outlook will be discussed by the team itself.