Five questions for BYU Football heading into fall camp
BYU Football resumed team workouts on July 27. The team received a waiver from the NCAA to begin the six-week season preparation period, despite not having a scheduled opponent until Oct. 2 due to COVID cancellations. The Cougars’ official fall camp is set to begin on Aug. 4, so The Daily Universe is breaking down the five biggest questions heading into the most uncertain season in recent memory.
Reader submissions and suggestions from social media were also considered in these questions.
1. Is there a quarterback race?
Three different quarterbacks started for BYU last year, and all three found success. Junior Zach Wilson is the prohibitive favorite after starting nine of the Cougars’ 13 games last season, but he also went 4-5 in those nine games. Wilson was injured for four games in the middle of the season, during which the Cougars went 3-1. Junior Jaren Hall started two of those, including a loss at South Florida and a win over Utah State. Sophomore Baylor Romney started in the other two, leading BYU to victories over No. 14 Boise State and Liberty.
Since Wilson was named to the Maxwell Award watchlist on July 22, given to college football’s best player, it appears Wilson will be the week-one starter for the second year in a row. However, given the success the other two signal-callers had in limited playing time, it may not be as clear cut. The first week of fall camp will mark the first media availability with BYU coaches since March, allowing them the chance to either declare Wilson the starter or keep the race open and allow for competition through August.
2. Who is the No. 1 running back after the transfer of Devonta’e Henry-Cole?
University of Utah transfer Devonta’e Henry-Cole, also known as DHC, was set to be the featured running back for the Cougars this season. DHC ended up transferring again, this time to Utah State, before playing a single down in a BYU uniform. BYU is no stranger to unexpected holes in the run game after losing starter Ty’Son Williams to an ACL tear early last season. The three backs who stepped up in the absence of Williams are the same three BYU fans will be looking to this fall to emerge as the No. 1 option.
The most experienced of the bunch is junior Lopini Katoa, who led the running back group with four touchdowns last season, and has 12 total scores in his BYU career. Katoa also has a pair of receiving touchdowns in his time at BYU, opening up the field with another dimension to his game. For what it’s worth, Katoa also appears regularly in BYU’s social media posts and was recently the focus of a tweet requesting fan feedback on what their favorite moment was from the American Fork native last season.
Sophomore Sione Finau was the biggest benefactor of the increased opportunities in the backfield last season, coming in as a freshman and leading the Cougars in rushing yards in four straight games, all of which BYU won. The Kearns native found the end zone twice last season and ran for 102 yards against Idaho State.
The third breakout running back from last season was freshman Jackson McChesney. The young back exploded onto the scene toward the end of the season against UMass, setting a new season-high in rushing yards for the Cougars with 228. He also added two touchdowns that game. Any of these three are viable options for the No. 1 offensive weapon on the ground for BYU and may end up splitting time, similar to what they did last season.
A poll among fans on the Daily Universe Sports Twitter account shows Katoa came out the clear favorite at 62.3% of the 114 votes, followed by Finau at 22.8%.
3. What happens when a BYU player tests positive?
The final three questions are unique to this season and involve the complications created by the COVID-19 pandemic. What exactly the COVID testing looks like with BYU Athletics is not publicly known, and the department already informed The Daily Universe it will not be releasing testing results to media or the public. Athletic Director Tom Holmoe said the athletic department and BYU administration each have “COVID teams” that are working together and creating a safe environment for the student-athletes.
The big question that remains is what happens if a BYU athlete tests positive? This question becomes especially relevant as more students return to campus for the Fall Semester and the season gets up and running with travel to and from games and practices. The topic of positive tests will surely come up during media availability next week as other universities and professional leagues such as the MLB grapple with breakouts among their teams. Several professional baseball games have already been canceled due to one or more positive tests, so this is definitely an important issue to be examined.
4. What will home games look like?
This question depends largely on the state of COVID-19 in Utah at any given moment. Holmoe said on July 20 that if games were to be played right then, BYU could allow a reduced number of fans into LaVell Edwards Stadium with social distancing precautions. Exactly what this would look like and how realistic it is should come out as home games get closer.
BYU announced in June that masks will be required for all students and faculty on campus in the fall, and this will likely be the case at the stadium and other athletics venues once home games start again. If the pandemic situation in Utah worsens over the next month or if there is any kind of breakout among athletes or students at BYU, it is possible the athletic department could cut out fans altogether.
5. Who are we playing?
BYU Football was set to play the typical 12-game slate this fall, but after the Pac-12, Big Ten and Southeastern conferences decided not to play teams outside of their conferences due to the pandemic, the schedule currently sits at just six games. The first game officially on the schedule at the moment is a home game against Utah State on Oct. 2.
There were rumors swirling around in July about the possibility of BYU playing Alabama to open the season, following the cancellation of the BYU-Utah rivalry game, but those were squashed when the SEC went conference-only on July 30. Now it’s back to the drawing board for the Cougars, as Holmoe and company try to drum up another opponent at a moment’s notice.
Because BYU Football is independent of any conference, the Cougars are currently on the outside looking in, hoping that some schools and conferences allow for extended play. Another option for the Cougars is to temporarily join a conference for the 2020 season, as the ACC announced it is doing with Notre Dame. The ideal conference for BYU to join, based on the level of competition and fan aspirations, is the Big 12, which features powerhouses such as Texas and Oklahoma. Other options include the Pac-12 and Mountain West.
As of right now, the possibility of joining a Power 5 conference appears to be nothing more than a Twitter pipe dream, but if there was a season for the unlikely to become reality, it is definitely this one. As it stands, the Cougars press on with their six-game schedule, featuring Utah State, Houston, Northern Illinois, Boise State, San Diego State and North Alabama. Fans will have to wait and see if any other names join that list in the coming weeks.