4 questions for BYU football heading into fall camp

Rise and shout, the Cougars are out.

A month after finally entering the Big 12, BYU football has opened fall training camp this week prior to its inaugural campaign competing within the conference.

It was a busy offseason for the Cougars, with a number of coaching changes, transfer portal additions and other pieces of drama having kept things interesting since December. The stakes and storylines of fall camp should be even more intriguing. Here are four critical questions that should be on fans’ minds as practices begin.

Which Kedon Slovis is BYU getting this year?

Arguably the most important piece of BYU’s offseason puzzle was acquiring Kedon Slovis from the transfer portal, putting a grizzled Power 5 veteran under center for the Cougars to replace Jaren Hall.

Entering his fifth season of collegiate action, Slovis brings a plethora of experience to BYU, yet he’s still much more of a wild card than a sure thing. Slovis passed for 5,423 yards and 47 touchdowns at USC between 2019-20, appearing to be the next in a proud tradition of prolific Trojan quarterbacks, only to be benched midway through the 2021 campaign, transfer to Pitt and post an underwhelming 2022 with just 10 touchdowns, nine interceptions and a concerning 58.4% completion mark.

Slovis definitely isn’t entirely to blame for his past few years. His USC tenure hit a snag once head coach Clay Helton was fired in early 2021. Injuries plagued the Arizona native on occasion, and his time at Pitt was filled with questionable play-calling and conflict among the coaching staff, contributing to an environment where success proved near impossible.

At one point, Slovis was a true Heisman candidate. Aaron Roderick coveted Slovis out of the portal and went all-in on the fifth year senior. BYU legend and quarterback guru John Beck even helped in the push to Provo, stressing that Roderick’s efficient offensive scheme would put Slovis in the best position to get back to his prime form and hear his name called in the NFL draft this April.

BYU will only go as far this year as Slovis can take them. The offensive line can protect him. The run game can stabilize him. The receiving weapons can bless him. If Slovis can take hold of the offense quickly, improve his decision making and leave his turnover gene in Pittsburgh, the Cougars can compete on offense with any team in the league.

What will Jay Hill’s revamped Cougar defense look like?

To say BYU’s defense was disappointing in 2022 would be an understatement.

The Cougars could seemingly never get off the field, struggled to generate pressure and didn’t have sufficient depth to combat the physicality of their schedule.

Enter Jay Hill.

With Ilaisa Tuiaki and Ed Lamb out the door, Hill was hired from Weber State to lead the BYU defense into Big 12 battle. Hill’s tenure at Weber elevated the Wildcats to FCS powerhouse status largely because of his dominant defensive squads, and now his IQ on defense is needed in Provo more than ever.

It shouldn’t be too difficult for Hill to improve upon 2022’s 15 total sacks and 29.5 points allowed per game, but that alone won’t be enough to give BYU the advantage it needs defensively. With new transfers in cornernback Eddie Heckard, defensive lineman Isaiah Bagnah and others joining the likes of Ben Bywater, Max Tooley and Tyler Batty, Hill’s scheme will need to create chaos from all three levels to frustrate complex opposing Big 12 offenses and give the Cougars a defense that can win games rather than just not lose them.

Who will emerge as BYU’s go-to receiving threat?

Unfortunately for the Cougars, Puka Nacua isn’t here to bail them out anymore.

BYU has lost its most talented receiver in Nacua and its most experienced receiver in Gunner Romney, opening the door for a number of younger pass-catchers to make a splash in the Big 12.

But who will Slovis’ top target be?

Keanu Hill and Kody Epps stand atop of the Cougar receiving corps, both having shined bright over the past few years. Should Epps remain healthy for a full season — something he has yet to do at BYU — his presence in the slot and post-catch talent could make him the most dangerous weapon in Slovis’ arsenal.

The Cougars also brought in key transfers in Darius Lassiter and Keelan Marion for additional depth, with Chase Roberts impressing during spring ball as well. Perhaps Isaac Rex even rebounds from his injury-hampered 2022 at tight end to get back to his monstrous red zone target form.

Who will win the starting kicker competition?

There are some big cleats to fill in BYU’s special teams unit.

With the program’s all-time leading scorer Jake Oldroyd graduating, the Cougars currently have no clear choice for the starting kicker job. Justen Smith — Oldroyd’s backup for the past two seasons — has reportedly medically retired, further complicating the search for Oldroyd’s heir apparent.

BYU brought in Boise State transfer Will Ferrin in the offseason along with three freshmen in returned missionary Matthias Dunn, Hawaiian prospect Jordan Kapisi and Ryan Rehkow’s younger brother Landon. Ferrin should be the favorite to earn the job as camp begins, but there will certainly be a full, elaborate competition to ensure this year’s kicking improves from last year’s five missed field goals from Oldroyd.

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