BYU heads into its final year competing as an independent in football with some already high expectations, with the Cougars coming off back-to-back 10-win seasons.
The Cougars have finished each of the past two seasons ranked in the final Associated Press rankings, and some national experts see them as a top-25 program next season.
Could BYU not only match the hype, but exceed it as well?
ESPN’s Ryan McGee identified BYU as a team that could exceed expectations in 2022 in a roundtable discussion regarding several different topics about the upcoming season.
Here’s why that prediction may or may not be too far off-base.
How much returning talent does BYU football bring back?
Last year, the Cougars were last in the country in returning production, according to ESPN’s Bill Connelly, after watching players like Zach Wilson, Brady Christensen, Dax Milne, Khyiris Tonga and Chris Wilcox head to the NFL.
This year, though, it’s the opposite for BYU.
The Cougars are No. 2 in the country, returning 88% of their production, according to Connelly. BYU leads the nation in defensive returning production (97%) and is 28th on offense (80%).
The biggest question mark regarding BYU’s departed talent is who will replace Tyler Allgeier at running back, though early indications are Cal transfer Chris Brooks could fill the lead back role.
Is BYU set at quarterback?
The short answer? Yes.
Junior Jaren Hall goes into this season as the unquestioned leader of the BYU offense after winning the quarterback battle last year and throwing for 2,583 yards, 20 touchdowns and five interceptions in 10 starts. He also ran for 307 yards and three touchdowns.
The better question is whether Hall can stay healthy — he missed three games last year due to injury, including the team’s Independence Bowl loss.
Jacob Conover, Cade Fennegan and Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters are all under consideration to be Hall’s backup if he gets injured again, with former backup Baylor Romney leaving the program.
Why could BYU football exceed expectations?
McGee laid out why he feels BYU could be one of college football’s best candidates to exceed expectations once again in its final season before joining the Big 12.
“BYU’s last stand as an independent will ride on the arm (and legacy) of QB Jaren Hall, but with a gaggle of receivers, the entire defense returning (though it needs work) and a schedule made for getting attention (Stanford, Arkansas, Baylor, Oregon, Notre Dame, Boise State), the Cougars could be rolling into the Big 12 next season with some real momentum,” McGee wrote.
BYU faces four teams from Power Five conferences this year, as well as fellow independent Notre Dame. Last year, the Cougars went 6-1 against Power Five teams, including 5-0 against the Pac-12.
What stands in BYU’s way?
One obstacle that could hinder BYU is if it struggles to replace guys like Allgeier, who set the program record last year for single-season rushing yards, particularly early in the season.
In most years as an independent, the Cougars have lost to multiple Power Five teams early in the season, derailing the team’s chance to make a big national splash.
The Cougars face two Power Five schools early in the year — Baylor and Oregon — and Notre Dame in Week 6. A handful of early losses could stunt BYU’s hopes of finishing the year ranked in the top 25 for the third straight season.
BYU will also need to improve defensively, after that side of the ball piled up injuries and wore down as the season continued last season.
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