Updated on July 24, 2023
The Big-12 BYU football season is upon us. What the Cougars do with it remains to be seen.
Will the Cougars be able to do this on the field to look and keep it?
The Big 12 is always competitive and the bottom of the league always seems to win.
When it comes to conference contention, a Big 12 fan can say, “Your 1-3 might be good….but our 5-12 is dominant.
So where will the Cougars be? That is the next question.
I preview BYU’s upcoming season below and take a quick look at last season and examine the offense, defense, and system.
2022 in Comments
There are a lot of big pieces missing from the 2022 squad, but still plenty of talent, and plenty of talented newcomers. And this is a program that is on the rise with a record of 29-9 over the past three years.
But… The level of competition this season. But … 5-0-mark vs Pac-12 teams a few seasons ago. But… Yeah, well, there’s more to it than that one question. Let’s try and consider some of them.
Last season, the offense averaged 31.3 yards per game and produced 424.2 yards of offense per game. The stadium’s rating was the 36th best in the country.
Although there are pieces of the case that were missing last season, Kalani Sitake made it back through the transfer portal.
Jaren Hall threw for 3,171 yards, 31 touchdowns, and just six interceptions last season. He is now a Minnesota Viking, and in his place is Kedon Slovis.
Slovis may not produce with his legs like Hall did last season—Hall rushed for 350, Slovis for 68—but the former USC/former Pitt QB brings more than 9,973 yards and 68 TDs to Provo.
The QB position won’t be an issue as the Cougars have some depth at the position. Jake Ratzlaff, a JUCO transfer, would also be a good option, as would Cade Fennegan, via Boise State, as the third choice.
The QB room isn’t the only part of the offensive backfield that has a lot of new faces. Christopher Brooks was the leading rusher last season with Lopini Katoa third leading (Hall was second).
All the running backs are gone but Aidan Robbins comes in via UNLV, as well as Dion Smith from Colorado and QB-turned-RB Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters.
In Robbins, the Cougars have a runner who could be the leading scorer in the Big-12 this season and a First Team All-Conference player.
BYU should make more this season than it did from three last year, which totaled 1,499. If BYU can get 1500+ out of the three that should be seen as a solid campaign.
The offensive line will have little to do with the backfield, obviously.
Clark and Campbell Barrington are now at Baylor but the Cougars brought in Paul Maile from Utah to play and Caleb Etienne from Oklahoma State should be at right tackle.
Opponents of Etienne is the basis of the line of Kingsley Suamataia who can shoot the team of the NFL Draft next April with his skills and frame (6-foot-6, 315 pounds).
Suamataia deserves All-Conference honors. This is a line that allowed just 13 sacks in 2022, 13th in the nation, and should be even better this season. He will make a way for the backs to run.
On the outside, the Cougars no longer have Puka Nacua, as he will be catching the balls for the Rams now. But they do return Keanu Hill who led the team with seven TD receptions last season and averaged 15.9 yards per catch.
Chase Roberts is another receiver who can stretch the field as he averaged 16.2 yards per reception as a freshman. Kody Epps was the third receiver last season and is back to give Slovis plenty of scoring.
And of course, they had transfers: Darius Lassiter and Keelan Marion add depth while Isaac Rex is a solid TE.
The offense should not miss a beat in the Big 12’s transition.
As good as the offensive line was last season, the defensive line was a mirror image. In their five losses in 2022, the Cougars recorded zero sacks.
They had just 15 on the season and their 1.15 per game was worse than any team in America except Colorado. If you look at the 15 total, seven of them came in two wins over Stanford and Baylor.
Jay Hill is the new defensive coordinator and will need to produce more from the front four. Injuries all over the defensive side of the ball were a big issue, but the run of the middle let them down.
No run, resulting in third conversion. Opponents converted 45.8% of their third downs, and that defensive mark was 121st in the nation.
The lack of urgency means a lack of forced returns, as BYU only produced 12 carries in 2022, 117th in the nation.
Tyler Batty should generate pressure from the end but will need someone on the line to step up. Jackson Cravens could be that insider.
Although the line had some problems, the rest showed up. Ben Bywater is solid under center, leading the team with 98 tackles and three interceptions in 2022.
Max Tooly could be an All-Big 12 player at the OLB position, caught three passes in 2022 and two returned for TDs, and collected 57 tackles despite missing five games.
AJ Vongphachanh should also be a player. The Utah State transfer could create chaos in the backfield and collapse on defense.
Both safeties return to Micah Harper and Talan Alfrey while both cornerbacks will be new starters with Jakob Robinson and Eddie Heckard likely the Islanders guys.
BYU had just eight interceptions last season and only two came via DBs. Alfrey and Robinson each had one.
The bottom line is that the Cougars need to create challenges this season. Give the Big 12 QBs time to work and improve on third downs and we might see a shootout.
So the Cougar “D” has to force opponents this season, or the only thing they can force is their offense to keep them on the board.
2023 BYU Cougars Football Schedule
September 2 vs. Sam Houston
September 9 vs Southern Utah
September 16 in Arkansas
September 23 in Kansas
September 29 vs Cincinnati
October 14 at TCU
October 21 vs Texas Tech
October 28 in Texas
November 4 in West Virginia
November 11 vs Iowa State
November 18 vs Oklahoma
November 25 at Oklahoma State
The nonconference portion of the schedule sees BYU open with Sam Houston and Southern Utah before returning to a home-and-home with Arkansas.
A 3-0 start would be nice, but a 2-1 start is important. BYU has five road games and four home games in conference play, avoiding Kansas State and Baylor—missing two of the top five in the conference is fine.
Between the three other big boys (Texas, Oklahoma, and TCU) they get the Sooners at home and go to TCU and UT. UCF is another team the Cougars avoid and another team in the top half of the conference.
Between the 50/50 games Cincinnati and Iowa State are in Provo while WVU and Kansas are on the road.
So open with two wins, get at least two of the 50-50s and knock down a couple of uppercuts and go bowling…. or maybe it’s the top half…or maybe…???
Yes, there are many unknowns about BYU in the transition from Independent to the Big 12. And we may not have many answers right now.
But the Cougars look like they should be alone in the new conference this season, especially with their offensive fire.
And it also looks like the Cougars should be in a good place for the future of football. (But what about baske-We’ll get there in November!)