Nov 16, 2013; Provo, UT, USA; Brigham Young Cougars defensive lineman Bronson Kaufusi (90) celebrates in the end zone after intercepting a Idaho State Bengals pass and running it into the end zone during the second quarter at Lavell Edwards Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Top Questions for BYU Football in 2014

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We are 226 days away until BYU travels to the east coast for their 2014 season opener against the UConn Huskies. Football never sleeps here at the Lawless Republic, so we are already thinking about the 2014 edition of the Cougar Football team.

There is always optimism and high expectations around BYU.  2014 looks to be no different.  In fact, 2014 might be one of the most important seasons for the future success of BYU Football.

Here are my top five storylines for BYU in 2014.

1. What can we expect in year two of the Go Fast, Go Hard offense?

Sep 27, 2013; Provo, UT, USA; Brigham Young Cougars offensive coordinator Robert Anae during warm-ups prior to the game against the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders at Lavell Edwards Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 27, 2013; Provo, UT, USA; Brigham Young Cougars offensive coordinator Robert Anae during warm-ups prior to the game against the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders at Lavell Edwards Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Robert Anae brought a Go Fast, Go Hard attitude to BYU Football this past season.  Anae’s vision to get a high number of offensive plays off to create more opportunities is turning out to be the future of college football.  Look at national title runner-up, Auburn.  The Tigers run an up-tempo offensive attack under offensive wizard, Guz Malzahn.  The difference between the Tigers and BYU is the direction and consistency in play calling.  Now at times during 2013, Anae was slicing and dicing opposing defenses with the calls, then there would be head scratching performances at Virginia, Nevada, Utah, and the second half against Washington.  Which made the season very frustrating at times.  What does season two hold with this offense?

Anae has the seasoned quarterback in Taysom Hill and one of the best running backs in the west with Jamaal Williams.  Those two will create some pre-season hype around BYU heading into the season.  Not just improvement, but significant improvement should be shown in this offense next year with these two stars returning.

The offense must put together a complete game in 2014.  The development of Taysom Hill will say a lot about Jason Beck and Anae.  BYU hasn’t developed a QB since Max Hall, and one can argue BYU’s development with Hall was aided by Hall sitting out a full season and gaining experience at a BCS school  (Arizona State) prior to transferring to BYU. Hill has the talent to be one of the best quarterbacks in college football.  What he did statistically in an up-and-down 2013 doesn’t happen very often in college football.  Only the 23rd player in NCAA history to put up the combination of passing and rushing yards that Hill racked up in 2013,  but can this get staff get Hill to reach his potential?   I don’t doubt Hill’s work ethic and his leadership abilities, but I still have my reservations about the staff developing a QB.

Who replaces Cody Hoffman at WR as Hill’s #1 target?  JC transfer Nick Kurtz appears to be the main candidate to be the guy.  But who at WR that has already had game experience can produce?  After Mitch Mathews it is pretty bleak right now.  That’s why BYU is actively recruiting more JUCO WR’s to come in the fall.

Then there’s the offensive line.  The offensive line was scrutinized by everyone this past season, and rightfully so.  The lack of success offensively the past few seasons can be linked to poor QB play and bad offensive line play.  I’m still a fan of Garrett Tujague, one because he has a beautiful jaw, and two I feel there was progress in 2013 with the line. I feel BYU has three solid linemen heading into 2014.  De’Ondre Wesley, Brayden Kearsley, and Ed Fusi.  Everyone else in the position leaves much to be desired.

2014 is huge for this offensive staff.  If significant improvements aren’t made, a massive staff overhaul could take place again for the third time since 2010.

2. Who replaces Kyle Van Noy as the star of the Cougar Defense?

The 2014 BYU defense has all the makings to be a group of players that few outside of Provo will know the names, but the production will be hard to ignore.

The type of impact Van Noy had on the defensive side of the ball in his BYU career will never be replaced.  He was a once in a lifetime talent that had an uncanny ability to make game changing plays at any moment.  Van Noy now heads to the NFL as one of the best defensive players to ever play in cougar blue.  Who becomes the star of the D now?  Bronson Kaufusi by all indications has the makings to be that guy.  At 6-7, Kaufusi has a potential NFL career of his own in the future at one of the most coveted positions by NFL organizations, defensive end.

One of the knacks on the 2013 defense is they struggled to create a pass rush.  The defensive line in 2014 will be much improved, and despite the loss of Van Noy and captain Uani Unga, the linebacker unit looks stout again led by Alani Fua. The front seven as a whole will be good with more depth creating opportunities for Kaufusi to be a pass rusher in 2014.  The best DE BYU has had since Ziggy Ansah.

3. Can BYU win 10 games with this schedule?

Jan 6, 2014; Austin, TX, USA; Texas Longhorns head football coach Charlie Strong speaks at a press conference in the Centennial Room of Belmont Hall at Texas-Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

On paper, the 2014 schedule lacks the marquee programs like the 2013 schedule boasted. But overall is yet another solid schedule by AD Tom Holmoe.

Remember folks this is only year four of independence.  Non-conference schedules are usually put in place five to 10 years in advance for most BCS schools.  There are going to be seasons where the schedule doesn’t boast all the “names” that people want to see.  But don’t sleep on this schedule.  People weren’t too thrilled with the 2012 schedule, and by season’s end that was a slate that boasted five teams ranked in the final AP Top 25.

With the 2014 schedule looking to be weaker than previous seasons, it’ll add that much more pressure on BYU to win, and win big.  10-wins was achieved under Mendenhall five times in a six-year stretch.  Can they get back to that threshold again in 2014?  At first glance based on what we know here in the month of January, I would say BYU gets close, but comes up short. Right now I’m saying 9-3 or 8-4 with losses against Texas, Houston, UCF, and some head scratching game that none of us saw coming.  It’s happened the last two years with Virginia and San Jose State, who’s to say the cross country trip to Storrs, CT is a guaranteed win?  I’ve seen crazier things in my time as a BYU fan.

As is the case every year with BYU, if they can pull together a season where they can win 10+ games, they will be on the marquee ESPN networks and will have a chance to be in the Top 25 poll.

BYU needs to get back to being in the top 25 poll.  Since turning independent, BYU has had one week in the top 25 poll.  That was week three of the 2012 season heading into a road game against Utah.  Yes, BYU did have a top 25 finish in 2011 at #25, but some of that has an asterisk next to it as USC who went 10-3 in that season was banned from the coaches poll as part of their NCAA sanctions.  Would show progress in the program if BYU can get back as a weekly fixture in the polls.

And a bonus storyline that ties into the schedule, where will BYU end up for the bowl season? For the past three seasons BYU has had a contracted bowl if they were to get bowl eligible.  What happens in 2014 with BYU’s post-season fate?  I’m expecting BYU to have a similar approach to what Notre Dame in 2013.  Have a wait and see approach and hope conferences don’t fill all their automatic slots, giving BYU a postseason destination.  If BYU’s bowl eligible, they will be bowling.  Where?  I would expect the Armed Forces Bowl would be in play if Army doesn’t get eligible, which is likely.  The bowl is contracted to have the Black Knights if they win six games.

4. Who is the kicker?

It’s a position that is easy to forget about but special teams can be the difference in ball games.  As was the case in BYU’s last outing against Washington in the Fight Hunger Bowl.

Justin Sorensen graduates, thus ending one of the most hyped careers for a college kicker in the history of the sport.

Remember in 2008 how the season storylines went something like this, does BYU make a BCS Bowl?  Will Parade All-American kicker Justin Sorensen make a 70-yarder?  We were all smitten by the thought of this unicycle-riding version of Tom Dempsey.

Sorensen was a star at Bingham High but injuries and a lack of consistency left many underwhelmed with how Sorensen’s career played out.  Who takes over in 2014?  Right now there isn’t many options to be honest.

There’s a kid named Moose and Trevor Samson.  Doesn’t conjure up much confidence in my opinion right now.  BYU hasn’t had consistent play from the kicker spot since Jared McLaughlin quietly set records back in 2006.

Special Teams as a whole needs to get better.  A lot of the struggles with special teams in recent years can be blamed on Bronco not hiring a coach to be the special teams coordinator only.  Kelly Poppinga currently holds down that title but he also occupies his time coaching up the outside linebackers.

5. Will this team have strong leadership?

Jmace and I talked about this on a podcast a few weeks back.  BYU football’s best teams have always had great leadership, especially during the Bronco era.  Think of Cameron Jensen, Bryan Kehl, John Beck, Max Hall, Kelly Poppinga, Austin Collie, Curtis Brown.  These were all guys that were the best players on their respective teams and they set the tone day-in and day-out for BYU Football to be great.  Those teams were great because 1) they had NFL talent and 2) they had great leaders.

BYU has had the NFL talent the past few years with Ziggy, KVN, and Hoffman.  But where has the leadership been?  It was a very telling thing that guys like Van Noy and Hoffman were not captains this past season.   Skyler Ridley’s and JD Falslev’s of the world being named captain is a nice feel good story, but the success of a football team benefits more when your most talented athletes are also your leaders.  KVN and Hoffman were not that.  Doesn’t take away from all the accomplishments they had on the field at BYU, but off the field and within the locker room, there was much to be desired.  Will this 2014 team have the leadership that it desperately needs?

Dec 27, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; BYU Cougars quarterback Taysom Hill (4) carries the ball against the Washington Huskies in the 2013 Fight Hunger Bowl at AT

Obviously Taysom Hill will be looked upon to lead this team, and he has the personality to do that.  Think back to the Heaps and Riley Nelson debacle, the locker room was divided.  Everyone is on board with Hill.  For the first time since the off-season leading into 2009, BYU has a clear-cut starter at QB and also have a QB who is working his tail off to get better.  Hill has that “it” factor that few have.  What Hill lacks as a passer is made up for with his intangibles on and off the field.  You can’t help but get excited for the possibilities with Hill the next two seasons as BYU’s signal caller.

On defense, Jordan Johnson, Craig Bills, and Bronson Kaufusi are the players that will be looked upon to lead.  Bills and Kaufusi are more reserved personalities but now need to step into the spotlight.  Jordan Johnson has a lot of personality and instantly brings a huge upgrade, if healthy, to the cornerback position in 2014.

Post in the comments section your top storylines for the 2014 BYU Football season.

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Tags: Alani Fua Auburn Brayden Kearsley Bronco Mendenhall Bronson Kaufusi Cody Hoffman Craig Bills De'Ondre Wesley Ed Fusi ESPN Garrett Tujague Go Fast Go Hard Jamaal Williams Jason Beck Jordan Johnson Kyle Van Noy Mitch Mathews Nick Kurtz Robert Anae Taysom Hill Tom Holmoe Trevor Samson Vance Moose Brigham

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