Like many fans, I have a positive and hopeful outlook for the 2014 BYU football team. The mix of an experienced offense, favorable schedule, and a Bronco Mendenhall defense give fans a reason to be optimistic. Oftentimes, BYU fans are criticized for having lofty expectations and high hopes for their team during the offseason. With this in mind, I’m providing fans with blue-goggled predictions for 2014. I am not saying that any or all of these will come true, but it’s fun to think about these happening.
1. Jamaal Williams will break Harvey Unga’s rushing record.
Harvey Unga set BYU’s all time rushing record during his junior season in 2009. The record currently stands at 3,455 yards. Jamaal Williams is the only back that has had a realistic chance of touching this record since Unga’s abrupt departure from BYU. Jamaal currently sits at 2,008 rushing yards after two seasons at BYU. This number is especially impressive considering Williams was a back up to Michael Alisa for the first third of the 2012 season and didn’t get as many carries as most expected in 2013.
Expect Williams to carry the rock more in 2014 as Taysom Hill focuses on his passing and Robert Anae has more trust in the junior tailback. Williams has averaged 5.2 yards per carry so far in what has been a solid start to his BYU career. Unga’s fewest rushing attempts in a season came during his junior season when he had 208. In comparison, Jamaal had 217 carries in 2013 and I believe he is ready to shoulder much more of the rushing load in 2014. At his current average, Jamaal would need nearly 280 carries to reach the record, which seems like a daunting task. A closer look at his stats, however, will show that Williams averaged 4.7 yards per carry in 2012 and 5.7 in 2013. If he’s able to maintain that average, he will need closer to just 250 rush attempts. Assuming he stays healthy, it will also help to not face the tough defensive fronts of Wisconsin and Notre Dame this year. After breaking the record in his junior year, Jamaal will be able to make the record nearly untouchable if he follows it with a strong senior season.
2. BYU’s “No Fly Zone” will set a new record for most interceptions in a season.
Led by future NFL cornerback Rodney Rice, BYU’s defense set a school record with 28 interceptions in the 1987 season. In 2014, Trent Trammel has promised that BYU’s secondary will be a force to be reckoned with. These thoughts have been echoed by fellow defenders Jordan Johnson, Robertson Daniel, and Craig Bills. BYU has a long list of talent in the defensive backfield that justify this confidence. Along with veterans Bills, Daniel, and Johnson, BYU returns Skye PoVey, Dallin Leavitt, and Kai Nacua. BYU will have Trammell and hopefully Sam Lee back from injury and also add Nebraska transfer Harvey Jackson, mid-year addition from last year Michael Shelton, and incoming freshman Kavika Fonua. On paper, BYU has not had this kind of talent in the secondary since 1996 when the likes of Omarr Morgan, Tim McTyer, Chris Ellison, and Eddie Sampson were roaming the defensive backfield.
With Johnson back from a knee injury, he should return to his field corner position. Many believe Trammell will play the boundary position with Roberston Daniel moving to play safety next to Craig Bills. With inexperience at linebacker and this much depth in the secondary, I expect to see Bronco and defensive coordinator/DB coach Nick Howell use Leavitt and PoVey in a nickel back position this season, similar to the role Joe Sampson had in 2012. With the speed, experience, and talent of the secondary, I expect no fewer than 30 interceptions this year.
3. BYU will win a major post season award.
BYU built a tradition by winning games and winning postseason awards. BYU has had 51 All-Americans and a Heisman Trophy winner. They became Quarterback U by having four Davey O’Brien (best QB) winners and seven Sammy Baugh (best passer) winners. The Cougars have had two Outland Trophy (best interior lineman) winners and a Doak Walker (best running back) award winner in their storied history. BYU has not won any major awards since Luke Staley’s Doak Walker award in 2001.
The Maxwell Award is given to the nation’s best football player. Ty Detmer won this award at BYU in 1990 and is the only Cougar to have this honor. Taysom Hill proved last year that he was the best football player on BYU’s team. His speed, size, and strength set him up for success, but he also proved to be the most capable player for moving the football and scoring touchdowns. I believe in 2014 he will improve his passing and lead his team to more wins, which will catch the eye of the nation. In 2013, Hill was responsible for 29 touchdowns. In 2014, I expect Hill to be responsible for 45 touchdowns and lead the team to a 10+ win season en route to winning the Maxwell Trophy.
4. BYU will score touchdowns on 75% of Blue Zone trips.
Any fan who watched last season knows how frustrating it was to watch BYU’s offense drive down the field and pick up momentum only to fall flat on their faces in the Blue Zone. In 2009 with Max Hall, Harvey Unga, and Dennis Pitta, BYU scored touchdowns on 77% of trips to the Blue Zone. That is an extremely impressive number and proved their was leadership on all levels of BYU’s offense that season. To score in the Blue Zone, the offense must execute nearly perfectly because the margin for error is reduced with a shorter field. Since then, BYU has scored touchdowns on 62% of Blue Zone trips in 2010, 61% in 2011, 63% in 2012, and a dismal 48% in 2013. With a marginally better performance in 2013, BYU probably would have increased its win total by three (Virginia, Utah, and Notre Dame).
Why will it improve by 30% in 2014? Experience. Nearly the entire offensive line, Taysom Hill, and Jamaal Williams will all have a full season in Robert Anae’s new uptempo system. Anae himself will have had an offseason to review film and work on fixing the problems that plagued BYU last season. Another reason BYU’s offense will become more efficient in the Blue Zone is improvement at the tight end position. BYU has struggled to utilize the tight end position since Dennis Pitta and Andrew George graduated in 2009, but Devin Mahina is finally being given his chance in 2014 and will make the best of it. He is the only tight end currently on the roster who has proven to be able to put his hand in the ground and block as well as run solid routes and catch passes. This will be a feature BYU will be able to exploit in 2014 after having just two tight end touchdowns in 2013. Another difference will be Nick Kurtz and Mitch Mathews on the outside. Hill throwing jump balls to the twin towers on the outside will provide a mismatch for BYU against every secondary they face. In 2014, we’ll see the Blue Zone have a positive effect on the win total rather than the opposite.
5. BYU will finish the season ranked higher than every team in the ACC.
This is an especially bold prediction considering the defending National Champions, the Florida State Seminoles, reside in the Atlantic Coast Conference and return the reigning Heisman Trophy winner. Outside of Florida State, the ACC will have the usual schools who are in the top 25 often: Clemson, Miami, and recently improved Duke. If a school in the Coastal Division can knock Florida State out in the regular season, it’s easy to see the ACC missing out on the new college football playoff at the end of the year.
BYU, however, has a favorable schedule and an axe to grind. BYU opens the season in a winnable game against a terrible team in Uconn. The game is a Friday night game during the first weekend of the college football season. It is a game on the East Coast in primetime on ESPN so this is a major opportunity for BYU to make a statement and show everyone in the country that they are for real. They follow that game with another primetime game against Texas the following week. They play Virginia in a game that will be an opportunity for BYU to avenge an ugly loss in Charlottesville in 2013. That game will also give BYU a chance to tell the ACC that they were wrong to not include BYU as a Power 5 Conference opponent on future schedules. After that game, BYU’s toughest opponents will be Utah State at home, and UCF and Boise State on the road. If BYU can make it through those difficult games, they have a chance to do something they have not done since 1984: Go undefeated. With a weak schedule, it will be difficult for BYU to get much national respect, but if they make enough noise in the big games, they can finish the season a top ten team and ranked higher than any team in the ACC.
Obviously, these predictions are all a stretch and pretty unrealistic. BYU fans have suffered through several frustrating seasons in a row and deserve to be rewarded with a big season. Given the recent frustrations, I would love to see any of these predictions come true, but I would likely be satisfied with double digit wins, a potent offense, and a top 25 ranking at year’s end. Leave a comment or tweet @Lawlessrepublic to let us know your blue goggled predictions for 2014.