There is one spot for the teams that aren’t in the Big 5 conferences to make a nationally relevant bowl game. Jerry Palm has it as the Peach Bowl, Phil Steele has it as the Fiesta Bowl. The game itself is up in the air, but there is one fact that doesn’t change: There is only one spot.
None of the preseason top 25 teams according to the USA Today media poll were from one of the “other” leagues. They were all power conference teams. However, nine teams received votes. With apologies to Fresno State, Houston, and Northern Illinois, The Student Section is going to focus on the top six teams that received votes and their chances of gaining the at-large bid.
The series started with the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns. It continues today with the Brigham Young Cougars.
2013 Record: 8-5, Lost Fight Hunger Bowl
About 2013: BYU got off to an up and down start in 2013. The Cougars suffered a 19-16 loss to Virgina in a game the Cavaliers scored a touchdown with 2:30 remaining. It was Virginia’s only win against a BCS opponent in 2013. The following week, BYU hammered Texas, running for 550 yards, 259 by Taysom Hill, in a 40-21 victory that stunned the college football world… at least to a degree. The Cougars then took on rival Utah, which topped BYU for the fourth straight season.
The next five games saw BYU reel off five straight wins, with margins of 27, 17, 18, 1, and 17. The one-point game was one of the most insane games of the season, a 47-46 victory over Houston. BYU took the lead with 1:08 remaining on a Skyler Ridley 11-yard touchdown reception. Quarterback Taysom Hill threw for 417 yards, 4 TDs (and 3 INTs), while running for 128 yards.
The Cougars finished the season alternating wins and losses after the win streak came to an end at Wisconsin. The wins were against Idaho State and Nevada, the losses were to Notre Dame and Washington. All three losses were by double digits.
All Conference -Independent – Selections (according to Phil Steele)
QB Taysom Hill
RB Jamaal Williams
WR Devon Blackmon
DL Remington Peck
LB Bronson Kaufusi
LB Alani Fua
CB Robertson Daniel
S Craig Bills
RET Adam Hine
Players to Watch
236-438, 53.9%, 2,938 yards, 19 TDs-14 INTs, 1,344 rushing yards, 5.5 yards per carry, 10 TDs
If you read anything about BYU, one of the first things that will cross your field of vision is that Taysom Hill has been working on his passing game this offseason. That is a very understandable next step for the BYU signal caller. Hill had five games last year in which he completed at least 60 percent of his passes. He had four in which he completed under 50 percent. To be fair, three of those were the first three games of the season. To be a critic, two of those three games were losses. Hill had only three games when he did not toss an interception. BYU won all three of those games.
Through the first four games of 2013, Hill threw 1 TD pass against 4 INTs. Through the next eight games, he threw 18 TDs to 9 INTs. Hill did not throw a TD but did throw an INT in the bowl game, the Fight Hunger Bowl against Washington. Locking away that version of Hill and springing the eight-game version of him could be what launches BYU up the polls.
One aspect of Hill’s game that doesn’t seem to need much work is his run game. He was the BYU leader in yards and touchdowns last season. Hill had three games in which he ran for over 150 yards, and six 100-yard games total. He finished the season with three in a row.
1,233 yards, 5.7 yards per carry, 7 TDs, 18 receptions, 125 yards
Jamaal Williams has lit up the watch lists this summer like he lit up defenses last season. He’s been named to the Doak Walker list, the Maxwell Award list and the College Football Performance Awards (not the best name) list. It is here that we note that Williams’s numbers and award chances will both take a small hit because he has been suspended for the season opener against UConn.
Williams had quite the season in 2013 with five games over 100 yards. His best outing was the regular season finale. Williams ran for 219 yards and a TD on just 15 carries against Nevada. That works out to 14.6 yards per carry. Williams had huge games against Texas, 182 yards on 6.1 per carry, and Virginia, 144 yards on 4.4 per carry. While not quite there in yardage, Jamaal popped 131 yards and a season best 3 TDs on Idaho State.
What was concerning for BYU was that Williams was corralled in the Cougars’ losses, Virginia excepted. Williams had 52 yards against Utah, 76 against Wisconsin, 43 at Notre Dame, and 31 against Washington. His yards per carry in those contests worked out to 3.5. Williams did not score in any of the losses, Virginia included.
Devon Blackmon comes to BYU as a junior college transfer. Blackmon is coming through Riverside City College after a trip through Oregon. Blackmon was considered one of the best JUCO receivers by ESPN and one of the top 50 JUCO recruits this year. It should be noted here that Blackmon, like his former high school teammate Jamaal Williams, is suspended for the season opener against UConn.
Blackmon had 29 receptions for Riverside City, but produced 526 yards and 6 touchdowns. Devon steps in to a huge void that BYU has at receiver. The Cougars lost their two biggest targets from a year ago. No returning receiver had more than 400 yards. With a quarterback looking to get better, a top talent like Blackmon should be able to thrive. In theory.
38 tackles, 4.5 for loss, 3 sacks, 2 recovered fumbles
Remington Peck has a cool sounding name and also has a nice game. Peck’s 3 sacks are the most of a returning Cougar. His numbers were modest in comparison to some of the big numbers his former teammates put up. The thinking is that Peck will progress and fill the void. BYU seems to be hedging some bets. Peck is listed as an ‘OR’ at defensive end.
37 tackles, 7 for loss, 4 sacks, 1 INT, 6 passes broken up, 3 QB hurries, 1 forced fumble
Bronson Kaufusi’s numbers a year ago came when he was a defensive end. This season, he has been moved to weakside linebacker. Kaufusi is listed as the starter in the early BYU depth charts. Given his very solid play since his arrival on campus, it looks like the move could work out well for BYU. If not, he could move back to end. Probably. (That was some unnecessary base covering.)
63 tackles, 5 for loss, 3 sacks, 2 INTs, 10 passes broken up, 2 QB hurries
Alania Fua was an every-game player for the Cougars in 2013 and a part-time starter. He was one of a few, along with the aforementioned Remington Peck, tied for second (or third depending on how you count two players with the same number of sacks in first) with 3 sacks. Fua was one of two Cougars with double digit pass break-ups. Fua lead the team in interception return yards because he took one of his to the house. Fua slides into a full-time starting role in 2014.
65 tackles, 4 for loss, 2 INTs, 12 passes broken up, 2 forced fumbles
Robertson Daniel is making a slight move this season. After playing 13 games, starting 12, at field corner, he is moving over to boundary corner. Reports are that he spent a lot of time at safety in spring camp. Daniel has talent that BYU wants to put to good use. He was one of many players on the team with 2 INTs last season. Daniel led the team in passes broken up as well. That neglects to mention his tackling skills, which showed themselves in the fact that he was fourth on the club. Daniel was tied for second on the team in solo tackles with the next man mentioned:
79 tackles, 2.5 for loss, 2 INTs, 7 passes broken up, 1 forced fumble, 2 fumble recoveries
Bills was the second leading tackler for BYU. As just mentioned two sentences ago, he was tied for second in solo tackles with 49. Bills started every game he played in 2013. He was the strong safety a year ago, and will be the strong safety this year. As a leader, his impact will be expected to be just as big in that role as his on the field production.
843 kick return yards, 27.2 average, 224 rushing yards, 5.9 per carry, 1 TD
The inclusion of Hine on this list may make one wonder if I just included every player mentioned by Steele on his first team. The answer is yes. There are 1,400 words about Brigham Young written in this article; including every second team selection such as Devin Mahina, Michael Yeck, Tuni kanuch, Solomone Kafu, Marques Johnson, Manoa Pikula and Scott Arellano would seem kind of reckless. Even though a recent article claimed Scott Arellano was ‘more than just a punter’, the fact remains he is a punter and these might be too many words about the BYU punter already.
August 29 – at Connecticut
September 6 – at Texas
September 11 – Houston
September 20 – Virginia
October 3 – Utah State
October 9 – at Central Florida
October 18 – Nevada
October 24 – at Boise State
November 1 – at Middle Tennessee
November 15 – UNLV
November 22 – Savannah State
November 29 – at California
Connecticut – Houston – Utah State – Central Florida – Boise State
Fox Sports 1 Games
CBS Sports Network Games
There is a lot of excitement for this season in BYU circles, and for good reason. This is the type of schedule that could get the Cougars in the national discussion — not necessarily because of its strength (which is not overwhelming), but because of the chance it offers the team to run the table. Coach Bronco Mendenhall has stated it would take two undefeated seasons in a row for BYU to gather consideration for a spot in the four-team playoff. If he counts this season as the first, he kind of has a point. While there is name value up and down, the quality of wins just might not be there.
Virginia and California sound good. Then you remember they went a combined 3-21 last year. Most of the teams were middling in 2013. Utah State had nine wins, which is the second most of BYU’s 2014 opponents.
The trouble of the schedule is that the three biggest games are all on the road. The Texas game is a week two repeat from 2013. That looks to be the biggest hurdle in terms of opposing talent. Playing Central Florida and Boise State were going to be tough; having to travel, cross country in the case of UCF, for short-week games is an added wrinkle. This also applies to a short-week game against what could be a solid Houston team.
The rest of the schedule should equate to wins. If BYU can’t crack the at-large bowl spot, the Cougars are guaranteed to go to the Miami Beach Bowl if they are bowl eligible.
Taysom Hill image via the Associated Press