Provo • This one could go either way.
Sure, that’s a bit of a cop-out when it comes to prognosticating how BYU’s football season will go this year as the Cougars get set to tackle one of the most ambitious schedules in school history.
But it also happens to be true.
It could be a double-digit win season, if everything falls into place. Then again, another injury here or there could put the program in serious jeopardy of staying in Provo for the holidays, missing out on a bowl game for the first time in coach Bronco Mendenhall’s nine-year tenure.
Even Mendenhall, offensive coordinator Robert Anae and starting quarterback Taysom Hill weren’t ready to make any bold predictions when the Cougars wrapped up their final scrimmage of preseason camp last Wednesday.
Mendenhall said “it is hard to say” when asked if this year’s team is ahead of schedule, while Anae said the fast-paced offense he has tried to install might not be clicking completely until midseason, if at all.
He came across as a man asking for patience, something that is in short supply in Provo, after Mendenhall essentially dismissed his entire offensive staff last winter and brought Anae back to revive an offense that failed to meet expectations the past two seasons under Brandon Doman.
For his part, Hill spoke confidently about how the athletes are in place on the offensive side of the ball to successfully execute Anae’s offense, but stopped short of saying the revamped offensive line is up to the task.
“That’s a hard thing to monitor,” Hill said, when asked if the team was progressing at the end of camp.
Handed the starting quarterback position out of spring camp when it was apparent he had fully recovered from the knee injury that cut short his freshman season, Hill has shown flashes of brilliance in camp, especially running the ball. But his passing is suspect.
The Cougars went 8-5 last year and partially covered up a mildly disappointing season with a 23-6 thumping of San Diego State in the Poinsettia Bowl, a resounding win that was almost entirely fueled by the No. 3 defense in the country and the brilliant playmaking of All-American Kyle Van Noy.
The outside linebacker surprisingly returned for his senior season and figures to again wreak havoc on opposing offenses, but there are question marks in several spots behind him. The Cougars’ secondary is dangerously thin.
That’s because the player the Cougars could least afford to lose — cornerback Jordan Johnson — went down a week into camp with a season-ending knee injury. That caused secondary coach Nick Howell to ask for, and get, help from the offense in the form of receivers Eric Thornton and Michael Davis, now competing to back up junior college transfer Robertson Daniel, who hasn’t played in a real football game in almost 20 months.
“We are going to be ready. We are going to play good and we are going to play great,” said Howell, promoted to defensive coordinator in the offseason, although Mendenhall is still clearly in charge of that unit. “So I am confident. ... Our mindset is we are getting ready for the fight. We are going to walk out there and fight. We will be ready. I guarantee you that.”
Ready enough to beat the likes of Virginia, Texas, Utah, Boise State, Wisconsin and Notre Dame?
That remains to be seen.
At BYU, it is all about the quarterback. If sophomore Taysom Hill can stay healthy despite his penchant for running the football, and an inexperienced and makeshift offensive line can somehow overachieve, the Cougars have enough playmakers on both sides of the ball to win some games, perhaps go 10-2 if a few things fall into place.
BYU will play one of its most difficult schedules ever, and failing to reach a bowl game for the first time in coach Bronco Mendenhall’s nine-year tenure is a distinct possibility if any more injuries weaken the defensive backfield, or if new offensive coordinator Robert Anae’s up-tempo offense is a first-year flop. The Cougs could possibly go worse than 6-6.
BYU had one of the best defenses in the country last season, but the offense struggled mightily, thanks to injured and ineffective quarterbacks and offensive linemen. The result was an 8-5 record against a fairly soft schedule that could have been 10-3 or perhaps even 10-2. This year, an 8-5 record will be acceptable, given the Cougars’ vastly improved schedule.
3 players to watch
Taysom Hill • Named the starting quarterback coming out of spring camp — although the so-called battle was never that close — the sophomore has seemingly gotten past the major knee injury that cut short his freshman season and will be counted on to resuscitate a BYU offense that was less than stellar the past few seasons.
Kyle Van Noy • The preseason All-American surprised many by returning for his senior season after dominating the Poinsettia Bowl last December, saying he had “unfinished business” to accomplish. One of the nation’s best defenders will be sorely needed to shine again, because the Cougars’ defensive backfield is thin and inexperienced.
Cody Hoffman • Another player who chose to return for his senior season when he could have left for the NFL, Hoffman needs just an average year to become the most prolific receiver in school history. If the Cougars can develop some other weapons and take the pressure off Hoffman, he will thrive again in an up-tempo offense.
Offensive coordinator Robert Anae • The chief storyline from the offseason was how Mendenhall dumped all of his offensive coaches (or asked them to re-apply for their jobs) and brought back Robert Anae, who was the offensive coordinator from 2005-10 and directed some of the best attacks in school history back then. Whether Anae’s “go fast, go hard” up-tempo offense works will largely determine BYU’s fate in 2013.
All times MT
Aug. 31 • at Virginia, 1:30 p.m. (ESPNU)
Sept. 7 • Texas, 5 p.m. (ESPN2)
Sept. 21 • Utah, TBA
Sept. 27 • Middle Tennessee State, 7 p.m. (ESPNU)
Oct. 4 • at Utah State, 6 p.m. (CBS College Sports)
Oct. 12 • Georgia Tech, TBA
Oct. 19 • at Houston, TBA
Oct. 25 • Boise State, 6 p.m. (ESPN)
Nov. 9 • at Wisconsin, TBA
Nov. 16 • Idaho State, 1 p.m. (BYUtv)
Nov. 23 • at Notre Dame, 1:30 p.m. (NBC)
Nov. 30 • at Nevada, 1 p.m. (CBS College Sports)