San Francisco • A couple of the best players in BYU football history — linebacker Kyle Van Noy and receiver Cody Hoffman — played their final games for the Cougars on Friday night in the Fight Hunger Bowl. Stalwarts Eathyn Manumaleuna, Spencer Hadley, JD Falslev, Skyler Ridley, Daniel Sorensen and Uani Unga also wore the blue and white for the last time.
Coach Bronco Mendenhall said before Senior Day in Provo that this was one of the most talented senior classes he’s had in his nine-year tenure at the school.
Now the question becomes: Who will fill their shoes?
“Man, I have high expectations for those guys,” Manumaleuna said last week. “Some really good guys will be stepping up.”
Hoffman will be difficult to replace, but the Cougars think they’ve found the next great BYU receiver out of the junior college ranks. Nick Kurtz, a 6-foot-6, 205-pounder from Grossmont (Calif.) College will enroll in January and will have three seasons to play two.
Walk-on Eric Thornton, injured most of the year, is the heir apparent to replace Falslev at inside receiver, along with perhaps 6-4 Terenn Houk.
The Cougars will have to find an adequate punt returner, a job Falslev has manned for the past several seasons.
They are seemingly set quarterback and running back, with Taysom Hill and Jamaal Williams the key guys at those positions the next two years, if they stay healthy.
“We will just keep working at it and believe in the system and our coaches, like we did all season,” Williams said. “I am pretty sure we can have a 10-win season and improve on that, too.”
Every offensive lineman who logged significant playing time in 2013 except Manaaki Vaitai returns.
Defensively, the Cougars will need to shore up the middle. Marques Johnson should be able to fill in for Manumaleuna at nose tackle.
Linebacker coaches Paul Tidwell and Kelly Poppinga must replace Hadley, Van Noy and Unga. Alani Fua is a star in the making at one of the linebacker spots, and Manoa Pikula will see the field more as well in 2014.
In the secondary, look for Robertson Daniel to move from his cornerback spot to safety, joining Craig Bills in the wake of Sorensen’s departure. Jordan Johnson, who blew out a knee in fall camp, will return to one of the cornerback spots, and Michael Davis appears to be the probable starter on the other side if coaches decide to keep the converted receiver on the defensive side of the ball.