Provo » The offensive line is injured and inexperienced. The linebacking corps includes a starter still learning his position, while one of the starting cornerbacks wasn't even in the program last year.
At BYU, however, it is all about the quarterback. And the big question regarding senior Max Hall has nothing to do with his arm strength, mobility or ability to read defenses.
What's going on in Max's mind?
That's what Cougar fans want to know, after Hall struggled mightily in three of BYU's final seven games last season. The low point, most say, was that five-interception performance in the 48-24 loss to Utah.
Eight months after he trudged off the Sam Boyd Stadium field after that 31-21 Las Vegas Bowl loss to Arizona, has Hall recovered mentally?
With the Sept. 5 showdown against one of the best teams in college football, No. 3-ranked Oklahoma, staring him in the face, Hall acknowledges his critics, and says he has put a lot of effort into the mental side of his game in hopes of atoning for the failures of 2008.
"I am motivated, no question about it," he said. "Any person who calls himself a competitor would be motivated. More than anything, though, I have worked really hard to put myself into position to succeed."
Long talks with former BYU quarterback Robbie Bosco, all-pro NFL tight end Chad Lewis and his uncle, former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Danny White has made Hall realize that even great players stumble sometimes. White told him after the Utah game: "Do you want to know the only difference between your five-interception game and my five-interception game? We won 3-0, or something like that." Said Hall: I have had a lot of former quarterbacks come up to me and say it happens. The advice they give to me is: don't feel like you have to do it all on your own; don't feel like you have to force everything in. Still play the game, and trust in your guys. I think that's one of the biggest lessons I have learned from it."
A quarterback who was intercepted six times in his last two games would seemingly have his confidence nicked pretty good, but not Hall. As quarterbacks coach Brandon Doman says, "Anybody who has talked to Max knows he is not lacking confidence. He has a better focus, but the same confidence." Says Hall: "I have won a lot of games for us. What everyone will say is that I haven't won the big games recently, losing to TCU, Utah and [Arizona]. I guess you can criticize me for that, but I think all-around I am doing a good job in not only representing BYU as a football player, but as a student and a person, too."
Sense of urgency
Hall was at BYU's training complex at 6 a.m. almost every morning this spring and summer, lifting weights, running, throwing and watching film until 1 p.m. "Yeah, I worked pretty hard," he said. "It is a different feeling when you go into your senior season because it is your last shot, and your [legacy] is at stake. I did everything I could to prepare myself so now I just have to have fun and let it rip." Doman said Hall needed to get in better shape. "So he has changed his body shape dramatically. He's much stronger, a lot leaner. He's faster. We need him to stay durable."
Make no mistake about it -- Hall wants to silence his critics, and get revenge. The competitor in him is angry and tired of hearing about last year's failures, especially against rival Utah when he threw five interceptions. Though he says he doesn't read newspapers or listen to sports talk radio, the jokes and criticisms have reached his ears. "I know what people are saying about me," he said. "I know what the criticism is, and what I did wrong. I am not stupid. If people think I am not the No. 1 person who is mad about it, or wants it to improve, they are crazy, because I do."
Hall said he has matured more this offseason than in the other three offseasons he's had in Provo combined. "The situation atter last season, how it ended and stuff, it can break you, or it can make you, as cliche as that sounds," he said. "I think it helped me. Obviously, it was tough and it hurt, and I had to overcome it and learn from my mistakes, but it has made me a better quarterback. And I now know what to do in those situations. I understand how to handle them and I have learned from them."
Seriously, Hall often discusses last year's losses to TCU and Utah by saying he's thankful that he gets another shot at them, and that the poor quarterback play didn't come in his senior year. "Max psychologically realizes he has to play better this year than last year, and he is fortunate that he has another year," Doman said. "I keep telling him how dang lucky he is to have another year to make up for past failures, and he believes it. He is really trying to take advantage of the opportunity."
Hall said he has watched every game that BYU's first opponent, Oklahoma, played last year at least twice. "I feel like I am the most prepared than I have ever been for a football season," he said. Added Doman: "Max needed to get mentally stronger. So we spent a lot of time on his mental focus, and his pre-snap preparation. I think he can be the best pre-snap quarterback in the country. That's the goal."