Eye on the Y is our weekly newsletter on all things BYU athletics, with stories from The Salt Lake Tribune, and other local and national media outlets who are weighing on on the Cougars. Subscribe here.

Hello friends, and welcome to the inaugural edition of The Salt Lake Tribune’s newsletter on BYU athletics, which we’re calling “Eye on the Y” — at least until we think of something better.

Why? To bring you more coverage of BYU sports — primarily football and basketball, but we won’t completely rule out anything else — to your email inboxes, mobile devices and laptops.

We will highlight stories we’ve done on the Cougars, pass along some observations and analysis, and even recommend work from other outlets in the state and around the country.

If you’ve got questions, concerns, suggestions or advice on how to make this newsletter better, give me a holler at my email (drew@sltrib.com) or my Twitter account (@drewjay).

The 2018 football season, a crossroads season for third-year coach Kalani Sitake, begins Sept. 1 at Arizona. Beyond that opener in which the Cougars are two-touchdown underdogs, the likes of California, Wisconsin and Washington await. And that’s just in September. It should be quite a ride in BYU’s eighth season of independence.

I’ve tried to make sense of the biggest storylines of preseason training the past two weeks — you’ll see some of the stories below — but above all is the question everybody wants to know: Will the Cougars be better this year?

My short and easy answer to that is yes. The bits and pieces of practice that reporters have been able to watch have shown a more energetic, speedier and more disciplined group. And the Cougars will have to avoid the rash of injuries that plagued them last year and led to the 4-9 season.

Will that translate to more than four wins? Of that, I am not completely sure. I realistically see the Cougars going 5-7, maybe 6-6, but being more competitive in the games against Power 5 foes than they were last year. As Kalani Sitake likes to say, we will see.


What will it be this year?

That’s the question BYU beat reporters and other media members who cover the preseason training camp ask each other every time BYU’s football team convenes to begin preparations for a new season. We don’t call it “fall camp” around here, because, well, August is still considered part of the summer, isn’t it?

Something bizarre, controversial or just plain odd seemingly happens every August to spice up camp.

Five years ago, players showed up for Photo Day at the Indoor Practice Facility with the words Spirit, Tradition and Honor on the backs of their jerseys. Those were coach Bronco Mendenhall’s buzzwords, and he planned to replace players’ last names on the jerseys with one of those three words.

Well, it didn’t go over very well. The Cougars' tough linebacker, Kyle Van Noy, was nearly brought to tears when he was asked for a response. Others posed for their photos as if in a trance. It was clear that the players hated the idea.

To his credit, Mendenhall held an impromptu meeting after all the photos had been taken, listened to the players’ wishes to have their own names on the backs of their own jerseys, and a compromise was reached: Spirit, Tradition and Honor would be recognized at one game and the players could “represent their families” in the other 12.

Last year, the biggest news in camp came when BYU issued a news release saying star linebacker Francis Bernard was going to redshirt for undisclosed reasons and sit out the entire 2017 season. We all know how that turned out: Bernard joined the Utes earlier this week.

And then on Wednesday, with camp reaching its midpoint, former NFL star Merril Hoge, father of quarterback-turned-running back Beau Hoge, went on BYUtv — of all outlets — to blast BYU coaches’ decision to turn his son into a running back — the same position, ironically, that Hoge played in eight seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Chicago Bears.

The elder Hoge used words such as dumb, weird, bizarre, stupid and smelly to describe the decision.

In 2014, star running back Jamaal Williams announced his own one-game suspension the first day of camp.

In 2015, the big news occurred a few days before camp opened when BYU announced that Williams was withdrawing from school and would miss the entire 2015 season. A few weeks later, Mendenhall announced sophomore linebacker Sione Takitaki would miss the opener against Nebraska because he allegedly stole apparel from the school’s soccer and track teams while he worked on the custodial staff at Smith Fieldhouse.

Like we said, never a dull moment in Provo when August rolls around.


Anyone notice that we’re not calling it the “quarterback battle” this time around? Back in 2010, when Jake Heaps and Riley Nelson were dueling for the starting spot, that’s what it was called by yours truly on an almost-daily basis.

Derby is a much better word for it, without the connotations of violence that “battle” suggests; I believe that my colleague Kurt Kragthorpe, who now covers the Utes, is the first scribe to call it a derby in our particular media market.

Monday, offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes announced the competition to be the starter was down to freshman Zach Wilson and senior Tanner Mangum. That came as no surprise whatsoever, since The Tribune reported the previous week that the other QB in the competition, sophomore Joe Critchlow, was no longer receiving reps with the first- or second-team offense.

Obviously, the bigger question is who will line up under center on Sept. 1 at Arizona?

It would take a considerable amount of intestinal fortitude on the part of Grimes and Aaron Roderick to roll out a true freshman in hostile territory while an experienced, healthy senior watches from the sidelines. So I’m saying it is going to be Mangum, the safest choice, but not the sexiest.

I’m also saying I could be wrong.


In case you missed them, here are some of the stories, player profiles and position previews I’ve written the past week:

• Kalani Sitake’s standout defenses when he was defensive coordinator at Utah were based on speed — and the ability to stop the run. The third-year coach is employing that strategy at BYU by making several defensive position switches to get more speed on the field. Tribune

• It is great to have former Cougar defensive back Preston Hadley back at BYU, this time in a coaching role. Hadley gave me the scoop on how the safeties he oversees are coming along. Tribune

• It wasn’t much of a secret that Mangum and Zach Wilson were the finalists in the quarterback derby when neither Joe Critchlow nor Jaren Hall got reps with the first team in an 11-on-11 scrimmage last week. Monday, offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes made it official. Tribune

• You’ve heard of the game Angry Birds, right? Well, meet BYU’s angry receivers. The pass-catchers say they have a chip on their shoulder in 2018, and for good reason. Tribune

• Some fans are going to be shocked when they see kick returners make fair catches inside the 25 when the season opens in a few weeks. Don’t say we didn’t warn you. Tribune


• The Associated Press says Boise State is going to be good again, to absolutely no one’s surprise. BYU plays at Boise State on Nov. 3. Will coach Brian Harsin get one of his kick returners to lay down on the blue turf again in hopes that the Cougars’ kick coverage team doesn’t see him? Tribune

• Brad Rock of the Deseret News weighed in on Merril Hoge’s lambasting of the BYU coaching staff over its decision to move Beau Hoge to running back. DNews

• Jared Lloyd of the Daily Herald in Provo got some interesting comments from defensive lineman Brayden El-Bakri on the closed scrimmage the Cougars held last Saturday at LaVell Edwards Stadium. Daily Herald


Speaking of Bernard’s move to the rival Utes, BYU coach Kalani Sitake had a wonderful response Monday when he was asked to comment on the star linebacker’s landing at Utah.

“I am happy for Francis. He has an opportunity to get a degree, and play for great coaches. So I am really excited for him and his future,” Sitake said.

That’s called taking the high road.


The Cougars will scrimmage again in the stadium on Thursday afternoon, with some media availability after the closed workout. The next media availability won’t take place until Monday as the final week of preseason camp begins. Sitake has said they will turn their focus to Arizona at the end of next week. I will still be heading down to Provo on Friday, Saturday and Sunday to cover the Utah Open golf tournament at Riverside Country Club, where ex-BYU golfer Patrick Fishburn will try to defend the title he won last year as an amateur. Fishburn is a pro now, and wants that $20,000 first-place check after having to settle for just the trophy last August.

Also, BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe will make his annual appearance at Education Week on campus and answer questions regarding the state of the BYU athletics program. I wonder if anybody will ask him about the quarterback race?

Eye on the Y is our weekly newsletter on all things BYU athletics, with stories from The Salt Lake Tribune, and other local and national media outlets who are weighing on on the Cougars. Subscribe here.