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As I’ve written before in this space, BYU should have a better football team in 2018 than it did in 2017. It remains to be seen if that improvement translates to more victories and a bowl bid that, in my eyes, will signal a successful season. But it just seems like the players are more bought-in and the new offensive coaching staff knows what it is doing, compared to last year’s group.
I put the question to head coach Kalani Sitake at Monday’s news conference: Can you assure BYU fans that this team will be better?
“You will have to ask me at the end of the year,” he said. “Yeah, I anticipate it will be. We have done a lot of different things to get ready for this moment. I am not really nervous right now, so we will see what happens. I love our fans and appreciate their support. I know they have high expectations, and my job as a coach is to meet them.”
I put the same question to senior defensive end Corbin Kaufusi, who was named a team captain Monday along with seven others. Yes, eight team captains.
“Oh, absolutely,” Kaufusi said. “One hundred percent.”
Kaufusi said the emphasis on accountability and discipline that Sitake reportedly instituted days after the 4-9 season concluded is a real thing.
“Last year, there was some accountability,” he said. “There is never not any at all. But, it has been night and day. At least for me. You have to look yourself in the mirror after a season like last season and really figure out where your priorities lie and what you are going to do to change it. The cool thing was everyone had that moment. It wasn’t just a couple guys on the team looked in the mirror and said, ‘Hey, I need to change.’ It was the entire team, both as a whole and individually, that took it to heart that we need to step up.”
The MWC thaw continues
Some local media members like to take pot shots at Laramie, Wyo., home of the Wyoming Cowboys, but I’m not one of them. I enjoyed going to the High Plains of southeastern Wyoming a half-dozen or so times for BYU-Wyoming football and basketball games when they were Mountain West Conference foes.
It was 28 degrees below zero outside Arena-Auditorium when Jimmer Fredette led the Cougars to a 69-62 win there on Feb. 2, 2011, but I still refuse to bag on the place.
Reason I mention Laramie is that BYU and Wyoming announced a two-game football series — 2022 in Provo, 2024 in Laramie — earlier this week. The best news is that both games will be played in September — and temperatures should be above freezing. But you never know.
BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe said in January that relations with former Mountain West Conference foes continue to thaw after several schools froze out the Cougars when they left the league after the 2010-11 school year. This is just more proof of that.
The return of Beau Tanner
Receiver Dylan Collie isn’t the only BYU football player who left the school, then returned. It’s just that senior Beau Tanner didn’t take nearly as long to make a comeback.
Tanner, who played receiver for the Cougars last season, decided to transfer after spring camp last April because he was not happy with being moved to cornerback. He was back the second week of fall camp, however. I asked him why and here’s what he said:
“Yeah, I did decide to leave. I was banged up a little bit in spring ball, so I didn’t get a chance to practice a lot with the new staff. They had wanted to move me to corner ever since I have been here. So with the new staff — the old staff never would let it happen — but the new staff thought it was a good idea and best for the team.
“I initially wasn’t happy with the decision and that had a lot to do with my decision to leave,” he continued. “But then like I mentioned before, I just missed being around the atmosphere we have here. It is a great team, a great group of guys. I really just missed it a lot. I really wanted to play right away, whereas if I were transferring I would have to sit out for a year.
"I wanted to be with the guys I have grinded it out with the past two years. So when one of the coaches reached out to me and said there was an opportunity for me to come back, it was an easy decision.”
Rounding them up
In case you missed them, here are some of the stories, player profiles and columns the Tribune has brought to you this past week:
• My favorite offering from the past week was published Wednesday and details how BYU linebacker Sione Takitaki overcame a plethora of setbacks and mistakes to be named team captain for the 2018 season. Takitaki gave me his wife’s phone number when I told him what I was working on, and Alyssa Ann (Penney) Takitaki, a former BYU swimmer, proved to be a wonderful source. Tribune
• BYU announced that Tanner Mangum won the starting job in sort of an unusual way — by posting the depth chart on Twitter at 5:28 p.m. Friday night showing the senior as the No. 1 quarterback and freshman Zach Wilson at No. 2. In the news business, it was what we call the Friday Night News Dump. Reporters had to wait until Monday to get the hows and whys of the pick. Tribune
• I’m cautiously optimistic that BYU’s offensive line is going to be better this year, primarily because the Cougars seem to have a lot more depth there than usual. When guys such as Ului Lapuaho, Chandon Herring and Keiffer Longson can’t crack the starting lineup, you’re probably pretty good. Tribune
• Here’s a story about what we learned from BYU preseason camp that never made it into the printed newspaper because it was bumped for the news that Mangum was going to be the starter. It was amazing how much actual football was played in camp this year, and Sitake liked it so much he said he will probably do it again. Tribune
The other good stuff
• BYU fans love to follow the professional careers of all their former players, but they especially have a fondness for Jimmer Fredette, Jamaal Williams and Taysom Hill, it seems. This story from The Times-Picayune is a bit dated because the Saints made a trade for backup QB Teddy Bridgewater a few days later, but does a good job detailing why New Orleans fans have gained respect for Hill. Nola
• Jeff Call, BYU football beat writer for the Deseret News, caught up with former BYU quarterback Gifford Nielsen and coaxed some interesting comments out of the one-time television sports anchor in Houston who is now a leader in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. DNews
• Beat writers have discovered the “quote machine” on this year’s BYU football team. It is walk-on defensive tackle Bracken El-Bakri, brother of fullback Brayden El-Bakri. Jared Lloyd of the Provo Daily Herald posted this interesting feature on the former Brighton High star. Daily Herald
BYU offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes on why coaches picked Mangum to get the start in Saturday’s opener at Arizona instead of Wilson:
“He proved himself to be more consistent in terms of his decision-making. Real close right up until that last week. He sort of separated himself that last week, week and a half. He was more consistent in terms of handling situations, getting the checks right, making decisions, and his completion percentage was slightly better. But they both did a great job and we are comfortable with both of them playing.”
Elsewhere on campus
• This is a huge weekend for two of BYU’s most prominent women’s programs, volleyball and soccer.
Both will play host to the No. 1-ranked team in their respective sports — Stanford.
The unranked BYU women’s soccer team hosts the Cardinal at South Field on Thursday at 7 p.m. in a match that will be televised by BYUtv. BYU hosts Idaho State on Saturday at 7 p.m.
The Cougars are 1-1-1 after tying Nebraska 2-2 and losing 2-0 at No. 9 Texas A&M last week. Stanford won the 2017 NCAA national championship and is on a 24-game winning streak, having downed UC Davis and the WCC’s San Francisco already.
BYU’s No. 9-ranked women’s volleyball team hosts the BYU Nike Invitational on Friday and Saturday after sweeping Duke in a pair of matches last week to start the season 2-0.
The Cougars will host West Virginia on Thursday night and No. 1 Stanford on Friday night before finishing the tournament against Wichita State on Saturday morning.
Stanford is 2-0 in 2018 after going 30-4 in 2017 and making it to the Final Four of the NCAA tournament.
• Wednesday, BYU announced that former Cougar tennis great Holly Parkinson Hasler has been hired as the new head coach of the women’s tennis program. Hasler replaces Lauren Jones-Spencer, who stepped down in July to pursue an important career opportunity for her husband Kirk in Southern California.
• The U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) came out with its preseason national rankings Tuesday, and BYU is well-represented, as usual.
The men’s cross country team is No. 2 in the nation and the women’s team is No. 16. The men finished third nationally last year and the women finished 11th.