An early look at the 2021 BYU football season and what’s expected of the Cougars

A look at what analysts are saying about BYU as the preseason predictions begin rolling out. Most expect the Cougs to take a step back.

BYU running back Tyler Allgeier (25) runs the ball for a first down past North Alabama cornerback Will Singleton, bottom, defensive end Tyler Antkowiak (41) and linebacker Christon Taylor (25) in the second quarter during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020, in Provo, Utah. (AP Photo/Jeff Swinger, Pool)

After posting an 11-1 overall record, BYU finished its historic 2020 season with a final No. 11 national ranking.

But that’s the past and it’s time to look toward the future — in this case, the fall.

The Cougars lost plenty of top talent to the NFL, and also had some major coaching changes since the 2020 season ended, making the upcoming season that much more intriguing. Will BYU be able to replicate its recent success?

Most analysts have removed the Cougars from their preseason Top 25 rankings, but one thinks BYU could still be a top contender.

On Tuesday, Pro Football Focus released its list of rankings for all 130 FBS teams heading into the 2021 season — and BYU was the highest ranked program from Utah.

According to PFF, BYU is ranked No. 22 with a 0% national championship win probability. The Cougars’ highest-graded returning player is running back Tyler Allgeier (92.1), who PFF recently named as one of the top 10 returning running backs in 2021.

PFF’s Eric Eager and Ben Brown wrote: “After losing the second-best quarterback in college football, not many expect the Cougars to live up to a top-25 ranking. Still, they have playmakers at skill positions and could be returning one of the best offensive lines in the country. Baylor Romney settling into a quarterback-friendly system could allow BYU to surprise again in 2021.”

The Utah Utes landed just outside of the top 25, at No. 26, and the Utah State Aggies came in at No. 120 (out of 130 teams).

BYU is set to host Utah on Sept. 11 at LaVell Edwards Stadium and will play at Utah State on Oct. 1.

PFF also made its prediction as to who will win the starting quarterback role in the fall: Romney.

The assumption comes as Romney is the highest-graded returning quarterback for the Cougars, but the BYU staff isn’t in any hurry to make that decision. Romney will still have to beat out Jaren Hall and Jacob Conover in fall camp before BYU makes its decision.

During spring practices, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Aaron Roderick said Romney and Hall have the upper hand because they have experience, but it’s still anyone’s game. Roderick doesn’t expect to make a decision until at least fall camp.

With its toughest schedule yet in the independent era, opening the season with four consecutive Power Five teams and facing seven Power Five opponents total, BYU will have its hands full trying to stay in the rankings, stay relevant and get wins.

But it will be a good test following the Cougars’ recent success.

According to ESPN’s College Football Power Index, of which the initial report for the 2021 season came out on April 13, BYU came in at No. 63. The step back in production is expected because of the amount of talent BYU lost and its inability to rebound as quickly as top-tier programs like Alabama or Ohio State, ESPN’s Seth Walder said.

Based on ESPN’s data, BYU is expected to finish the 2021 season with a 7-5 record and has a 0.1% chance of going undefeated a year after the Cougars almost accomplished that feat.

College Football News expects to see a drop in production from the offense with the loss of Zach Wilson and key linemen, but should otherwise still be fine. The Cougar defense, however, is a different story.

“It’s not a dire situation — the defense will be okay — but there will be a step back,” Pete Fiutak wrote.

Fiutak believes the key to a successful 2021 campaign will be to open with a win against Arizona in Las Vegas and thinks the Cougars can walk out of the tough 2021 schedule with eight wins.

“Arizona is a team BYU should be able to beat, and it if it can, there’s a chance to make a major splash with Utah and Arizona State at home to follow,” Fiutak wrote.

With fall camp a little more than two months away and the start of the season more than three months away, things could change. But the consensus seems to be that BYU will take a step back to regroup while playing tougher competition in 2021.