With 14 returning starters, including what should be one of the deepest offensive lines in the country, excitement abounds heading into one of the best home schedules in BYU history with USC, Washington, Boise State and arch-rival Utah all making the trip to LaVell Edwards Stadium this year.
Sophomore quarterback Zach Wilson also returns looks to take another step forward after infusing some much-needed life in the Cougar offense with his ability to scramble and extend plays. Wilson ended the 2018 season on a high note after completing all 18 of his passes for 317 yards and four touchdowns.
Like always, BYU must deal with a front-loaded schedule which includes games against four consecutive Power 5 opponents to start the season. However, the good news for Cougar fans is that Tennessee and USC both went 5-7 last season and Washington is replacing its starting quarterback and running back, as well as nine starters on defense. The task is even less daunting considering the Cougars get Utah, USC and Washington at home. However, BYU will still likely be underdogs in each of those games.
With that, here’s game-by-game predictions for BYU this season.
Idaho State: The Bengals finished 6-5 last season at the FCS level and are arguably the worst team the Cougars will face this year. BYU has never lost to an FCS opponent and the last time these two teams met was a 59-13 victory for the Cougars. Expect a similar score this year as well.
Liberty: Liberty went 6-6 in its inaugural FBS debut and averaged more than 33 points per games. The November matchup will be the first-ever meeting between both programs, which are both FBS independents. In the offseason, the Flames hired former Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze and have their starting quarterback and running back returning. The game might be close at halftime, but the Cougars should turn it on in the second half and win comfortably.
UMass: This year’s game will mark the fourth consecutive time these teams have met with BYU holding a 2-1 record against the Minutemen during this time. After playing in Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots last season, the Cougars will travel to UMass’ home field to take on the Minutemen in what should be an entertaining game for BYU fans with lots of scoring in the blowout victory.
San Diego State: The Aztecs could easily be in the tough game category, however, seeing as BYU has essentially three bye weeks leading up to the San Diego State game — with games against Liberty, Idaho State and UMass — the Cougars will have plenty of time to gameplan and get players healthy and ready to go against the Aztecs. San Diego State is attempting to bounce back after going from three consecutive 10-win seasons to a 7-6 record a year ago. Like always, The Aztecs rely on its rushing attack, which plays right into BYU’s strength on defense. Cougar fans should be happy with a game in San Diego in late November, and should be confident in another BYU victory over the Aztecs.
South Florida: If you love scoring, this will be the game for you. South Florida brings back starting quarterback Blake Barnett (2,700 yards and 12 touchdowns), as well as running back Jordan Conkrite (1,100 yards, 9 touchdowns) from a seven-win team last year. The Bulls don’t have much of a defense — giving up nearly 450 yards per game last year — and with BYU having a bye week the week before, I believe the Cougars will finally get a win in the Sunshine State.
Boise State: Every year, the Broncos just seem to reload, win the Mountain West Conference and finish with a Top 25 ranking. This year, Boise State has several big holes to fill with the departure of starting quarterback Brett Rypien and star running back Alexander Mattison, as well as their top receivers. The Broncos have dominated the series against BYU, winning seven of the past nine games, including a number of nail-biting contests which have come down to the final play of the game. Boise State will be breaking in a true freshman quarterback this year and I believe the Cougars experience, talent and playing at home will be enough to end the Broncos’ streak.
Tennessee: The Vols should be a decent team this year, with many predicting the program to finish in the middle of the Southeastern Conference — arguably the top conference in the country. Playing on the road in SEC country is always tough and the atmosphere should be amazing at Rocky Top in front of 100,000+ screaming fans. The Vols return 16 starters — the most starters of any team in the SEC. On paper, this game appears to be great matchup between both sides and win in SEC country would be huge for the football program as Kalani Sitake looks to stay off the hot seat.
USC: Every year, BYU wins a game that it shouldn’t and September’s showdown between both teams looks to have all the makings of another high-profile win for the Cougars. Despite its storied program and its high-profile recruiting classes, USC is not the same program it was in the early 2000s during its dynasty run. Last year, USC went 5-7 and although the Trojans are expected to win 8-9 games this season, the team is still trying to figure itself out with coordinator changes as USC head coach Clay Helton tries to stay off the hot seat. Luckily for Cougar fans, September’s contest has “trap game” written all over it as USC hosts Stanford the week before and Utah a week after they visit LaVell Edwards Stadium.
Utah: Until BYU can prove that it can break the “Max Hall Curse” and beat Utah, there isn’t much of a reason to pick against the Utes who have won eight consecutive games in the series. The losing streak is in the heads of Cougar players who saw last year’s 27-7 lead in the third quarter turn into a 35-27 victory for Utah. This year, the Utes bring back 15 returning starters, including five players who were named to the preseason All-Pac-12 team. However, with it being the first game of the season, as well as a rivalry game, anything can happen. The Utes will have several kinks to work out with a new offensive coordinator and with numerous starters coming back off season-ending injuries. Although they are six-point underdogs, the Cougars have a good shot at ending the streak. Can they finally put it all together? We’ll see Thursday night!
Washington: Despite losing eight players to the NFL, the Huskies are still one of the favorites to win the Pac-12 North and defend its Pac-12 championship. The Huskies have had great recruiting classes the past several years, however, the Huskies do have to replace a plethora of starters, including four-year starting quarterback Jacob Browning and running back Myles Gaskin. While Zac Wilson didn’t play in last year’s game against Washington, it probably wouldn’t have made a difference as the Huskies dominated the trenches. While Washington likely be as good as they were last year, BYU will be coming off games against Utah, Tennessee and USC, and with not a lot of depth on both sides of the ball, I don’t see the Cougars pulling off an upset here.
Utah State: The Aggies will be looking to win its third consecutive game over BYU since winning four straight in the series from 1971-74. You can bet BYU has this game circled on the calendar after losing the last two contests by an average of 20 points per game. Despite losing several starters as well as guys who left early for the NFL, the Aggies still bring back starting quarterback Jordan Love — arguably one of the Top 10 quarterbacks in the country and who broke numerous school records last year with 3,567 yards and 32 touchdowns. Strange things happen in rivalry games and with it being Utah State’s Super Bowl, and playing in front of the home crowd, I think the Aggies will do just enough to edge the Cougars.
Toledo: Yes, Toledo! Last year the Cougars knocked off Wisconsin, only to lose to Northern Illinois at home. Every year, BYU always wins a game that it shouldn’t, and drops a game that it should win. This is that game! Like Utah State, this game is the Super Bowl for Toledo and is the highest profile home game for the Rockets in decades. Fans and players will be fired up and with BYU coming off games against Utah, Tennessee, USC and Washington — likely beaten down with injuries as well as players likely overlooking Toledo — September’s game is setting up to be a trap game for the Cougars. The Rockets are no slouch either as they have won more than eight games in seven of the past nine seasons. And as fans saw last year to Northern Illinois, beating top MAC teams isn’t so easy.
I believe BYU will go 9-4, which includes a Hawaii Bowl victory. The Cougars have a decent shot at going 2-2 to start the year — with likely wins over Tennessee and USC — however, even at 1-3, the schedule sets up nicely to win seven of its next eight games before the bowl game. As long as the Cougars aren’t hit hard by the injury bug, like they have the past few years, 9-4 is certainly achievable. Cougar fans should remember that although BYU finished last season at 7-6, they were literally just a few plays away from a 10-win season.
It all starts tonight as BYU takes on No. 14 Utah in the Holy War showdown in what should be another down-to-the-wire finish between these two teams. Many national pundits have Utah as a dark-horse candidate to get into the College Football Playoff, however, as good as that team appears to be, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Cougars finally take down the Utes after so many close calls over the years.