In the final year of Independence before joining the Big 12 Conference next year — and with 18 of 22 starters returning — the 2022 season has all the makings of a special season for the Cougars.
And after back-to-back 10+ win seasons, the Cougars look to keep the tradition going against arguably one of it’s toughest schedules to date. In fact, BYU will face five teams that finished in the Top 25 last season (Baylor, Oregon, Notre Dame, Utah State and Arkansas).
Fortunately for the Cougars, the teams plays just one of those games on the road (Oregon), and the other (Notre Dame) in a neutral site matchup in Las Vegas, at Allegiant Stadium — home of the Raiders.
BYU 2022 Season Preview
Head Coach: Kalani Sitake, 7th year at BYU, 48-29
Notable games: No. 5 Notre Dame, No. 10 Baylor, No. 11 Oregon and No. 19 Arkansas
Returning Starters: 18 out of 22
2021 Record: 10-3 record
2021 Final Ranking: 19th
BYU Football: Analyzing ESPN’s FPI Predictions Over The Years
With Zach Wilson off to the NFL, the offense under Jaren Hall was a little bit different last year for Cougars. Instead of quick strikes and big plays, the offense sustained long drives and was very efficient finishing in the Top 25 in red zone efficiency scoring on 49 out of 55 trips. The team finished the year ranked 17th in total offense (452 yards per game) and 29th in scoring (33.1 points per game).
This year, the Cougars look to step it up with almost everyone returning. Yes, the team lost star running back Tyler Allgeier and center James Empey to the NFL, but with Cal transfer Christopher Brooks and Oregon transfer Kingsley Suamataia filling in, the Cougar offense is loaded and should be even better than it was last year.
Hall, a talented dual-threat quarterback has worked tirelessly on his throwing during the offseason and it’s looked to have paid off. During a recent practice, Hall did not throw an incomplete pass and looked sharp behind a very talented offensive line. With backup Baylor Romney leaving the program, highly-touted 4-star recruit Jacob Conover has taken the No. 2 spot and has looked very good in practice.
On the skills front, wide receivers Gunner Romney and Puka Nacua return to form a deadly 1-2 punch. Those two combined for nearly 1,400 yards and nine touchdowns. Other weapons for Hall include star tight ends Isaac Rex and Dallin Holker who combined for 32 catches for 391 yards and four touchdowns. Rex, who dealt with injuries last year before sustaining a season-ending injury in the win over USC, had 12 touchdowns in 2020 alone and looks to have a repeat performance this year.
By the end of the season — and due to so many injuries — offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick joked that he didn’t even know who was on defense during the game against USC. The Cougars, who were decimated with injuries on defense, will need to take a big step forward if the program wants to challenge for a New Years Six and College Football Playoff spot. The team gave up more than 25 points per game and just under 400 yards of total offense.
Luckily for defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki, nearly everyone returns, and is healthy too. Payton Wilgar, Max Tooley and Keenan Pili lead a star-studded linebacking corps and defensive backs Malik Moore and Jakob Robinson combined for six interceptions last year. Defensive end Tyler Batty is back after leading the way with 3.5 sacks last year and looks to have an even better this year. The sophomore is rising up the rankings, with many having him as a Top 20 guy for his position.
And after generating just 20 sacks last year and with so much experience at every position, Tuiaki has lot of ways to bring pressure with such a deep lineup. The question is, is he going to take advantage, or will the Cougar defense employ the bend but don’t break method again? A lot of that could depend on the status of Chaz Ah You. The former 4-star recruit and versatile defender who can play anywhere, hasn’t participated in fall camp. There’s growing speculation that Ah You could redshirt this season, and come back for another year in 2023.
Punter: Ryan Rehkow
Kicker: Jake Oldroyd
Backup: Justen Smith
It’s hard to have a special season without great special teams play and luckily for the Cougars, that’s exactly what they have again with returning specialists Ryan Rehkow (punter) and Jake Oldroyd (kicker).
Ryan Rehkow is arguably the best punter in college football and Jake Oldroyd is a Lou Groza Award watch list candidate once again. Oldroyd didn’t miss a kick in 2020, but couldn’t duplicate that feat in 2021 due to injuries. The junior went 9 for 13 last year and missed several games too. When healthy, he’s automatic but in any case, the Cougars shouldn’t need much from Rehkow and Oldroyd this year with such a loaded offense.
BYU was a yard away from a perfect season in a heartbreaking loss to Coastal Carolina in 2020, and then followed it up by winning the “Pac-12 Championship” with victories over Utah, Arizona State, Washington State, Arizona, and USC last year. The Cougars have had consecutive 10+ win seasons and look to have a repeat performance.
But is this finally the year? Is it time to dust off the “Quest For Perfection” t-shirts?
If the team can stay healthy, something the program has struggled with for more than a decade — another 10-win season will likely be in the cards. And with so many high-profile games and with so many starters returning, it’s time for the program to prove the last two years were no fluke as BYU looks to make a national splash right before they join the Big 12 Conference next year.
With Utah not on the schedule this year and without a conference championship to play for this year either, all eyes turn towards pushing for a New Year’s Six bowl game, or perhaps a CFB Playoff invite if everything goes their way.
Luckily for the program, the schedule is not heavily front loaded as it has been in years past with the two toughest stretches occurring nearly a month apart (Baylor and Oregon and Notre Dame and Arkansas). BYU will be favored in a majority of its games — not all of them — but every game is certainly winnable.
And if there was any year to get a NY6 or CFP berth, this is the year. Can the Cougars finally put it all together for a truly special season? We’re about to find out!
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BYU Football: Analyzing ESPN’s FPI Predictions Over The Years