After a sensational freshman season a year ago, Cougar fans can’t wait to see what sophomore quarterback Zac Wilson will do for an encore performance.
After watching Wilson throw a perfect game in a bowl victory in December — completing all 18 passes for 317 yards and four touchdowns — why shouldn’t Cougar fans be excited after years of recent struggles on offense.
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.
Here’s how BYU’s games stack up this year, ranging from toughest to easiest:
1) Utah — August 29
With 15 returning starters, including five players who were named to the preseason All-Pac-12 team, the Utes are not only the favorites to win the Pac-12 South Division, but the favorites to win the Pac-12 Championship as well. It doesn’t help that the Utes have won eight consecutive games against the Cougars, including last year’s dramatic come-from-behind victory after the Cougars blew a 20-point lead.
Many experts believe Utah has the best defensive line in the entire country, however, the Utes have big holes to fill at linebacker. And after being outplayed for nearly three quarters last year, it will be interesting to see how the battle of the trenches goes between these two teams.
The Utes have a new offensive coordinator — stop me if you’ve heard that before — and with numerous starters coming back off season-ending injuries and with it being the first game of the year, the Cougars have a good shot at ending the streak.
2) Washington — September 21
You could have a great argument to put Washington at the top, however, Utah’s 8-game series winning streak is what put the Utes over the edge. 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 did lose a number of players to the NFL, but head coach Chris Peterson has shown that he can quickly reload as they’ve shown over the years. Losing four-year starting quarterback Jacob Browning and running back Myles Gaskin hurts, but the Huskies bring back a number of skills players who look to take the next step and improve on last season’s totals. Based on Washington’s schedule, the Huskies should be rolling into Provo with a Top 10 ranking.
3) USC — September 14
Despite its storied program and its high-profile recruiting classes, USC fell flat on its face last year as the team finished with a 5-7 record under head coach Clay Helton. Will the Trojans bounce back from last year’s disappointing season?
It helps that sophomore quarterback JT Daniels is back as well as most of his receiving corps (Tyler Vaughns, Amon-Ra St. Brown and Michael Pittman Jr.). Last year, the true freshman set several USC freshman passing records and looks to have a breakout season this year in USC’s new pass-happy scheme under new offensive coordinator Graham Harrell.
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.
4) Tennessee — September 7
Tennessee should be a decent team this year, but the Volunteers have continued to struggle over the years after dominating the college football world in the late 90’s and early 2000s. However, playing on the road in SEC country at Rocky Top in front of 100,000+ screaming fans will still be tough, but should make for an amazing atmosphere for Cougar fans.
Despite finishing 5-7 last year, 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 make a big impact on the football program as Kalani Sitake looks to stay off the hot seat.
5) Utah State — November 2
Utah State hasn’t recorded three consecutive victories over BYU since winning four straight in the series from 1971-74. However, the Aggies have a chance to do just that this year under head coach Gary Andersen.
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. While the Aggies 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 — the Aggies must replace several starters along the offensive line, lose their top receivers, tight end and running back. It also helps that the Cougars have a bye week before the game to rest up and have an extra week to prepare for the Aggies.
6) Boise State — October 19
No matter how many starters Boise State has to replace every year, the Broncos just simply reload, win the Mountain West Conference and finish with a Top 25 ranking. This year, Boise State will look to keep the trend going as they try to fill the roles left behind from starting quarterback Brett Rypien, 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. Last year, the Broncos stopped the Cougars on the two-yard line as the clock expired to push Boise State’s streak to three consecutive games in the series. Like games against Utah and Utah State, this will be another game that BYU will have circled on the calendar after suffering another heartbreaking loss last year.
Boise State will be breaking in a new quarterback and running back this season, and just recently announced that true freshman Hank Bachmeier will start in the season opener against Florida State. Bachmeier will be the first true freshman quarterback to start a season opener for the Broncos during the school’s FBS era.
With little experience in the backfield for the Broncos, the Cougars should be able to force the freshman into mistakes and create turnovers. if this was ever the year to beat the Broncos, this year is certainly it.
7) South Florida — October 12
For BYU fans, this matchup will likely bring flashbacks to the Western Athletic Conference days as this game looks to be a shoutout of two high-powered offenses. South Florida finished last year at 7-6 in what was a tale of two seasons. After winning its first seven games, USF fell apart and lost its remaining six games.
On the bright side, the Bulls bring back starting quarterback Blake Barnett who threw for 2,700 yards and 12 touchdowns, as well as running back Jordan Conkrite who ran for 1,100 yards and nine touchdowns last season. While the Bulls should have no problem scoring, its their defense that needs all the help it can get after giving up nearly 450 yards per game last year.
After a grueling September schedule which includes four consecutive games against Power 5 teams, BYU will have a much-needed bye break before traveling to Raymond James Stadium. The Cougars haven’t fared well in the Sunshine State with an 0-7 all-time record. Will the Cougars finally break the streak?
8) Toledo — September 28
The last time these two teams met, they combined for 108 points and over 1,200 yards in what was one of the best games of the season in 2016. The game saw star running backs in Jamaal Williams and Kareem Hunt go head-to-head in what was one of the longest games of the season. In fact, former Texas head coach Mack Brown left the booth late in the fourth quarter to catch a flight back to the East Coast so he could make it back for ESPN’s college football show Saturday morning.
Toledo won’t be a pushover, having won more than eight games in seven of the past nine seasons. You can bet the Rockets will be up for this game, as it will be their Super Bowl and on top of playing at home.
However, the Rockets lost a plethora of starters on both sides of the ball, including losing its top wide receivers and five of its top tacklers for a defense that wasn’t good to begin with.
The Rockets do return two quarterbacks with starting experience as well as sophomore running back Bryant Koback who looks to have a breakout season. Seeing as BYU will be coming off playing four consecutive Power 5 opponents and then must travel east to take on the Rockets, this game won’t be a gimme by any means. And as fans saw last year to Northern Illinois, beating top MAC teams isn’t so easy.
9) San Diego State — November 30
San Diego State should be a lot higher, however, seeing as BYU has essentially three bye weeks leading up to the San Diego State game with Liberty, Idaho State and UMass, gives BYU plenty of time to get players healthy and ready to go against the Aztecs.
Like they have always been, San Diego State relies on its rushing attack, which plays right into BYU’s strength on defense this year. The Aztecs will likely be a middle-of-the-road MWC team, so the Cougars shouldn’t have too many problems, unless they are hit by the injury bug again this year.
Cougar fan should be happy with a game in San Diego in late November and should be confident in another Cougar victory over the Aztecs.
10) Liberty — November 9
This will be the first-ever meeting between both programs, which are both FBS independents. Liberty went 6-6 in its inaugural FBS debut last year, and lost several heartbreaking games in the process. However, luckily for for Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze, who was recently hired in the offseason, the Flames averaged more than 33 points per game on offense and bring back plenty of firepower this year.
Quarterback Stephen Calvert should break his own record after passing for more than 3,000 yards and 21 touchdowns last season. Running back Frankie Hickson looks to shows that last year was no fluke either as the senior rushed for nearly 1,100 yards and 11 touchdowns last season.
11) UMass — November 23
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 a cold, but rather entertaining game for BYU fans in what should be a blowout victory.
After an easy victory last year for BYU, UMass, which lost a number of key players and return just six starters total on both sides of the ball, the Minutemen are going to be in for a long season. And depending on how things go earlier in the season, this game could mean bowl eligibility for BYU, which should help keep fans interested.
12) Idaho State — November 16
After throwing a perfect game last year in the bowl win over Western Michigan, expect Wilson to have a similar performance against Idaho State before sitting out most of the second half in a blowout win. 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 in 2013, the Cougars rolled the Bengals, 59-13. Expect a similar score this year as well.