Last year BYU braved a tough schedule with 6 opponents from Power 5 conferences and 6 other tough opponents from the Group of 5 and FCS. They managed to win 9 games including the final Poinsettia Bowl against the Wyoming Cowboys.
This year the Cougars will have a similarly difficult schedule against four Power 5 conference opponents, six opponents from the Mountain West Conference they were most recently a member of, another Independent team in Umass, and an American Athletic Conference member in East Carolina whom they defeated in the 2015 BYU Homecoming Game.
Hail Mary Mangum is back after missing most of 2016 to serve as the backup to 5th year senior Taysom Hill. The Idaho product recorded two Hail Mary game winners in a row as a true freshman in 2015z It gave an eerie deja vu feeling to once it happened against Boise State a week after a miraculous game winner at Nebraska. Mangum never faltered even after Taysom was injured and announced to be out for the season. This two game win streak put BYU temporarily on the college football map as the Comeback Cougars and a rap song by James the Mormon called “Dreamin” had Cougar fans dreaming of a shot at a national championship.
The Cougars were brought back to reality after a close loss at UCLA and a scoreless loss at Michigan. They also lost at Arrowhead Stadium to Missouri and by a touchdown to the Utes in the Las Vegas Bowl after going down 35-0 early due to a multitude of turnovers.
The main question this year is how the Cougars will respond after the departure of several key players such as Taysom Hill and the all time school rushing leader in Jamal Williams. The Cougars have some big shoes to fill but luckily Coach Kalani Sitake has proven to be a coach that can fill them.
Doubters will say that there is no way that BYU would beat a powerhouse SEC team like LSU in an NFL stadium. Perhaps the doubters weren’t present last year when the Cougars beat Arizona in the stadium of the Cardinals, or when they beat an SEC team in Mississippi State in overtime for their homecoming.
Wisconsin will definitely be a tough school to beat even at home. The Utes will definitely be another close game like last year and the Cougars can only hope luck will finally swing their side after 6 straight losses to their in-state rivals. Seven is a magical number in the wizarding world so why wouldn’t it be in the Beehive State?
The Mountain West teams will be easy to beat with the exception of perhaps the Boise State Broncos or the Utah State Aggies in a tough game up in Logan for General Conference weekend.
If only the brethren gave a special conference the week before the game to go over play calls. Then perhaps both teams would be ready to handle the uncertainty that almost always results in a quarterback getting injured in this rivalry. If you need your memory refreshed, just ask Chuckie Keeton or Taysom Hill what happened in some of their battles for The Old Wagon Wheel.
The Cougars will have a lot of questions to answer this year but they will still have a schedule that will result in a lot of wins.
Best Case: They will win 10 regular season games and their bowl game. Wisconsin and LSU look like the only two games that they are the heavy underdogs in.
Worst Case: The Cougars will only win six games. They could lose to every one of their four Power 5 conference opponents and two Mountain West opponents like Boise State and Utah State.
Most Likely Scenario: The last two years the Cougars have hovered around 9 wins. Look for that trend to continue. They can get a .500 record against Power 5 opponents like they did last year. It’s most likely that they finally beat Utah and then defeat Mississippi State again. They will probably lose to at least one Mountain West opponent this year with Boise being the most difficult of the opponents. Either way look for the Cougars to pull off 9 wins somehow and possibly 10 if they get a favorable bowl matchup.
Final Outlook: It isn’t time to rise and shout to the magnitude of the 1984 national championship season but it is time for fans to “Rep the Y” as the Cougars are gradually trending upward. The only thing standing between them and a shot at more success on a national scale is an invite to a Power 5 Conference. While that isn’t likely to happen soon, all BYU can do is hold their own against the big schools and hope that the big dogs come calling soon.
If they fail to do this then, well, the Mountain West Conference will always welcome them back. They are basically two games shy of a Mountain West Conference schedule this year so this could continue if the Cougars can’t consistently get 5 or 6 Power 5 schools to schedule games with them every year.