BYU quarterback Jaren Hall answers BYU Football Media Day interview questions on Thursday, June 17, 2021 at the BYU Broadcast Building in Provo. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)
Estimated reading time: 4-5 minutes
PROVO — BYU enters the 2022 season with a preseason top 25 finish for the first time since 2009.
They’re No. 25 in the Associated Press poll, but in my annual preseason magazine Pick Six Previews, I put BYU at No. 15 nationally.
The 2020 Cougars started 9-0 and moved up to No. 8, but were criticized for failing to play a top-five opponent due to conference-only schedule restrictions. They quickly proved those doubters wrong in 2021 by sweeping the Pac-12 (5-0), beating former BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall’s Virginia team, and finally ending a losing streak against Utah.
Can the 2022 lineup be even stronger? I said yes. The nearly complete starting lineup is intact, and BYU is No. 1 in the country in return to production metrics, a clear indication of year-over-year progress.
The first test was a road trip to Tampa to take on AAC’s South Florida in last year’s rematch with a 35-27 BYU win.
(Preview your opponent’s adjusted statistical advantage by selecting six)
2021 season: BYU 58.1 (24th) | USF 22.4 (5 Power Equivalent: 64th of 66)
2022 season: Not applicable
USF was one of the worst teams in America last year; they went 2-10 with seven of their losses in double digits. Facing their two top five opponents, USF was defeated 87-20 on aggregate. The Game Grader formula has a low USF rating, with a season rating of 22.4, which would put 64 of 66 points in the top five in the context of Power Five — just ahead of Kansas State and Vanderbilt.
On the other hand, BYU has shown staying power by soaring to No. 5 in the Game Grader in 2020, before breaking into the top 25 again in 2021. Instead of being eliminated like USF, BYU won 6-1 against the Power Five.
Throughout the 2021 season, USF’s offense has completed just six touchdowns. This is one of those stats that I have to double check for typos, but yes, six out of twelve games. Even the Armed Forces triple-select offense threw more touchdowns. To make matters worse, USF’s quarterbacks combined twice as many interceptions (12). Their rushing attack was relatively stronger, averaging 3.9 yards per carry, but even that was below the national average (87th in 130 FBS).
Like BYU, USF is back with most of its starting lineup, including a 2021 1,151-yard running back duo: Jaren Mangham and Kelley Joiner. The offensive line is full of experience and has headlines in Donovan Jennings and Demetrius Harris.
But the biggest storyline was when quarterback, Baylor’s Gribo Hannon, moved after the spring ball. Bohannon led Baylor to a surprising breakout season, but he was eliminated in Game 11 and missed the Big 12 championship game. That championship moment provided a platform to shine for backup Blake Shapen — who eventually beat Bohanon this spring.
With Bohanon, USF acquires a seasoned top-five quarterback who is an efficient passer and carries 7-10 possessions per game (9 rushers in 2021). Array) participated in the running competition.
Yes, the USF’s offense is seasoned, but so are their opponents. Fifteen of BYU’s top 16 tacklers returned, and they welcomed the return of star linebackers Payton Wilgar and Keenan Pili, who both missed time later in the season. With Wilgar, Pili in the lineup, BYU is No. 32 (66) in the Power Five; but as the injury intensifies, they’re down to No. 58 in the past seven games.
A common misconception is that BYU only puts eight defenders on screen per game. They may have had the mountain-sized Khyiris Tonga’s nose tackle in 2020, but now it’s a very complicated plan. Advantage: BYU
Brigham Young quarterback Jaren Hall had plenty to fill when Zach Wilson was selected with the second overall pick in the NFL draft, but he shocked Utah with his debut, And entered the top 25 passing season as a first starter. Hall now has a second-year starting bonus and has one of the best offensive lines in the country to protect him. BYU’s product line is one of only eight in the nation that is in the top 25 in both my running push and pass protection metrics. All five offensive line starters and most of the two-deep players returned, and left guard Clark Barrington earned fourth-team All-American honors with the No. 6 pick.
I expect the trenches will be the deciding factor in this game, with BYU’s offensive line having a big advantage over USF’s defensive line. Last season, USF was ranked as one of the worst defensive teams in the United States, finishing fifth from last in counterattacks. In the passing spree, they produced just nine sacks all season and ended up dying. They do return a wealth of experience, but again, so does BYU; with last season as an indicator, that’s a huge plus for BYU. Look for the Cougars to build a solid running game and protect Hall long enough against secondary failures.
All assessments and metrics point to a victory for BYU. My Brigham Young University is ranked 15th nationally, just behind Notre Dame when considering teams that are not in the Big Five. USF is projected to be ninth out of 11 non-AQ AAC teams. BYU will start the season with a strong away win.
25 BYU (-11.5) 37 | USF 20
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