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Five Biggest Questions For BYU Football Heading Into 2020 Season

BYU head football coach Kalani Sitake spoke with members of the media to discuss how his program is responding to the Coronavirus outbreak. (Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

PROVO, Utahย – BYU Football is looking to improve from a pair of 7-6 seasons the past two years. The results of the past two years have left coaches, players, and fans wanting more. The upcoming 2020 season has the makings for improvement with so many upperclassmen returning. But a lot of questions need to be answered between now and the first game of the season.

Let’s take a look at what some of those questions would be in this, the five biggest questions for BYU football in 2020.

#1 BYU Football 2020: When will the season start?

During this global pandemic where the Coronavirus has dominated the news cycle, asking when the season will start has to be the number one question that needs to be answered. BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe didn’t lay out any plan publicly for how BYU will return to action, but said when things “kick back in” BYU will be ready to play.

Being an FBS Independent gives BYU flexibility to call their own shots. They are not at the mercy of a league commissioner to determine when they are going to play. With the state of Utah trending in a direction towards a “New Normal,” it gives hope that a full 12-game season could be played.

Will there be fans? That’s a whole other question, but between the positive messaging from Holmoe, the trends towards green status in Utah, and states around the country expressing a desire to get back to pro sports (without fans) on June 1st. There are enough trends to make us feel more positive with each passing day about a 12-game schedule being played.

We all have our fingers crossed that the first game will go off as planned on September 3rd.

#2 What can we expect from QB Zach Wilson?

Last season was a dip on many fronts for Wilson statistically. Wilson’s passer efficiency was down 27 points from his freshman to sophomore year. But how much of that can be chalked up to recovery from shoulder surgery and an injury to his thumb?

Assuming he continues to stay healthy between now and whenever fall camp starts, this off-season will be the first time Wilson has had a clean bill of health entering a season. That alone is a reason for excitement.

The junior quarterback showed well in the six spring practices BYU was able to complete before the coronavirus pandemic suspended camp. Wilson still has the confidence from his coaches to deliver big-time results and he’s got the arm strength to move BYU’s offense up and down the field. But Jaren Hall and Baylor Romney are ready to compete in a moment’s notice if called upon.

With a healthy off-season, this is Wilson’s opportunity to take flight with his career and improve off the flashes of brilliance he showed in his freshman campaign two years ago.

#3 What will BYU’s defense look like?

Through four seasons with Ilaisa Tuiaki as defensive coordinator BYU has produced two Top 25 defenses. Last year, however, was not one of those top 25 units. Dropping eight defenders into coverage became the calling card that many fans will remember BYU’s defense by from last season.

That strategy worked perfectly against an Air Raid offense in USC but struggled mightily against a first time starting quarterback against San Diego State. BYU found themselves in the bottom 15 nationally in total sacks with 17, five of which came in the final game of the season against Hawaii.

Head Coach Kalani Sitake hinted in the spring that he wants his defense to create more havoc and generate more pressure. How will they do that?

A lot of position changes took place in the spring with Zayne Anderson shedding 20 pounds to move from linebacker back to safety. Kavika Fonua saw reps in a hybrid safety/linebacker role and Max Tooley moved from linebacker to safety.

Don’t be surprised if BYU utilizes five defensive backs in some packages this season. Especially with redshirt seniors Chris Wilcox and Troy Warner healthy and ready to go for their final season. But the term “hybrid” will likely be a buzz word we hear a lot throughout the season. Sitake and his staff have recruited athletes that can play multiple positions and they are going to try and make that happen this season.

#4 Will BYU Football find its identity?

Through four years under head coach Kalani Sitake, BYU has yet to find an identity as a program. BYU Athletic Director Tom Holmoe even stated that the football program needs to “lock-in” their identity in all phases of the game this fall.

Under LaVell Edwards, an innovative offensive attack became BYU’s calling card. With Bronco Mendenhall, BYU hung their hat on great defenses that had elite playmaking linebackers. In Sitake’s tenure, the identity has probably been inconsistent results.

Finding an identity on offense, defense, and special teams will go a long way towards BYU getting back on track and producing consistent results. Because Sitake’s era has shown that BYU can deliver big wins, but they’ve also produced some of the biggest head-scratching losses in program history.

#5 Will BYU get back to an 8+ win season?

Eight wins in BYU’s path of Independence was a punchline of sorts. Nearly every year you could almost chalk up the Cougars to an 8-5 season. It was a record that many were getting fed up with early on in Independence. But now with a tougher schedule, it would be viewed as a success. Especially with six Power 5’s on this year’s schedule and an average of six wins the last three seasons.

The ESPN FPI projects BYU to be a 6-6 football team this season. All of BYU’s home games in Provo are winnable and are critical if the Cougars want to get out of the rut of mediocre seasons. Michigan State with new head coach Mel Tucker, rival Utah State, Missouri from the SEC, and a Friday night tilt against Houston highlight the home schedule. All four could be 50/50 toss-ups but not unreasonable to expect BYU to win those games.

The road schedule might be one of the toughest in program history with games at Utah, Arizona State, Minnesota, Boise State, and Stanford all away from Provo. But BYU has shown that they can pull off an upset or two away from LES. Find at least one win out of those five and get revenge against Northern Illinois, there are your eight wins.

Seniors Matt Bushman and Khyiris Tonga didn’t return for another season to produce another 7-6 campaign. BYU will have to buck the trend of dropping the games they shouldn’t, but now the schedule doesn’t have a bunch of games against the likes of UMass and Liberty cooked in to get to bowl eligibility. So if BYU finds a way to pull off eight wins or more, it would be a major accomplishment.

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12-3 pm) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter:ย @Mitch_Harper.

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