20 Reasons To Be Excited For 2020 BYU Football Season
ANNAPOLIS, Maryland – When BYU lines up against Navy on Labor Day night here in Annapolis, it will have been 258 days since the last time the Cougar Football played a game. Life is a lot different than what it was when BYU lined up against Hawaii last Christmas Eve.
With how much has changed and everything it’s taken to get to this season off the ground, you can’t help but be excited.
If you’re not excited, can I ask, why? Even Utah Ute legends like Tom Hackett are excited for BYU football this year.
20 Reasons to be excited for BYU Football in 2020
You’re still struggling to get hyped? Well, let me give you 20 reasons why you should be excited. If you’re already excited like Tommy boy, these reasons will get you even more hyped for this fall.
#1 They are playing
COVID-19 has not been kind to sports in 2020. So any games played feel like an unexpected bonus. It could have been easier for BYU to pick up their ball and go home as many conferences did. But the Cougars Independent status paid off in a big way and now they look to navigate an eight-game schedule that could grow to 10 or even 12 during the season.
#2 BYU is the only team out west
BYU has quite the opportunity in front of them this fall season. The Cougars are the only college football program west of Texas playing this fall. Exposure, not the COVID kind, but TV exposure could be all-time highs for the Cougars.
#3 Zach Wilson
The junior quarterback saw dips statistically in QB efficiency, completion percentage, and TD-INT ratio. But how much of that was due to injuries last season? Wilson is now recovered 100 percent from the shoulder surgery and his thumb injury suffered in-season last year. After a dominant performance in fall camp that earned him the starting nod, Wilson looks to take BYU’s offense to heights they haven’t seen under Kalani Sitake.
#4 Khyiris Tonga
Tonga, a senior nose tackle, turned down a chance to play in the NFL to return to BYU for one more year. When he arrived on campus in 2017, he drew comparisons to Haloti Ngata for his combination of size and athleticism. Tonga is relatively new to the defensive line spot, having played tight end at Granger High School during his prep career. The inexperience has created some ups and downs in performance, but now he looks to be the dominant force many believe he can become.
#5 Continuity on the coaching staff
All but one coach (AJ Steward to Arizona) from last season returned in 2020 and the coach that filled the vacancy was part of the program the previous three years as a graduate assistant. On both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, BYU’s coaching staff has experience in their current roles and with that experience, possibly comes a leap forward in winning percentage.
#6 Games against Military Academies
The original 2020 schedule before COVID-19 rocked the world was loaded with six Power 5 opponents. BYU AD Tom Holmoe had to put together what he could in a short period of time. He did a solid job, especially with the first two games coming against military academies Navy and Army.
BYU hasn’t faced the Naval Academy since 1989 and the Cougars have never faced the Black Knights of Army in program history.
#7 Potential playmakers at wide receiver
Losing the top three receivers from a season ago would typically spell a potential drop-off. But it’s possible the 2020 edition of BYU’s receivers could end up being better than the year prior. Starters Gunner Romney, Neil Pau’u, and Dax Milne have earned a lot of trust from the coaching staff for their knowledge of the offense and playmaking ability in camp. Behind them are young players that have piqued the interest of Cougar fans in heralded freshman Kody Epps, JUCO speedster Chris Jackson, and Keanu Hill who has the bloodlines of a family known for playing football at its highest levels.
#8 Super Sophomores at Linebacker
Payton Wilgar, Max Tooley, and Keenan Pili were all voted as Freshman All-Americans by Pro Football Focus. BYU’s linebackers as a whole is viewed as a strength of the team and these three are some of the rising stars to watch for.
#9 Hybrid Positions
If you noticed on the week one depth chart for the Navy game, BYU listed some new positions on its defense. Including a “Cinco” spot for defensive back Chaz Ah You. Kalani Sitake was coy when trying to describe what those positions entail, but Sitake did say these hybrid roles could play anywhere from linebacker, safety, and cornerback. In an effort to get the best 11 players on the field, Sitake wants BYU’s defenses to have athletes with speed and versatility on the field at all times.
#10 Isaac Rex
The Achilles injury to Matt Bushman was disappointing for a player that wanted to return for one more year to improve his draft stock and to get BYU out of its mediocre rut. But in the words of Jeff Grimes, “the show goes on.” Who steps in to replace Bushman in the “show?”
Watch for redshirt freshman Isaac Rex. A 6-foot-6, 247-pound tight end who has been a star in practices since last year’s bowl prep. But performing in games is far different than in a practice.
To expect the level of production from Rex that Bushman produced is probably a tall ask, but the upside is there for Rex to become a very good tight end at BYU.
#11 Safety Tandem
The backend of BYU’s defense is in good hands in 2020 with seniors Troy Warner and Zayne Anderson. Both probably didn’t expect to be around Provo for the 2020 season as each has had to extend their collegiate careers due to injuries. But now they join forces at safety and ready to showcase their playmaking abilities for a chance to be in the NFL one year from now.
#12 All personnel is available
With the NCAA incorporating a blanket eligibility waiver for the 2020 season due to COVID-19, everyone on this year’s team could return with the same status one year from now. Including the seniors. So if a true freshman is performing at a high level in practice, there shouldn’t be any reservations from coaches to insert him into the game plan in a given week. This revamped COVID-19 schedule should give the BYU football program some opportunities to play a lot of players this fall.
#13 Depth at Quarterback
BYU has shown as an Independent that their recruiting at the sport’s most important position has not taken a dip. The Cougars have three quarterbacks who won games as a starter last season in Zach Wilson, Baylor Romney, and Jaren Hall. Then they added Elite 11 finalist QB Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters from Washington, D.C. and coaches raved about his playmaking ability during camp, even giving him some first-team reps to evaluate his game with the Cougars top offensive personnel.
BYU also added former four-star recruit, Jacob Conover, when school started on August 31st and he will compete in practice during the season.
#14 Tip of the Spear
Offensive Coordinator Jeff Grimes has always preached that he wants his offensive line’s to be the “tip of the spear” for an offense. BYU’s offensive line in 2020 has the makings to be the identity of the Cougar attack this fall.
115 starts are returning from an offensive line that boasts seven different players with starting experience. Led by left tackle Brady Christensen and center James Empey, this group looks like the unit that has the potential to end BYU’s long drought of no offensive linemen being selected in the NFL Draft.
#15 Speed in the return game
It’s becoming more difficult than ever before to produce a return game that poses a threat to return kicks or punts for touchdowns with all the measures to highlight player safety on special teams. But, BYU can still get a lot better than what they’ve put out in the third phase of the game.
This year has some intriguing options in the return game. Wide receiver Dax Milne is likely the starter at punt returner for his sure-hands. But at kick returner is where it gets a little more interesting with Caleb Christensen and Jackson McChesney listed as starters. True freshman Miles Davis is another option.
Both were speedsters in high school during their prep careers in the state of Utah and McChesney showed last year against UMass he has the speed to pop off a big play.
Last year, BYU football was 87th in kickoff return yardage. That ranking will naturally go up with a lot less teams this year, but they could be in the top half of the country in return yards.
#16 Games possibly being added in-season
Games being added during the season is peak 2020. It’s a weird year on many counts, but this might take the cake. With only eight games right now, BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe is going to try and do everything he can to get a 10 or 12-game schedule.
If teams have cancellations, BYU has shown they are willing to travel amidst this pandemic and they’ll happily step in and fill a date if makes sense for both parties.
#17 Next Matt Payne?
Remember Matt Payne? The big-bodied specialist who could boot the football with the best of them and then he would rip your head off on kick coverage. Well, at least if you were Chris Carr from Boise State. BYU football has an impressive specialist in 2020 that conjures up some resemblance to Payne.
Ryan Rehkow, a 6-foot-5, 240-pound true freshman has been a specialist his entire football career. His brother, Austin, was an All-American specialist at Idaho. Rehkow was asked by BYU coaches to be a defensive end or tight end, but the Veradale, Washington native wanted to remain at punter where he’s always played and has a big leg.
Rehkow will handle punts for BYU and could also serve as the specialist on kickoffs as well.
#18 Team that Sitake has been building towards
The investment into youth the past few years has led to what you would expect, a lot of up and down results that have left BYU averaging six wins the past three seasons. The 2020 team was always one that Sitake and his staff were building towards with how much experience is returning.
Now they need to have the payoff and show the accumulation of talent and player development is trending in the right direction with a schedule that poses a lot of opportunities to pile up wins.
#19 Best chance since 1984 to go undefeated
With the eight games currently on the schedule, BYU could be a favorite in all of them. It’s not the schedule that Holmoe had worked seven years to piece together, but it’s a schedule and it’s one that gives BYU their best chance to run the table since they were national champions in 1984.
Road games at Navy, Army West Point, and Houston will be tricky but they aren’t unbeatable. Western Kentucky was ranked higher than BYU in Phil Steele’s preseason magazine, but it’s in Provo.
If there was ever a year for the Cougars to run the table, it’s this one.
#20 It’s BYU Football
For an inside look at what it’s like to be at a BYU football game during the COVID-19 pandemic, follow @kslsports on Instagram. Mitch Harper will be giving you an inside look all weekend leading up to the BYU vs. Navy game on Monday. Find Mitch on Twitter here.
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