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Biggest Questions For BYU Football Entering Fall Camp

Brigham Young Cougars wide receiver Neil Pau'u (2) celebrates his touchdown against the UCF Knights with Brigham Young Cougars tight end Isaac Rex (83) during the Boca Raton Bowl in Boca Raton, Fla., on Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020. (Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News)

PROVO, Utah – The 2021 BYU football season is here. Players reported to camp on Wednesday, and practice gets started Thursday morning. Coming off an 11-1 season and a No. 11 final ranking, there are many positive vibes around BYU right now. But it doesn’t mean there aren’t questions needing to be answered.

In my opinion, these are the biggest questions surrounding BYU football heading into fall camp.

What is BYU’s team vaccination rate?

This time of the year, you want to talk about actual football. Still, with the spikes in positive COVID-19 cases across the country, vaccination rates among college football teams have emerged as a big storyline heading into the season.

The NCAA released its resocialization guidelines for fall sports on Wednesday.

Student-athletes who are vaccinated require no testing for COVID unless they show symptoms. Individuals who are not fully vaccinated will have to take a weekly PCR/NAAT test or three-times-a-week antigen testing.

If players test positive for COVID, the NCAA protocols require isolation for 10 days, with no exercising allowed during that isolation period.

When I asked Kalani Sitake about expected testing protocols at BYU back in June during Media Day, he didn’t have specifics at that moment. Instead, Sitake emphasized, “We’re ready for whatever comes our way. We’ve taken so many different types of tests and done the contact tracing and all of that stuff, we will be ready.”

Which QB stands out in the first five practices?

The battle for who emerges as BYU’s starting quarterback should be a fun one between Jacob Conover, Jaren Hall, and Baylor Romney. Each player has been working hard in the offseason to be given a chance to replace Zach Wilson and become QB1.

The first five practices will be telling because the five sessions have been scripted since June. Each one of the QBs has had the chance to prepare for this moment to hit the ground running when they take the field on Thursday morning. Whoever shines in the first handful of practices could potentially have the upper hand in the competition as camp progresses.

Who steps up at safety?

The biggest question mark for BYU, in my opinion, is the safety position. Outside of Chaz Ah You, there are a lot of question marks in that safety room. Does Malik Moore make that big step forward in his career? Or will Hayden Livingston be the player that starts alongside Ah You?

Depending on when he returns this season from an injury, Micah Harper could be a candidate to switch from cornerback to safety this year.

Which three WRs rise to the top of the depth chart?

Since Fesi Sitake became the wide receivers coach for BYU football in 2018, he turns to his top three receivers and consistently goes with those guys. The three last year were Dax Milne, Neil Pau’u, and Gunner Romney. Out of those three, Romney saw the fewest snaps. But still had nearly 200 more snaps last season than the fourth receiver in Brayden Cosper.

Whoever emerges as the top three wideouts will be the guys playing the most if history has shown us with Fesi Sitake.

Who will the three be? With two guys from last year’s top three returning, it would be easy to assume they are in. But the additions of Puka and Samson Nacua and returned missionary Chase Roberts make this a more intriguing debate than you would expect.

Neil Pau’u might be the most underappreciated player in the program and Romney is a big-play threat. So the competition will be good for everyone involved.

Who rounds out the travel squad along the offensive line?

The starting five along Darrell Funk’s offensive line should be set. From left to right: Blake Freeland, Clark Barrington, James Empey, Connor Pay, and Harris LaChance. After that, there is some debate. Typically, teams travel around eight, maybe nine offensive linemen. There are three or four spots up for grabs to make the travel roster to face Arizona on September 4th.

A rising prospect at offensive tackle is Brayden Keim. He stands at 6-foot-8 and is now over 300-pounds. Coaches have been excited about him for a few years. Joe Tukuafu brings back a lot of experience after filling in as the backup center last year. Campbell Barrington is a player who former BYU lineman Brady Christensen calls a “stud.”

Keep an eye out for newcomer Cade Parrish from Snow College. Parrish was once an Arizona commit. He could be a factor along the right side of the offensive line.

Will BYU football be able to keep the momentum rolling?

The last thing Kalani Sitake and his program want after an 11-1 season is to revert to a .500 record. Despite the success from last year, many talking heads nationally believe it was simply due to the weak schedule and a generational talent at quarterback. Does BYU have the talent to put together an eight or nine-win season with a schedule that boasts seven Power 5 opponents?

The one advantage BYU has compared to many programs around the country is that they had a full 12-game season last year. So while many teams played only five or six games, BYU barely had any stoppages in their practices from August to December, and they played a lot of games that gave reps to the young players who now need to step into bigger roles.

Can BYU turn all of those valuable reps into an advantage this season? That will be the challenge as they look to prove that last year’s success wasn’t a fluke.

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: @Mitch_Harper.

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