COUGAR TRACKS

Key BYU Football Storylines With Only 100 Days Till Kickoff

May 26, 2022, 3:00 AM | Updated: 3:07 am
BYU Football, CFB, 100 Days, Kalani Sitake...
BYU football head coach Kalani Sitake, QB Jaren Hall lead the Cougars into the final season of Independence in 2022. (Photos courtesy of Getty Images)
(Photos courtesy of Getty Images)

PROVO, Utah – In 100 days, BYU football begins its final chapter as an Independent team.

Kalani Sitake’s program is beaming with confidence entering his seventh year at the helm. Back-to-back double-digit win seasons will do that. Of course, it also doesn’t hurt that BYU is preparing for life in the Big 12 Conference in 2023. But that’s still more than a year away, and BYU has big plans for their “Independence Farewell Tour.”

Here are some of the key storylines to get you ready for the upcoming season.

Big 12 is one year away, but the ramp-up phase is underway

From an “unprecedented” contract extension, new contracts for assistants, to staff additions, BYU is doing everything to prepare itself for its tenure in the Big 12.

What’s unique about the new iteration of the Big 12 is that BYU, if they play their cards right, will have a chance to be an instant factor in the league. Oklahoma and Texas will likely ride it out until 2025, but after they are gone, the power structure is up for grabs in the new Big 12. So BYU has as much of a chance as anyone to become a player in the league right away.

From a personnel standpoint getting the roster to “Big 12 ready” status is a key objective in 2022. Offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick believes the BYU offensive line already meets that billing. Offensive line coach Darrell Funk set out the goal for his group to become the best offensive line in the country this fall.

The Big 12 would love nothing more than its new additions to have another big year. Last season, Cincinnati broke through as a Group of Five team to earn a bid into the College Football Playoff. BYU and Houston finished in the final AP Top 25. UCF finished with a nine-win season that was capped off by a bowl win over Florida.

With the next TV deal in the back of everyone’s minds (negotiations begin in February 2024) for the Big 12, BYU and the rest of the new members can help build momentum and rewrite perceptions that the Big 12 isn’t going away.

Year Two for Jaren Hall as QB1

Last season at this time, Jaren Hall was in a three-man race to replace Zach Wilson. He won the battle running away from Baylor Romney and Jacob Conover and guided BYU to an 8-2 record in his ten starts in 2021.

Hall finished with 2,583 yards, 20 touchdowns, and only five interceptions last year. His completion percentage was a solid 64%, but he’s looking to bump that up this fall. Hall also added 307 yards on the ground, including a 56-yard touchdown run against future Big 12 rival Baylor.

The 2022 season is Hall’s second as the starter, but it’s his fifth year at BYU, working with OC/QB coach Aaron Roderick. Hall has complete command of the offense and knows what Roderick expects from his signal-callers. This recipe should bode well for BYU’s offense if the 6-foot-1, 205-pound signal-caller can stay healthy throughout the entire year.

When BYU has one starting quarterback throughout an entire season, special seasons tend to happen. Just look to Zach Wilson two years ago as a prime example.

If Hall does stay healthy this season, he could become a quarterback prospect that sees his NFL draft stock rise. Maybe not to Zach Wilson levels at No. 2 overall, but perhaps backend of the first round? Hall is training with former BYU football star John Beck and Dustin Smith this off-season in preparation for what could be his final year in Provo.

BYU’s offense has the potential to be among the best in college football

Jaren Hall is the biggest name on the offensive side of the ball for BYU heading into the 2022 season. But he isn’t the only star. BYU boasts an offense that, on paper, doesn’t appear to have a weakness.

The task of replacing Tyler Allgeier at running back will be challenging. But Cal transfer Chris Brooks appeared to be a quick study of Roderick’s offensive playbook. Plus, there’s experience with Lopini Katoa and Jackson McChesney to go along with Brooks.

 

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At wide receiver, BYU is as deep as they’ve ever been. Puka Nacua is an emerging star as a big-play threat and Gunner Romney returns for one final season to show NFL scouts what he’s capable of when healthy.

Keanu Hill, Chase Roberts, and Kody Epps are all young receivers that appear ready to step into the spotlight and become key targets for Jaren Hall in the passing game.

At tight end, BYU brings back Dallin Holker, one of the stars of spring practice. During his sophomore season, the former Lehi High star took on too much after returning home from serving a Latter-day Saint mission. This fall, he’s ready for a more significant role to go along with Isaac Rex, who is on track to be back for fall camp after a devastating lower leg injury suffered against USC.

The offensive line features a handful of potential future NFL draft picks in Freeland, Clark Barrington at guard, and five-star recruit Kingsley Suamataia.

Defense looks to prove the doubters wrong

BYU’s defense took a step back statistically last season. For the first time under defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki, BYU was outside the top 50 in scoring defense. The Cougars finished 51st allowing 24.7 points per game.

After fielding a top 10 unit in 2020, BYU’s total defense numbers in 2021 dropped to 74th, allowing 388.2 yards per contest. So that area has to improve.

In the spring, Kalani Sitake said he wants to see more explosive plays from his defense. BYU football was seventh nationally in turnover margin a season ago. Maintaining that level of explosive playmaking ability would go a long way toward fielding another 10-win season.

Also, it doesn’t hurt to return the leader in sacks in defensive end Tyler Batty who finished with 3.5 sacks a season ago. He and the rest of the BYU defense will look to improve that number this fall.

If BYU’s defense can return to being a top 40 group that they’ve typically been under Tuiaki, with how explosive the offense can be this year, BYU should be in a good spot to win many games. A lot of BYU’s success in 2022 could rest on the improved play of the defense that returns practically everyone, including a quartet of star linebackers in Payton Wilgar, Keenan Pili, Ben Bywater, and Max Tooley.

Another tough schedule awaits for BYU football

The final chapter of Independence features another challenging schedule. BYU football will face five Power Five teams, four of which were ranked in the final AP Top 25 last season.

Those five P5 teams include defending Big 12 Champion Baylor (Sept. 10 in Provo), Pac-12 North division champ Oregon (Sept. 17, Eugene), Notre Dame (Oct. 8, Las Vegas), and Arkansas (Oct. 15, Provo).

BYU will close the regular season against Stanford on the Farm. The Cardinal finished last year with only three wins but is in the top five nationally in returning production.

Then there are road games against USF and Boise State, two teams that return a ton of production from last season. Another 10-win season with this schedule would be quite the accomplishment for Kalani Sitake and his program.

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 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.

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