BYU COUGARS

Five Burning BYU Football Questions Entering Big 12 Media Day

Jul 8, 2024, 12:26 AM | Updated: 12:29 am

LAS VEGAS – BYU football is around the corner. Later this month, on July 31, the Cougars will kick off fall camp.

First, however, is Big 12 Media Day.

This year, it will occur at the Entertainment Capital of the World, Las Vegas, Nevada, inside the Allegiant Stadium instead of AT&T Stadium in Arlington. Thank goodness it will be inside, as temperatures in Sin City will be near 120 degrees.

BYU would probably love nothing more than to turn the heat up on its program with a season that puts them in the thick of the Big 12 championship race.

It’s a long road between Las Vegas at Big 12 Media Days in July and the Big 12 title game in Arlington this December. Particularly for BYU, who is coming off a 5-7 season and winners of only two Big 12 games during their inaugural season.

As media days kick off on July 9, here are some burning questions for BYU football head coach Kalani Sitake and the five BYU players entering the tent pole media event for the Big 12.

How do BYU football players and Kalani Sitake view the 13th-place prediction?

The Big 12 media tabbed BYU to finish 13th out of 16 teams in the 2024 season. When BYU was last part of a 16-team league, Kalani Sitake was a fullback for the Cougars in the whacky WAC.

During that era of BYU football, the Cougars were never placed near the bottom.

Everyone knew BYU would have difficulty transitioning from Independence to Power Four competition. But in a handful of games last year, the transition seemed more steep than anyone expected.

That leaves BYU near the bottom of the preseason poll for the upcoming season.

It could be easy to scoff at the media predictions and say they know nothing. However, last year, they picked BYU to finish 11th, and the Cougars finished tied for 11th with Baylor.

Last year, West Virginia head coach Neal Brown scoffed at the media poll and guaranteed his team wouldn’t finish last. He was right, as they went on to win nine games last year. Would Kalani Sitake be as bold and make a Media Day guarantee? That’s not Sitake’s style, but it would inject a jolt of energy into the season.

Will BYU name a starting QB during fall camp?

The easy question here would be, “Who’s the starting QB?” I know Vegas is known for its gambles, but I’d bet a large sum of cash that there won’t be any announcements on who BYU’s starting quarterback will be for the 2024 season at Big 12 Media Day.

None of the five BYU players who will be in attendance are quarterbacks.

Coming out of spring practices, BYU offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick called the competition between Jake Retzlaff and USF/Baylor transfer Gerry Bohanon a “neck-and-neck” battle.

So the question that I would ask is, will Sitake and Roderick name a starter during camp?

This competition has the makings of being a game day announcement when BYU takes the first snap against Southern Illinois.

What’s the latest with the roster?

Since spring ball concluded at the end of March, BYU has added a handful of transfer portal additions, including former Utah State quarterback McCae Hillstead.

Hillstead’s arrival brings an exciting wrinkle to the quarterback portion of the roster. Sitake said last month he plans to have “five or six” scholarship players at QB in camp.

Then there’s also the incoming fall freshmen. Sitake said everyone except “one or two” players who they are planning on for fall camp has already been participating during summer conditioning.

The health of linebackers Ben Bywater, Siale Esera, cornerback Marcus McKenzie, and wide receiver Kody Epps will be important tidbits entering fall camp.

What’s changed for players returning to compete as Big 12 members in year two?

BYU’s player representatives at Big 12 Media Day will include defensive end Tyler Batty, wide receivers Chase Roberts and Darius Lassiter, offensive lineman Connor Pay, and cornerback Jakob Robinson.

All five experienced the challenges of last season and the heartbreak of falling one game short of bowl eligibility.

The losing record was a significant reason for Batty and Pay to return, as they opted to use their extra year of eligibility from the COVID season.

So what’s different for this group that brings back 14 returning starters from a season ago?

What is the identity of BYU football in the Big 12?

After last season, BYU football finished with a losing record for only the sixth time since 1972. But beyond the losses, what was probably more concerning was the lack of identity from the on-field product.

The culture inside Kalani Sitake’s program remains strong. That was clear as BYU players played their hearts out to last season’s bitter end.

But the style of play was a grind.

BYU was 118th nationally in total offense. They finished slightly better on defense at 106th.

Everything struggled last year.

During spring, the offense emphasized establishing the ground attack as its number one priority. Last year, that phase of the game struggled mightily, as the team ran for only 104.3 yards per game. It was a far cry from the violent wide zone attack with former BYU running back Tyler Allgeier just three years ago.

But the great BYU teams of the past have always thrived in a 60/40 pass/run ratio. Historically, BYU’s identity has always been tethered to passing the ball. Which direction will they lean offensively this year?

On defense, second-year defensive coordinator Jay Hill has not been shy about the need to generate a pass rush. BYU finished last in team sacks a season ago with 11.

Hill has brought in former Utah State, Oregon State, and Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen as a consultant to work with the defensive line. The former Weber State head coach is aligned entirely with Sitake in their vision of the defense. What will it look like in year two in the Big 12?

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and hosts the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (12–3 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow Mitch’s coverage of BYU in the Big 12 Conference on X: @Mitch_Harper.

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Five Burning BYU Football Questions Entering Big 12 Media Day