Last year was tough for BYU fans -- the toughest since the days of Crowton. Bronco Mendenhall botched the two-quarterback system. The defense was consistently getting knocked around. But I'm here to tell you, the glory days are about to return.
Sure, BYU didn't beat anybody of significance in their 5-1 finish to the 2010 season, but what we saw was the building blocks of a new era.
Simply put, Jake Heaps is the real deal. He was thrown into an awkward situation last season as a true freshman, and that affected him through more than he let on. But as Heaps got more and more comfortable in his new role as the unquestioned starter, he began to blossom. His performance through training camp has given us no reason to doubt his progress will grow exponentially this season.
Heaps has the smarts, the poise, the confidence and now he has the weapons to become the next great BYU quarterback. Every time I see him in practice or just talk to him, I'm amazed that I'm actually speaking to a 20-year old. He comes across like a 10-year veteran, not a sophomore.
With Ross Apo joining Cody Hoffman and a rejuvenated McKay Jacobson, Heaps should have a fun time finding an open receiver. If the Cougars can get any production out of the tight end position, whether it's Austin Holt or Richard Wilson, Heaps will be even more dangerous.
The running game is talented, deep and versatile. The three-headed monster of J.J. Di Luigi, Josh Quezada and Bryan Kariya will give defensive coordinators headaches. Di Luigi will no longer have to account for half of the BYU offense. Quezada is a star in the making and could be the most productive of the three this year.
The offensive line, led by All-American Matt Reynolds, is big, experienced and deep. They need to keep Heaps healthy, and I think they will be up to the job.
The questions with BYU aren't on offense, of course. The defense needs to carry its share of the load as well. The Cougars can't be counted on to score 35 points to win games. I absolutely love this group of linebackers. With a healthy Jordan Pendleton, a motivated Uona Kaveinga, a budding star in Kyle Van Noy and the solid Jameson Frazier, this core is going to make life very difficult for opposing quarterbacks.
I do have questions with the secondary, but I really like the safety tandem of Mike Hague and Travis Uale. Corby Eason needs to have a standout season at quarterback, since he'll likely face the opposing teams top receiver week in and week out. He'll have his share of tough times, but he'll also come up with some big plays.
The biggest reason why I think the defense will do well this year is Bronco Mendenhall. Since taking over as defensive coordinator after the Utah State debacle, this unit has changed for the better. It's rejuvenated Mendenhall himself, and it's re-energized the entire defense.
BYU's schedule is not nearly as easy as some people are making it out to be. Their home schedule is atrocious, and outside of the Utah game, the Cougars should have very little trouble at LaVell Edwards Stadium. But those road games are going to be tough. Out of the games against Ole Miss, Texas, Oregon State, TCU and Hawaii, I'll say the Cougars go 3-2. Couple that with a potential 7-0 record at home, and BYU is looking at 10-2.
That's a far cry from their 7-6 record from a year ago. Cougar fans will be a much happier group of people this season. I realize this may be a little too optimistic of an viewpoint, but I just haven't seen anything yet to change my opinion.
Of course, when the Cougars take the field September 3rd in Oxford, Mississippi, I may be proven wrong. But I doubt it.