PROVO — The BYU football season starts a week earlier than usual, with an Aug. 26 game against FCS foe Portland State in Provo.
But we won’t wait long to find out how good this year’s Cougar squad is.
In their second game of the season, they’ll travel to Houston’s NRG Stadium to face 12th-ranked Louisiana State. Then comes No. 25 Utah, and No. 10 Wisconsin; three-straight weeks of Top 25 opponents.
“The intensity of our offseason is way different than if we started our season with 4-5 opponents that everyone would pick us to win,” offensive line coach Mike Empey said. “We’re playing games where we will probably be the underdog, and I think that has added an intensity to the way that we prepared.”
Add Boise State and a road trip to Mississippi State in the first seven weeks of the season, and BYU’s challenge is evident.
But they embrace the challenge.
“We’re playing the best of the best,” tight end Moroni Laulu-Pututau said. “And you can’t say that we’re not.
“The only thing that a player can ask for is the opportunity to get on the field and prove yourself against the best teams.”
Fortunately for the Cougars, they’ve got an offense led by Tanner Mangum, who takes over as the uncontested starter at quarterback in his junior season.
While they may not have all-time leading rusher Jamaal Williams in the backfield, they have a stable of backs, led by Squally Canada, former all-state standout Ula Tolutau, KJ Hall and Riley Burt.
“We’re eating dudes up and spitting them out,” lineman Tuni Kanuch said. “We’re bringing that mentality; we’re coming for you. You can be the best in the nation, and we know you will try to come for us. But we’re coming right back.
“We want to bury dudes, every down and every play. We’ve got a little chip on our shoulder. We don’t like to be overlooked.”
And of course, offensive coordinator Ty Detmer insists the tight end is back at BYU.
“I think it’ll be unique and different from last year. But that’s expected when you lose Jamaal Williams, who was the best running back all-time here,” head coach Kalani Sitake said.
“There’s a lot of talent, and we’re ready to explode.”
Defensively, the Cougars got a big boost when defensive end Sione Takitaki returned to the team after a year of off-the-field challenges and discouragements.
The linebacker corps, led by Fred Warner, Butch Pau’u and Francis Bernard, may be as talented a group as BYU has ever had. And the defensive line is anchored by size, speed, and the wild card of 410-pound freshman Motekiai Langi.
“It starts with Fred Warner. He has the best of both worlds: speed to cover, and he can come up and plug the holds,” linebackers coach Steve Kaufusi said. “And Butch Pau’u has a little chip on his shoulder; he’s not that big, but you won’t run over him. He’s a tough kid, and so football smart.
“Francis is an athlete. He’s played running back … but he’s a big linebacker.”
Click the video above for the complete preview of BYU’s 2017 season.