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With BYU players reporting later today, it's time to trot out my "Ten (or more) Questions" for Camp. These questions are not listed in order of importance, and would have been limited to ten, if I just didn't have so many darned questions.
And, for every question I pose below, my readers will have a different one. These aren't all the issues to be resolved, just some of the ones that came most easily to mind.
1. How ready to play is Riley Nelson? BYU fans hope this is a moot point, and that Max Hall plays 13 games in perfect health. That being said, is Nelson ready to shake off the mission rust and make a run at the backup spot held by Brenden Gaskins? Gaskins has seniority, but Nelson has versatility, and unique playmaking abilities Gaskins might lack to an extent.
2. Which newcomers will nail down spots in the two-deep? I've already addressed Riley Nelson at QB, and there are a couple of new offensive linemen who could move up the depth chart--Braden Hansen foremost among them. Other than that, experience should carry the day on offense. On the defensive side of the ball, a ton of newcomers should be in a position to contribute immediately. At linebacker, middle linebacker Brandon Ogletree will have his sights set on the backup spot to Matt Bauman, while outside, look for both Richard Wilson (strong) and Jordan Atkinson (weak) to be in the two-deep mix. The defensive backfield will feature up to a half-dozen players with eyes on a depth chart spot. At corner, JUCOs Corby Eason, Brian Logan and Lee Aguirre will join redshirts Robbie Buckner and Garrett Nicholson in the marquee battle at the field corner position. At safety, Craig Bills and Jray Galea'i will hope to be heard. I am leaving out promising freshman corner Trevor Bateman, only because there are seven other corners with post-high school experience ahead of him.
3. Who will step up to join Harvey Unga as BYU's backfield contributors? With Manase Tonga's presence still uncertain, who will emerge to secure a spot at backup tailback and starting fullback? J.J. DiLuigi would appear to have the inside track to the #2 TB position, but has yet to really distinguish himself to this point in his career. Don't forget about Mike Hague, 2006' second-most exciting offensive newcomer, after McKay Jacobson. Bryan Kariya is a known commodity, while Malosi Te'o (transfer) and Anthony Heimuli (freshman) are wild cards.
4. Will BYU play with an H receiver? Of the dozen or so wide receivers in camp, will any of them show an ability to occupy the slot receiver slot the way Nate Meikle did in 2006 (the last year BYU used the "H" with any regularity)? More to the point (assuming an "X" and "Z" receiver in a given formation), how frequently would coaches even choose to line up an unproven "H" over either a fullback or second tight end (especially considering the threat of a Pitta-George double-tight combo)?
5. Which eligibility or other personnel issues will require resolution when camp gets underway? Every summer, camp begins with a handful of the players in the 105 absent for reasons ranging from grades, to personal issues, to injury. This summer, Tialavea (mission plans), Tonga (academics), Aguirre (academics) and Aveni Leung-Wai (academics) were among those who have been question marks in recent weeks. While Bronco has yet to actually address these issues, it appears that:
a) Tialavea should be a "go"
b) we will have to wait until next week on Tonga
The status of Aguirre and Leung-Wai will either be addressed by Bronco or evident on Saturday.
6. Where will Bronco Mendenhall spend most of his time? Seems like a silly question, but with him handing play-calling duties over to Jaime Hill, will Bronco be seen at other places on the practice field? I wouldn't be surprised if Bronco moves around a little bit more this summer.
7. How hard will Bronco have the players go for the next three weeks?; how much hitting will we see, and will it be more or less than last year? With a particularly challenging game with Oklahoma out of the gates, it will be interesting to see how full Bronco opens the throttle when the full pads come on and the team starts to scrimmage.
8. How long will it take for the offensive line depth chart to be solidified? Hopefully, not long. While many of the players in the two-deep have game experience, the group's leader is a sophomore: Matt Reynolds. R.J. Willing should secure the center spot, but the other three spots will be competitive, if not up for grabs.
9. In a two-wide receiver set, which two wideouts are #1 and #2? I would assume the names are McKay Jacobson and O'Neill Chambers. After them, Luke Ashworth and exciting freshman Brett Thompson are most likely to press for inclusion in the rotation. Down the depth chart, return missionary Rhen Brown was termed a "pleasant surprise" during MWC Media Days.
10. Which of the JUCO transfer corners will make the strongest run at a starting spot? It's a three-man race between Eason, Logan and Aguirre, and I while I have no way to handicap the race right now, Aguirre had the gaudiest stats, with 10 picks as a JC sophomore last season.
11. Which camp injuries will most affect BYU's opening-day starting lineup? I hate to bring this one up, but they are as inevitable as the motor homes in the parking lot during Education Week. Camp injuries happen, and someone in the two-deep is going down.
12. Can Riley Stephenson put any heat on Mitch Payne? The former kicking sensation at Pine View High School is expected to win the punting duties, but he was a productive and efficient placekicker in high school, too. Payne is the experienced incumbent, but keep in mind he is only 4/8 on field goals outside 40 yards for his BYU career.
13. Is Terrance Hooks all the way back? Seems like we have waited forever to see this fearsome linebacker "unleashed," and after an injury-interrupted junior season, his time is now.
14. Does Harvey Unga look like "freshman" Harvey? You remember "freshman" Harvey, right? Well, everyone I've talked to says he looks more like that guy than the banged-up sophomore of last season. Of course, he hasn't taken a serious hit in eight months, but early reports are encouraging.
15. After Andrew Rich and Scott Johnson, who will do the "Safety Dance"? The holdovers are Shiloah Te'o, Travis Uale and Blake Morgan, with Te'o playing in 11 games last season. Among the newcomers, Craig Bills was an unstoppable defensive force at Timpview, and Kahuku's Jray Galea'i is almost as hard a hitter.
16. Is Jordan Pendleton ready for his close-up? This is another guy we've been watching for a long time now, and after a redshirt season and then a position change, he has won the starting strongside linebacker spot. A tremendous athlete, he will look to fill David Nixon's shoes.
16. Russell, Rick, Romney 'n Richardson: who Nose? Looks like Tialavea is good to go, but if Tialavea were to have been unavailable, Bronco was planning on "three or four" guys playing this spot in every game this season. Tialavea's presence will make depth issues here a lot less urgent.
17. Will the "Ends" justify the means? BYU is in great shape with Jorgensen and Denney as starters, but the battle for depth at end will be a compelling storyline. Matt Putnam returns there, while Vic So'oto has been switched from linebacker to defensive end, and those two guys should give BYU a solid two-deep. Meantime, freshman Remington Peck was recruited as a tight end, moved to linebacker, and since moved to defensive end, underscoring the need for bodies at that spot.
The first USA Today/Coaches' Top 25 Poll is out, and BYU comes in 24th. TCU is 17th, Utah is 18th, and Boise State trumps all the MWC teams, coming in 16th. BYU opponents Oklahoma and Florida State are ranked 3rd and 19th. Good schedule strength for BYU, to start (four opponents in the Top 20).
As interesting as the poll results is the list of coaches selected to vote each week. Here are some of the notable coaches on the panel, with my comments:
Gary Andersen, Utah State: rookie gets some love, and may harbor some love for his former team at Utah.
Bobby Bowden, Florida State: his team plays BYU; may give the Cougars props, win or lose.
Troy Calhoun, Air Force: one of four MWC coaches on the list.
Dave Christensen, Wyoming: another first-timer gets poll power.
Steve Kragthorpe, Louisville: brother is Trib columnist Kurt Kragthorpe. Means nothing, but I like Kurt.
Dan Mullen, Mississippi State: former BCS-busting Ute assistant and longtime Urban Meyer disciple.
Rick Neuheisel, UCLA: embarrassed by BYU last season (59-0 ring a bell?)
Gary Patterson, TCU: he's in the poll, his two chief competitors' coaches are not; but will likely be kind to the MWC teams.
Chris Peterson, Boise State: his WAC team is ranked ahead of the threee MWC teams.
Mike Sanford, UNLV: fourth MWC coach in the survey, should prop up the league in his votes.
Bob Stoops, Oklahoma: see Bobby Bowden.
Bob Toledo, Tulane: see Bob Stoops.
DeWayne Walker, New Mexico State: former Cougar assistant; his UCLA defense played BYU three times in two seasons.
Charlie Weatherbie, Louisiana-Monroe: former Utah State head coach.
By the way, with BYU ranked 24th and Oklahoma 3rd, their meeting will mark the first time in almost ten years that a ranked BYU has faced a ranked non-conference opponent. On December 27th, 1999, 25th ranked (USA Today/Coaches) BYU lost 21-3 to 11th-ranked Marchall in the Motor City Bowl.
The last time a ranked BYU played another ranked team: not too long ago. It was last November 22nd when #7/8 Utah beat #14 BYU 48-24.
******* Now to our final "Camp Cougar Countdown Trivia" question (and thanks to my stats guy Ralph Sokolowsky for providing the questions)...
"In BYU's national championship-clinching win over Michigan in the 1984 Holiday Bowl, how many turnovers did the Cougars commit?"
Answer: Six (three interceptions and three fumbles lost).
"True or False: no national media members picked BYU to go undefeated in 1984."
The answer coming up tomorrow.
BYU's Charles Abouo got some significant floor time in Cote d'Ivoire's 94-57 blowout of South Africa at the African Basketball Championship in Benghazi, Libya this morning. Abouo played 18 minutes, with 8 points on 2/5 shooting from the field (2/2 2pfg, 0/3 3pfg) and 4/6 from the stripe. He added three rebounds and two assists.
CIV should finish second in its group, and will open the 12-team, second round-robin series of games Sunday in Benghazi. The top three teams in "Afrobasket" will qualify for next summer's World Championship in Turkey.