2009 Season Preview: BYU

2009 Season Preview: BYU

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PROVO -- BYU is coming off three straight 10-plus wins seasons (that's only happened twice before in the storied history of Cougar football) and three straight unbeaten seasons at home (never happened before in Cougar Town), but there is a sense that something is missing from this Bronco-driven team. It's the coveted BCS experience that has eluded them and while this season presents the perfect recipe for BYU in the BCS, it will take everything this team has and then some to pull it off.

The key to any season, anywhere, is staying healthy and BYU's August was painful. They are already down one starter on the offensive line and there's a long list of wounded Cougars.


The most significant (or not) would be, could be pre-season All-MWC RB Harvey Unga, less than 900 yards to becoming BYU's all-time rushing leader. But where's his conditioning? He battled back from the swine flu, but is now limited with a sore hamstring.

As explosive as Pre-season MWC Offensive Player of the Year Max Hall's passing offense is, the pathway to an 11-win (and maybe BCS-busting) season might very well be a healthy, pounding Unga balancing BYU's attack, owning the "time of possession" stat and helping to keep the defense off the field, fresh to defend when it counts.

The return of Preseason All-MWC LT Matt Reynolds (broken hand) in time to start against Oklahoma should add to the calm in the huddle. Even though they've lost eight offensive starters to graduation, outstanding skill players like Hall, Unga, All-MWC tight end Dennis Pitta, RB Manase Tonga, exciting returned missionary McKay Jacobson plus a plethora of experienced contributors figure to keep the Cougars lighting up scoreboards.

An internal marching order to mix it up more and give defenses more to deal with has created a more balanced attack and the Cougars seem to be having more fun.

The place-kicking task has been an August adventure too. Mitch Payne barely survived an open competition for the job.

Bronco's defense returns eight starters and is led by potential MWC Defensive Player of the Year Jan Jorgensen. The Conference's all-time sacks leader anchors a talented, but thin defensive line. He is joined by veteran Brett Denney and buttressed by the addition of former Cougar tight end and linebacker Vic So'oto.

As usual linebacker is a deep and talented position with three returning starters. Matt Bauman (led BYU in tackles last season), Coleby Clawson, Shawn Doman, Jordon Pendleton, and Terrance Hooks all figure to keep the pressure on with great pursuit skills and toughness.

The defensive secondary is a mix of experience and freshness and expects to get tested immediately by Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford and Oklahoma. This position as much as any was hit by August injuries with Brian Logan (broken finger), Robbie Buckner (hamstring), Brandon Bradley, Scott Johnson (concussion) and Lee Aguirre all down for various amounts of time. But all, except maybe Buckner, are expected to ready to go against the Sooners, and they'll all be needed.

Freshman Craig Bills (2008 D-News Mr. Football, Timpview) has had a solid first camp and will play right away.

The early read might be if the Cougars can emerge 2-1 from their first three games (Oklahoma in Dallas, at Tulane and Florida State in Provo) a respectable loss to the Sooners won't hurt them, but a stumble in week two or at home against the Seminoles will be crushing.

Their Mountain West home-opener against an improving Colorado State program wraps up a tell-tale September. After hosting Utah State on Friday October 2nd the Cougars hit the road at UNLV and at San Diego State. Then comes BYU's first HUGE game of the season against pre-season favorite TCU on Saturday October 24th. After roadies at Wyoming and New Mexico they wrap up their season with two at LaVell Edwards Stadium. Air Force on Nov. 21 and Utah, November 28th.

If a berth in a BCS bowl isn't to be, the best BYU can hope for would be a... fifth straight trip to the Las Vegas Bowl.

E-mail: tkirkland@ksl.com

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