Bronco Mendenhall has plenty of talent in his 2013 roster—a good quarterback, an experienced offense and a solid defense.
But in other areas, he sure has his work cut out for him.
BYU lost standout defenders Ziggy Ansah, Brandon Ogletree, Romney Fuga and Uona Kaveinga to the NFL and won't bring back punter Riley Stephenson, along with many other players. Mendenhall will need to adjust the holes left by these athletes, along with weaknesses in many units.
He has summer and the beginning of fall to fix these issues, but here are a few challenges that will be tough to work around.
Repairing the Kicking Game
One of the most stressful, and beneficial, aspects of last year's BYU football team was the kicking game. Every Cougar fan watching a game held his or her breath during a field goal or extra point at some time last season, if not nearly every time.
You can't necessarily blame Justin Sorensen for the inconsistency at place-kicker; he was recovering from a back surgery and wasn't quite 100 percent healthy. Heck, I had listed him as one of the best kickers in BYU history before the season began.
He will have to step up his game for a good season from the special teams unit.
But place-kicking isn't the only concern. Last year's punting unit was outstanding. Unfortunately, All-American punter Riley Stephenson and walk-on long snapper Reed Hornung have hung up the cleats, and junior Scott Arellano and senior Kevin O'Mary will replace them. We haven't seen much of the latter duo at BYU, and hopefully they'll do a great job at stepping up to the plate.
Strengthening the Offensive and Defensive Lines
If there is any unit more worrisome this year than the kicking game, it has to be the lines. Both the offensive and defensive lines took huge blows with seniors leaving and underperforming returners.
On the defensive side, the biggest hole to fill will be that of Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah. We've all heard the story of the 6'6" Ghanaian who was taken fifth overall in the NFL draft, but the void that he will leave at BYU can't be ignored. Sure, he only started for about half of a season, but he did an extraordinary job of making plays and, when not blowing up offenses, creating opportunities for the linebacker corps.
The starting line should be pretty strong, though. Bronson Kaufusi and Remington Peck will anchor the ends, and Eathyn Manumaleuna will play nose tackle. The backup positions are a bit of a concern, with inexperience looming in a JC transfer, a converted tight end and two underclassmen.
The offensive line is a huge spot to be worried about. If the performance of last year's unit had to be put into words, it would be, well, bad.
Michael Yeck, Ryker Mathews and Solomone Kafu will bring experience to the projected starting lineup, but Manaaki Vaitai and Brock Stringham both failed to impress in spring drills. The pair yielded their starting spots to Terrance Alletto and Kyle Johnson, a redshirt freshman and a returned LDS missionary.
Preparing for the Tough Schedule
One of the definite perks of independence for BYU has been getting games against quality opponents on the schedule consistently.
The downside to that is, well, having to play really good teams.
The Cougars travel to Notre Dame and Wisconsin in November, along with early-season games at Utah State and Virginia. They welcome Texas, Utah and Boise State to LaVell Edwards Stadium and only have a few games that can be marked as definite wins.
The late-season matchups in South Bend and Madison will be difficult, but the one game that stands out to me is the season opener at UVA. It's easy to recognize that Virginia Tech is the dominant in-state team, but aside from the Hokie-Cavalier rivalry game, the opener for both teams is the biggest game if the year. I will be surprised if Scott Stadium isn't rocking, and it's a tough destination for visiting teams.
Only time will tell if this year's Cougar team is good enough to blow through its tough schedule and surprise the nation, and I hope that Coach Mendenhall and BYU are up to the challenge.
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