The BYU Cougars football team will finish out its regular season this Saturday against the Hawaii Warriors. It is a very winnable game against a decent Hawaii team. Despite the always prolific Warrior aerial attack, their passing game isn’t at its best without their starting QB Bryant Moniz. The Warriors have lost to San Jose State and Utah State, both teams that have lost to BYU this season, and the SJSU game was a BYU blowout. The Warriors also narrowly edged New Mexico State and Idaho who are another couple of teams that lost to the Cougars this season in blowout fashion. This should be nothing more than a tune up for the Cougars on their path to the Armed Forces bowl. With a win, BYU will have won eight of its final nine regular season games and will be looking to build on this momentum for next season.
In its inaugural Independent season, Coach Bronco Mendenhall did his young team a favor by scheduling challenging road games and not so difficult home games. He must have known that although this season would be important, the 2012 season would be one of great potential. Coming off of a challenging 2010 season, Bronco needed to establish an identity for his young team and gain some confidence. The Cougars picked up signature wins in Mississippi and at Oregon State. They lost two games away from home which they had chances to win in the fourth quarter against national powers in Texas and TCU. The only game that they lost and never really had a chance to win was against Utah in a match that seemed to be a fluke more than anything. The rest of their home games started with some close wins and finished with a trio of blowouts.
The BYU schedule is not official for next year and assuming that they stay as an independent team, they could make a serious run for a BCS Bowl game. If the teams that BYU played on the road this year came to Provo next year, all those games would be winnable. The home games would turn into away games against the likes of Utah, UCF, Utah State, San Jose State, Idaho State, Idaho and New Mexico State. Of that schedule, Utah is the only team that you can’t project an automatic win. Their home games against tougher competition would determine their BCS chances. And I imagine that home field advantage would flip at least one of those losses into another signature win.
The schedule heading into next year isn’t the only aspect of the season that should be improving. This team, like mentioned before is very young and will only get better. Both Riley Nelson and Jake Heaps return next year, and as long as Nelson is healthy, it won’t be any secret who they starting quarterback will be; and what an advantage that will be for the Cougars, their offense has been infinitely more explosive with Nelson starting. Three of their top four rushers will return next year, including the elusive Nelson. JJ Di Luigi will be gone, but based off of this year, he is replaceable. Five of the top six receivers return, including the explosive tandem of Cody Hoffman and Ross Apo. And six of its top seven tacklers will be back highlighted by the play making trio of linebackers, Brandon Ogletree, Kyle Van Noy and Uona Kaveinga. With all of that talent and experience returning, the Cougars are prime for a BCS run with a much more favorable schedule.
Bronco may have given his team a baptism by fire in Mississippi, Austin and Corvallis, but it will definitely pay dividends as time goes on. The Cougars have a big game Saturday in Hawaii and a bowl game to look forward to, but I can’t help but be excited about the prospects of a BCS Bowl season coming in 2012.