March 15, 2010

BYU has hopes of breaking into BCS

Utah, Boise State, Hawaii and TCU are non-Big Six schools that have enjoyed breakthroughs to BCS bowls. BYU may be next.

Coach Bronco Mendenhall has this program humming, leading the Cougars to 10 victories in each of the past four seasons. BYU is the only school from a non-Big Six conference to be ranked in the final polls and the final BCS standings in each of the past four seasons.

But this season's team has some issues, including trying to find a quarterback. Here's a look at the Cougars as they prepare for spring practice.

BYU AT-A-GLANCE
Harvey Unga and the Cougars have high hopes for 2010.
THE BASICS
COACH: Bronco Mendenhall
LAST SEASON: 11-2 overall, 7-1 in Mountain West. Beat Oregon State 44-20 in Las Vegas Bowl.
SPRING DATES: March 15-April 10.
RETURNING STARTERS
OFFENSE (7): T Nick Alletto, G Terence Brown, WR O'Neill Chambers, G Braden Hansen, WR McKay Jacobson, T Matt Reynolds, RB Harvey Unga.
DEFENSE (5): CB Brandon Bradley, NT Romney Fuga, CB Brian Logan, LB Jordan Pendleton, SS Andrew Rich.
SPECIAL TEAMS (2): K Mitch Payne; P Riley Stephenson.
POSITIONS OF STRENGTH

The offense will be led by a line that returns four starters. That should mean a big season for senior RB Harvey Unga, who has a chance to become only the ninth player in FBS history to rush for 1,000 yards in four consecutive seasons. The receiving corps returns intact, headed by big-play man McKay Jacobson, a junior. A secondary with three starters returning will lead the defense. Senior SS Andrew Rich and senior CB Brian Logan are the stars.

HELP IS NEEDED

With three-year starter Max Hall gone, the Cougars need a quarterback to emerge this spring. Defensively, the Cougars must replace five starters from the front seven, including three linebackers. Senior linebackers Jordan Atkinson and Shane Hunter need to emerge. And overall team speed on defense remains a perpetual issue.

THREE GUYS TO WATCH

TE Devin Mahina: All-America Dennis Pitta and productive backup Andrew George are gone, leaving a massive hole at tight end. Mahina, a freshman, will get first crack to step up. He signed before going on a mission in 2007. Others who could emerge are redshirt freshmen Richard Wilson and Mike Muehlmann.

QB Riley Nelson: He's a junior who began his career at Utah State, where he started the final eight games of 2006. He's more athletic than Hall, but his passing ability is the concern. Keep an eye on incoming freshman QB Jake Heaps, who enrolled early and was the nation's No. 1 pro-style quarterback. Mendenhall would like to name a starter by the end of spring drills, but he'll do so only if he feels as if he has the right guy. Sophomore James Lark and redshirt freshman Jason Munns also will be in the mix after returning from missions.

LB Kyle Van Noy: The Cougars lost three of their four starting linebackers, so there is work to do. Noy is a talented freshman who signed in February 2009 but didn't enroll until January 2010.

THE PRESSURE IS ON

CB Brandon Bradley: Bradley, a senior, needs to stay healthy after being hampered by injuries during his career. If he fails to stay on the field this spring, Bradley may lose his starting job to senior Lee Aguirre, sophomore Robbie Buckner or junior Corby Eason.

THE BUZZ

In 2009, BYU had to replace seven starters on offense, four on defense and two key specialists. The result? An 11-2 record, with a 3-1 mark against ranked foes. Never underestimate the Cougars under Mendenhall, even during a season in which they must find a quarterback. While the quarterback battle will get the headlines, the revamping of the front seven on defense is just as important. BYU needs some linebackers to come through this spring.

Tom Dienhart is the national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.


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