March 16, 2009

BYU wants more as it prepares for 2009 season

BYU spent a good portion of the 2008 season in the top 25, but the season ultimately was a mild disappointment. The Cougars finished third in the Mountain West Conference, behind Utah and TCU, and lost their bowl appearance. Plus, archrival Utah made its second BCS appearance in five seasons and again finished unbeaten. BYU's schedule is tough this season, but the talent appears to be on hand for another good season.

Here's a look at the Cougars as they prepare for spring drills.

Byu AT-A-GLANCE
Max Hall will have a lot of new faces around him on offense.
THE BASICS
Coach: Bronco Mendenhall
Last season: 10-3, 6-2 Mountain West. Lost to Arizona in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Spring dates: March 16-April 11
RETURNING STARTERS
Offense (4): QB Max Hall, TE Dennis Pitta, T Matt Reynolds, HB Harvey Unga.
Defense (8): LB Matt Bauman, LB Coleby Clawson, E Brett Denney, LB Shawn Doman, CB Brandon Howard, CB Scott Johnson, E Jan Jorgensen, NT Russell Tialavea.
Special teams (1): K Mitch Payne.
Positions of strength

Quarterback Max Hall has All-Mountain West credentials. He has passed for more than 3,800 yards in each of the past two seasons and tossed 61 touchdown passes. Tight end also is loaded, with All-America candidate Dennis Pitta backed up by Andrew George, who caught 23 passes and scored six touchdowns last season. Six members of the defensive front seven return, including all three line starters in BYU's 3-4 set. Jorgensen is one of the best defenders in the league.

Help is needed

Freshman All-America tackle Matt Reynolds is the lone returning starter in the offensive line. Receiver is another concern. Austin Collie, who had 106 catches last season, left early for the NFL draft. Michael Reed, the second-most productive receiver with 49 catches, completed his eligibility. Also, the Cougars ranked 74th in the country in pass defense last year and had injuries in the secondary. The return of cornerback Scott Johnson, who missed time late in the season with a groin tear, will be a big help, but both safeties must be replaced.

Keep an eye on

WR O'Neill Chambers: He was primarily a kick returner last season and finished with only three catches as a true freshman. But he has good size and excellent speed, and his role in the offense will increase dramatically.

WR McKay Jacobson: He caught 28 passes and averaged more than 19 yards a catch as a touted freshman in 2006. He's returning from a Mormon mission and is expected to provide immediate help at a position that lost its two most productive players.

LB Vic So'oto: So'oto, a converted tight end who will be a senior, was the Cougars' most athletic linebacker last season, but he was victim of a season-ending foot injury in the second game of the season. His return will be a boost for the defense.

His time is now

Senior tackle R.J. Willing is a career backup, but he also is one of the few offensive linemen with playing experience. He needs to win a starting spot during spring ball and provide stability and leadership.

The buzz

Only five teams in the nation have managed more than the 32 victories BYU has posted over the past three seasons. But the Cougars have yet to earn "BCS-buster" status. That will be difficult to attain in '09 with Oklahoma and Florida State on the non-conference schedule. But if adequate progress is made this spring in bolstering the offensive line and secondary, the Cougars can be optimistic about continuing their run of double-digit victory totals. And with some luck, a BCS appearance may not be out of the question.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.



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