The Daily Herald’s BYU football experts Jared Lloyd and Darnell Dickson weigh in on five of the biggest questions facing the Cougars this week:
1. What is your favorite single BYU football play from the 2020 season?
DICKSON: So many to choose from but I think I’ll go with Tyler Allgeier’s 86-yard touchdown run on BYU’s second play of the game at Boise State.The play showed off all of Allgeier’s explosive ability and put the Broncos on their heels from the start.The Cougars never trailed in the game and won big.
OK, since I made up the questions I’m going to select a defensive play, too. Isaiah Kaufusi’s 32-yard interception return for a touchdown against Texas State wasn’t that important in terms of winning the game but I love when defenders get a chance to get in the end zone. Kaufusi represented the Cougars in the best way possible both on and off the field.
LLOYD: Darnell selected a couple of really good plays but he neglected to pick the best one of all, which just happened to have come on special teams. Trailing in the second half at Houston, BYU turned to junior kicker Jake Oldroyd to change the momentum. I’ve seen a lot of onside kicks in my life but — as I said at the time — the “chip-9” kick Oldroyd pulled off to get the ball to Talmage Gunther was as flawlessly executed as I’ve ever seen. It was so easy that my first reaction was, “is that even legal?” It may not have resulted in points for the Cougars but it was absolutely beautiful.
I’ll also add another play from that game to my list: Dax Milne’s 78-yard TD reception to start the game. Another definitely worth remembering were Drew Jensen’s interception against San Diego State, while I would also put Zach Wilson’s perfect back-of-the-end-zone pass to Neil Pau’u against UTSA among the best of the year.
2. How many Cougars will be selected in the NFL Draft at the end of April?
LLOYD: For the last few years, watching the NFL Draft to see if any of the Cougars would hear their names called has been an exercise in futility. Not this year. Zach Wilson is lock to go in the first round, probably in the Top 10 selections, and I think Brady Christensen will get a lot of attention as well. I’m not really sure how guys like Dax Milne, Khyiris Tonga, Matt Bushman, Chris Wilcox and Troy Warner will grade out but I think all of them have every reason to believe they could be picked this year. I think Tonga has the biggest upside, while Milne could become a very nice possession receiver. Bushman didn’t get the chance to show his ability this year, so that might hurt him. I’m going to take the optimistic route and say seven Cougars ended up getting drafted.
DICKSON: It’s been pretty slim pickings for BYU football in the NFL Draft and getting multiple players selected has been very infrequent. The last time more than one Cougar was picked in the NFL Draft was 2009 with Austin Collie (fourth round) and Fui Vakapuna (7th round).
This year, quarterback Zach Wilson is looking like a lock as a first round pick. Aside from Wilson, I could see offensive tackle Brady Christensen, nose tackle Khyiris Tonga, tight end Matt Bushman and wide receiver Dax Milne getting picked in the mid to late rounds. Five BYU players taken in the NFL Draft? Sounds crazy, right? Last time that happened was after the 2001 season.
3. Who do you predict will be BYU’s starting quarterback in 2021?
DICKSON: This is a spectacularly hard question to answer, mainly because we weren’t allowed to watch any practices this year. Here’s what we know: Baylor Romney and Jaren Hall both started games in 2019 and played well. Romney is a heady player who makes the right throws. Hall is a terrific athlete who had a strong arm and can be a real threat as a runner, but has been injury prone. Freshman Jacob Conover gave the defense fits as the scout team quarterback this year and fellow freshman Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters has a ton of potential.
I would love to see Hall healthy enough to take the field as a starter. I think he makes the offense very difficult to defend and so that’s my pick.
LLOYD: I haven’t seen Jacob Conover in action at all and only seen a little bit of Sol-Jay Maiva Peters, so it is tough to gauge just where those two are at compared to Jaren Hall and Baylor Romney. BYU offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick said last week that the game experience Hall and Romney have are going to give them an advantage, which I completely understand. It seems like Romney and Conover might not be at quite the same level in terms of being dual threats as Hall and Maiva-Peters, but that’s not a huge deal for the offense BYU runs. Still, I think Hall having what will turn out to be a year-and-a-half to get fully healthy will get him the slight edge but I think it’s going to be a fun competition in spring and probably in fall as well.
4. ESPN released a way-too-early 2021 Top 25 college football rankings this week and the Cougars were nowhere to be found. Fair or unfair?
LLOYD: I think it is unfair but frankly I’m glad ESPN left the Cougars out. I hope BYU players post that all over the weight room and locker room and anywhere else they are during this offseason. The Cougars should use the Rodney Dangerfield “we-don’t-get-no-respect” mantra to drive them to be even better this fall than they were last fall. Any team can have a good year. To reach the upper echelon like BYU did in the 1970s and 1980s, it has to be good consistently. I think such rankings don’t look at how much the Cougars platooned during the season and thus have a lot of players returning with experience. BYU fans have some very good reasons to be optimistic.
DICKSON: Interestingly, only three non-Power 5 teams made the cut: Cincinnati at No. 11, Coastal Carolina at No. 23 and Liberty at No. 24. I will say it will be very difficult for BYU to repeat an 11-1 record because of a more difficult schedule and the loss of stalwarts such as Wilson, Milne, Tonga, Troy Warner, etc. The Cougars can make believers out of voters if they can have a couple of back-to-back solid years, like maybe 9-3 or 10-2 in 2021. Kalani Sitake’s program is built to do just that if some younger players who earned playing time in 2020 step up.
5. The BYU men’s basketball team has a very difficult road trip this week with games at Saint Mary’s and San Francisco. Will the Cougars win them both?
DICKSON: While both Saint Mary’s and San Francisco are competing with BYU behind Gonzaga for position in the WCC, none of those three teams are as good as they were last year. The lack of fans on this road trip probably plays into BYU hands and gives them a better chance of winning. It’s difficult in that the Gaels and the Dons are two completely different programs and game prep is wildly different in terms of pace. Having said that, the Cougars haven’t lost two games in a row since Mark Pope took over two years ago, so I’ll say two wins isn’t too much of a stretch for this team.
LLOYD: I think it is going to come down to how disciplined BYU can be. Saint Mary’s plays a style of basketball that makes teams pay for mistakes. While I think the Gaels are still figuring things out this year, any team coached by Randy Bennett is going to be dangerous. The Cougars have had some tough games against the Dons in years past and Darnell made a good point about the challenge of being ready for such different styles. I’m still trying to figure out this BYU team, to be honest. It has moments where I really like what I see and others where I wonder what in the world they are doing. I think if the Cougars can limit their turnovers and shoot reasonably well, they will be in good shape to win both games. But I just sense that there is going to be a game where those things don’t come together and it will result in BYU going 1-for-2 on the trip.