Opening of fall practice for BYU football 19

Brigham Young Cougars head coach Kalani Sitake directs players during the first fall practice of the 2016 football season Friday, August 5, 2016, at Brigham Young University in Provo. DOMINIC VALENTE, Daily Herald DOMINIC VALENTE, Daily Herald

Welcome to the college football season.

Are you sure you’re ready for this?

It’s been one of the most intriguing off-seasons in the history of BYU football, starting with the hiring of new head coach Kalani Sitake and rolling through wild speculation about the Cougars possibly becoming members of the Big 12.

I’m not sure there’s ever been a summer where BYU football has been in the news cycle so consistently. The trick, of course, is to stay there once the Cougars start playing actual games.

You remember last season, don’t you? BYU was a pretty big story in college football through the first four weeks: Two Hail Mary wins against Nebraska and Boise State, a close loss to UCLA in the Rose Bowl and a trip to the Big House to take on Michigan.

But that 31-0 shutout loss to the Wolverines pretty much removed the Cougars from the national spotlight the rest of the season.

Many of BYU's story lines have staying power this season, at least until the Big 12 comes to its senses and invites the Cougars to the Power 5 party.

You’ve got to win to be perceived as a contender. You’ve got to make highlight-worthy plays and you have to get those votes in the polls.

Is BYU a Top 25 team? Those questions will be answered quite quickly. Sitake and his crew face another difficult schedule, a top-heavy approach unique to playing as an independent: Arizona, Utah, UCLA, West Virginia, Toledo and Michigan State, all before the weather starts to turn colder.

Fortunately, two of BYU’s biggest playmakers – quarterback Taysom Hill and running back Jamaal Williams – are both back after missing all but 2 ½ quarters in 2015.

The offense, directed for the first time by former Cougar and Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer, has promise. The defense returns enough starters to be considered the strength of the team.

You get the feeling this is a new era of BYU football, and not just because there’s a new head coach on the sideline for the first time since 2005.

The Cougars have reached a point where in order to adapt and change along with the rest of college football, they need to take a step forward.

Sitake seems to be the guy to do it: A former Cougar (and Ute) with impeccable defensive credentials and a genuine personality that creates an very different vibe than the previous staff. Sitake is also entirely at ease with himself and the role he’s taken as the leader of Cougar Nation.

At BYU Media Day, Sitake said: “I don’t really have many worries. I’m not stressed out about anything, Maybe coaches always say that but I’m having fun doing this. Maybe ask me in the middle of the season but right now, I’m enjoying getting these guys ready. I’m loving every minute of the process we’re going through right now.

“There’s not a lot of surprises. I know that sound really cocky at times, but it’s not that. I just know what to expect. I know everything about this place. The library is in the same spot it was and BYU is something I’m really familiar with. Nothing really keeps me up at night but I’m really excited. I just wish we were in fall camp right now.”

So that’s where we are.

Sitake and his new staff are in their first fall camp. Position battles are being waged, and soon it will be game prep week for BYU and Arizona, meeting in the University of Phoenix Stadium on Sept. 3.

Here’s something I think is ultra-significant: For the first time since Floyd Millet in 1942, BYU’s head football coach is an alumnus. Why it’s taken so long for that to happen, who knows. But Sitake has lived what his players are going though and that will be no small factor moving forward.

Cougar Nation wants a winner. More than that, they want a program that can play with the big boys in a New Year’s Six bowl game, or even make the college football playoffs.

Big dreams, sure. But that’s what fans do.

“I don’t have a problem with the expectations or demands and things like that,” Sitake said. “I get it. I understand how it all works. They don’t exceed anything I don’t get from home already. My wife is probably the most demanding. She expects more of me as me as coach than anyone else.”

Buckle up. The 2016 season is upon us.

Darnell Dickson can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @darnellwrites.

Darnell Dickson, who has been covering sports in Utah since 1989 (with a detour to Nebraska for three years somewhere in there), is currently the BYU football columnist and BYU men’s basketball beat writer.

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