The Daily Herald’s BYU sports experts Jared Lloyd and Darnell Dickson weigh in on five of the biggest questions facing the Cougars this fall:
1. If BYU beats Utah after eight straight losses, what will be the deciding factor?
LLOYD: With a series that has been as close as this one has over the last three decades, I think the answer is pretty clear: Make the LAST big play. How many times have the Cougars needed just one more score, a couple more yards, a lucky bounce, something and then we wouldn’t even be talking about this streak? Whether on offense, defense or special teams, you have to credit the Utes for being the ones to finish off the game. BYU has to take that out of Utah’s hands if it wants to get back to beating its rival.
DICKSON: The Cougars will win if they claim the turnover battle. It seems as if every season the Utes get a defensive touchdown or an easy score off of a dumb BYU turnover, last year being a pretty good example of that. I think the Cougar offense will be more efficient this season and be able to score more points, but they will put themselves behind the eight ball if they turn the ball over or allow a pick 6 against the Utes.
2. What would you consider a successful season for BYU in 2019?
DICKSON: Shoot for the stars, right? How about an 11-1 record and a New Year’s Six bowl game? Realistically, BYU could be better than it was in 2018 and still struggle to get its record above .500, especially with such a daunting September schedule. So I would say an 8-4 mark and a bowl game is a good goal. Anything less than that would feel like more of the same and the Cougar fan base would not be happy.
LLOYD: It’s easy to say that a little more luck would’ve resulted in BYU being 11-2 in 2018 (with wins over Cal, Northern Illinois, Boise State and Utah) but a little less luck could’ve seen the Cougars drop to 4-8 (with losses at Arizona and Wisconsin). Good teams make their own luck, so my measuring stick for success is seeing that BYU imposes its will on more games in 2019. Sometimes an opponent simply plays a better game (like Washington and Utah State did last fall) but it isn’t happening that often. I can’t see anyone on this Cougar squad at all satisfied with anything less than 8-4 and 9-3 should be a solid, attainable objective for a team with this many returning players.
3. Who will be the Cougars’ leading rusher in 2019?
LLOYD: This isn’t as clear-cut as it appeared to be coming out of 2018, but I’m still going to give the nod to Lopini Katoa. I think both Ty’Son Williams and Emmanual Esukpa are going to be solid contributors and so I don’t expect any of the BYU running backs to gain more than 600 or 700 yards on the ground — but I still think Katoa has a slight advantage because of his familiarity with the offense. If he stays healthy, I see him having a better year than he did last year and just edging out the other backs for the most rushing yards.
DICKSON: I walked past grad transfer Ty’Son Williams as he was interviewed after a recent practice, and man, that dude is put together. With his second-level speed, I think he could be pretty special. Lopini Katoa has put in the work this summer and should be a factor as well. But I’ll go with Williams due to his breakaway speed.
4. Who will be the Cougars’ leading receiver in 2019?
DICKSON: If it’s not tight end Matt Bushman, the coaches need a refresher course on football. He averaged better than 17 yards per catch last season, but caught only 29 passes. That’s not nearly enough targets coming his way. He needs to catch 50 or more this season and I think BYU has the quarterback to get that done.
LLOYD: I have no doubt that Matt Bushman will be the main focus of opposing defenses when the Cougars go to the air, which means it will be up to him to still make plays — and up to everyone else to make the other team pay by exploiting other holes. I’m going to select Aleva Hifo as my pick for the BYU players who has the most catches, since I think offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes is going to look to get him the ball in a variety of ways so he can use his speed and shiftiness to make things happen. Don’t sleep on Gunner Romney, Micah Simon and Talon Shumway on the outside, though. If one of those guys is a consistent threat, it will make things much easier for Hifo and Bushman.
5. What will BYU’s home record be in 2019?
LLOYD: How can any Cougar fan not be excited for the overall home slate in 2019? BYU has Utah, USC, Washington and Boise State all coming to Provo, which might be the best home schedule since the mid-2000s (2003 was pretty sweet when Georgia Tech, USC, Stanford and Boise State visited LaVell Edwards Stadium). But these opponents all have question marks heading into this fall, so figuring out just how good any of them are going to be is a guessing game. The Cougars should win the two November home games, but the rest should be exciting. I’m going to say BYU goes 4-2 with a couple of nice home victories over high-level competition.
DICKSON: Home has not been where the heart is for BYU since Kalani Sitake took over. The Cougars went 5-1 at home in Sitake’s first season (2015) but since has gone just 5-7. There is no excuse for losing to Utah State at home (2018), or Northern Illinois while scoring only two field goals (2018), or to UMass in 2017. The only way Sitake gets this train back on track is by defending the home turf. Anything less than 4-2 at LaVell Edwards Stadium this season is unacceptable, even though the schedule is a tough one.