College football fans love to ride the hype train … until it derails.
Sportswriters contribute to the hype in the preseason, but somewhat inadvertently. We would love to see enough practice to give you a fair and balanced view of how your favorite football team will do, but in reality, we get to see 10-15 minutes of practice maybe twice a week and none of the scrimmages. Much of what we report is what the coaches and players tell us happened in practice. So if anyone is blamed for hyping the team, it’s the message from those individuals.
Don’t shoot the messenger.
Still, it’s always fun to examine what we’re hearing and what would be more based on the reality.
Welcome to “Hype vs. Reality, 2019.”
Hype: Zach Wilson is the next great BYU quarterback.
Reality: He’s only a sophomore, has started just seven games and is coming off of shoulder surgery.
Wilson gave everyone a glimpse of his potential with his perfect performance in the Potato Bowl. But he also struggled in some games (Northern Illinois, Boise State) and everyone returns from injury at a different pace. Since reporters aren’t allowed to see much of practice, it’s kind of hard to tell where he is in getting his arm strength and mobility down. The Cougars hope the running game can be effective to set up Wilson for success. If he’s got to do it all by himself, is he ready?
Hype: BYU has increased its depth and that will
result in more wins.
Reality: The Cougars have struggled late in the season when injuries start taking their toll.
BYU had a 27-7 third quarter lead at Utah but lost the game, essentially because attrition due to injury had the Cougars down to third and fourth string guys at some key positions. The coaches feel like the roster is deeper but against Power 5 schools, that still might not be enough to overcome some significant matchup issues at certain positions, no matter what the depth may be.
Hype: BYU has some great games at home and that will result in victories.
Reality: The Cougars are just 10-8 at home under Kalani Sitake.
It’s probably the most disappointing aspect of the Sitake era: Not being able to win key games at home. In 2016, a three-point loss to UCLA was costly. In 2017, it was the Utah game. In 2018, Cal, Utah State and Northern Illinois losses were head scratchers. It’s great to see Utah, USC and Washington in LaVell Edwards Stadium, but attendance will drop off pretty quickly if the Cougars lose to the Utes.
Hype: Seniors Micah Simon and Aleva Hifo are ready to step up and be go-to receivers.
Reality: Wide receiver coach Fesi Sitake said Simon, Hifo, Gunner Romney, Talon Shumway and Dax Milne were the top five receivers during fall camp. Those five players combined for 85 catches, 1,033 yards and eight touchdowns last season. At 12 yards per reception and an average of around five yards after the catch, there is certainly room for improvement. With Wilson at the helm, all five of these receivers will have opportunities to improve their numbers.
Hype: The schedule is the toughest in the country.
Reality: You just never know.
That’s the crazy thing about BYU’s independent schedule. Remember when the Cougars were huge underdogs at Michigan State, but pulled off a dominant victory? Or when BYU went to Wisconsin and scored a huge upset? The Cougars are the only team in the country opening the season with four games against Power 5 schools, and that’s a significant task. But there will always be an overhyped team, or a team such as Toledo or USF where BYU will be favored but will struggle.
Hype: BYU has the depth to replace Sione Takitaki and Corbin Kaufusi on defense.
Reality: Man, those two guys were such great playmakers and leaders.
It’s up to returners like Zayne Anderson, Dayan Ghanwoloku, Khyiris Tonga and Isaiah Kaufusi to step forward and make up for the loss of the seniors. That’s what makes the turnover so interesting, because when seniors move on, everyone return must change their role to some extent.
Hype: This is the best offensive line BYU has had in years.
Reality: The front end of the schedule is such a huge test.
Getting four starters back on the offensive line is a big deal, but they will be facing quality Power 5 talent to start the season. Utah has been ranked among the nation’s best defensive fronts and Tennessee, USC and Washington will have four and five-star talent in the trenches. The BYU offense, even with Wilson returning at quarterback, is still based on being able to run the ball effectively. There is a lot on the offensive line as the season starts.