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. Zach Wilson's future
1. If you were BYU quarterback Zach Wilson, what factors would influence you to enter the NFL Draft or return to Provo for your senior year?
LLOYD: I think it comes down to what my long-term goals are. If my goals include things like winning a national championship, getting a degree and maximizing my college experience, then I would have to seriously look at returning. But I’m a football junkie. I love watching film and devoting as much time as possible to improving what I can do on the gridiron. I try not to pay attention but it’s hard to ignore the buzz about me getting drafted in the first round and achieving my dreams of playing in the NFL. The chance to get paid to play the game I love sooner rather than later is likely going to be too much for me to ignore.
DICKSON: The old adage “strike while the iron is hot” is applicable here. The circumstances of the 2020 season have allowed the spotlight to shine brighter on Wilson than he could have ever imagined.Sure, he’s putting up great numbers and BYU’s undefeated, but if all of college football was playing some pundits would focus their attention on P5 players. That’s just how it works. Right now, Wilson’s stock has never been higher among NFL scouts and general managers. If he’s a first round projection, I think he has to go. I have to admit that if he played next year against what could be a normal BYU schedule — which right now includes Arizona, Arizona State, Utah, Baylor, Washington State, Virginia and USC — his numbers likely won’t be as impressive and therefore his stock might fall.
2. Goal-line go-to player
2. Third down and goal, New Year’s Six bowl game (doesn’t matter which one) clock is running out, down by four. If you are Wilson (again), where do you go with the ball?
DICKSON; One thing is for sure. I’m not throwing a fade to the corner. Look, Zach is an amazing quarterback, but one of my biggest pet peeves is that everyone from the junior varsity hopeful to the NFL guy thinks they can throw the fade and it’s probably one of the most difficult passes to master. Even with the best of quarterbacks it’s a low percentage pass. Roll outs are popular in red zone situations like that and putting a quarterback in motion often seems like the right call. But a rollout pretty much eliminates half the field and puts a lot more pressure on the quarterback to make a tough decision or put the ball in a very small window. I like four wide and shotgun or pistol. Let Wilson read the defense and find the right guy or try to buy time if the protection breaks down.
LLOYD: I’m definitely going to have a couple of options, because I remember what happened at Boise State when I was a freshman and didn’t get the job done. The first place I’m going to look, however, is at freshman tight end Isaac Rex. With his size and what he has shown me about his ability to secure the ball in traffic, I’m going to be looking his way and hoping to take advantage of a mismatch against a linebacker or a smaller defensive back. That is, of course unless senior tight end Matt Bushman has made a comeback from his injury and is back on the field. Then I’m definitely looking Bushman’s direction.
3. Top defender in 2020
3. It’s pretty obvious Zach Wilson has been BYU’s best offensive player this season. Who has been the Cougars best defensive player?
LLOYD: I think there are three clear-cut candidates and while I would probably say senior linebacker Isaiah Kaufusi and senior defensive lineman Khyiris Tonga have been the most visible, I’m going to go with the less-obvious choice and recognize the contribution of senior cornerback Chris Wilcox. I don’t know if casual fans realize just how valuable it is to have a player like Wilcox shutting down opposing receivers on the outside so effectively that when he is on the field, the ball rarely even gets thrown his direction. It’s something the Cougars simply haven’t had for a long time and that allows other players more opportunities to make plays. I thought Wilcox was going to have a good year but what he has done has been really impressive.
DICKSON: Jared pointed out some good players but I really like what Troy Warner has done this year. To be honest, I think he’s underachieved a little over the course of his career. He’s always had a ton of talent but I think as a senior he’s matured and understands his role better. He and Zayne Anderson at safety make that defense really special. I also think one of the strengths of this defense is the depth gives us a lot of candidates for this honor. Isaiah Kaufusi, Keenan Pili and Payton Wilgar have all been terrific at linebacker, and defensive linemen Bracken El-Bakri and Zac Dawe have become playmakers for this defense.
4. More football games
4. OK, now the big one: If you are BYU Director of Athletics Tom Holmoe (not Wilson this time) do you try and schedule more games for the football team in November?
DICKSON: I addressed this in my column on Monday. I don’t think there is a definitive answer to this question because it is truly uncharted territory. No one has ever been in this position before. Do you try to schedule a few more games, risking injury and a loss? Do you let the merits of the team stand on a 10-game season? Even if Holmoe wants to schedule a game, who will play BYU? The P5 conferences have committed to league-only schedules. The good G5 teams likely don’t want to play the Cougars, either. And then there is the added cost of another game to an athletic budget already stretched thin. A home game is expensive when you aren’t bringing in your normal ticket revenue and obviously a road game also incurs a lot of cost. I think Holmoe is willing but I would be surprised if he is able to find any takers.
LLOYD: I am absolutely working the phones, trying to get someone else on the schedule for late November or early December. I’ve watched my football team exceed all expectations and impress observers across the country, so I want to give it as many chances as I possibly can to play. I’m searching for the best competition because I want these Cougars to be tested and show how good they are. I don’t fear that a loss might eliminate my guys from a big-name bowl. If you are going to take the field, you are going to risk losing — but it is also the only way to win. If I shoot for the stars and get lucky with a high-profile game or two, I might just get to see BYU bashing down the door of the College Football Playoff, which has been something I’ve dreamed about for a long, long time.
5. Top hoops 3-point shooter
5. Last week we asked who would be the leading scorer for the BYU men’s basketball team in 2020-21. This week, we get macro: Who will lead the Cougars in 3-pointers?
LLOYD: Of the BYU players who are returning, Alex Barcello had by far the most triples in 2019-20 as he knocked down 53 compared to 34 by Connor Harding and seven each for Trevin Knell and Kolby Lee. The question is will one of the newcomers be able to surpass Barcello. Don’t be surprised if UVU transfer Wyatt Lowell is in that mix, as he made 41 3-pointers as a freshman at UVU in 2018-19. Other players like Brandon Averette, Spencer Johnson and Jesse Wade could also turn out to be consistent long-bomb specialists but I’m still going to go with Barcello. I think he has the best knowledge of the offense and with Averette taking some of the point guard duties, I think he’ll get a lot of opportunities.
DICKSON: Last year’s 3-point leaders — Jake Toolson, TJ Haws and Alex Barcello — made 85, 59 and 53 triples, respectively. I don’t see any single player getting to 85 this season, but I could definitely see three or four players nearing the 50 mark. It will also be interesting to follow the team’s 3-point shooting percentage. Last year the Cougars led the country at 42 percent. If this team makes anywhere near 40 percent, that would be a win. I’m going to say Barcello has the most 3-pointers this season,followed by Averette and Connor Harding.