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 potential
1. Is BYU’s Zach Wilson on his way to becoming a Top 10 Cougar quarterback?
DICKSON: It is definitely more than just about statistics for me. Sure, he’s been unreal in the first three games of the 2020 season against so-so opponents. What he really needs is a signature win. USC last season was good, and his end-of-game performance in the double OT victory at Tennessee was pretty special. But I think he needs a big bowl win — maybe a New Year’s Six opportunity — OR a victory against Utah, whenever the two teams manage to play. Now that he’s healthy and getting great performances around him, I think he can be pretty special. But to get mentioned along with the McMahon, Detmer, Young and the rest, you need to take another step.
LLOYD: I don’t think there is any doubt that Wilson could get the statistics that would put him in that range if he stays healthy. But, in my opinion, the numbers are only one part of what I would call an elite BYU quarterback. To stand alongside guys like Ty Detmer, Steve Young, Jim McMahon, Gifford Nielsen, Robbie Bosco, Marc Wilson, Gary Sheide and Steve Sarkisian, a Cougar signal-caller has to check a lot of other boxes as well. Did they lead their team to double-digit wins? Do they have a signature win? Were they in the national Heisman Trophy and Davey O’Brien conversations? Could they find ways to win when things weren’t going their way? Wilson is now at a point in his career where he has to do more to make those things happen for me to rank him among the all-time best — but I think he is capable of doing them.
2. UTSA challenge
2. Will Texas-San Antonio provide a stiffer test for the Cougars than the first three opponents of 2020?
LLOYD: I expect the Roadrunners to come in driven to prove they can play with a highly-ranked opponent and I think they will be competitive for a while. But I just don’t know if I believe UTSA can hang with the Cougars any better than Navy, Troy or Louisiana Tech. This roadrunner squad has eked out wins over Texas State and Middle Tennessee, did OK against FCS-foe Stephen F. Austin and lost to Alabama-Birmingham. It has also given up a lot of points in the process and so I don’t see BYU having much trouble meeting or exceeding its scoring average. I think the Cougar defense will be ready for another test as well.
DICKSON: The biggest problem for UTSA is their unsettled quarterback situation. Injuries have caused some serious issues there. For the Roadrunners to stay with BYU longer than a half they have to be able to score points, because I don’t think UTSA can slow down the Cougars for very long.
3. Biggest offensive surprise
3. Who’s been the biggest surprise to you on the offensive side for BYU?
DICKSON: I always felt like Gunner Romney had potential but it rarely came out during his first two seasons in Provo. The numbers he put up in high school were impressive but he just never seemed to get a lot of opportunities with the Cougars. This year, he is a very, very good receiver with all the tools. He has a great connection with Zach Wilson and a terrific receiver on the other side in Dax Milne. His speed has surprised me some this year, but his ball skills are even more impressive.
LLOYD: I don’t know how much we are going to see of him but I’m going to select offensive lineman Joe Tukuafu. The former tight end stepped into arguably the most difficult position on the offense last week and played really well at center in taking over for the injured James Empey. His block on the edge where he shoved two LA Tech defenders into their own bench was highlight-reel worthy. I think the BYU offensive line has easily been the driver for the success of the Cougar offense in 2020 and Tukuafu was able to keep them rolling and limit mistakes. That was even more than I was expecting from him.
4. Biggest defensive surprise
4. Who’s been the biggest surprise to you on the Cougar defense?
LLOYD: How about the proud Payson alumnus, defensive lineman Tyler Batty? I knew this was a young man who could play when I saw him compete for the Lions a few years ago but I have absolutely been impressed by his speed and relentlessness off the edge. We’ve wondered for the last couple of years who the Cougars might be able to look to if they needed consistent pressure from the defensive end spot and Batty is auditioning admirably to be a force in that role. If his technique continues to improve, opposing offensive lines are going to have to pay attention to where Batty is lined up.
DICKSON: It’s got to be freshman cornerback Micah Harper. I can’t remember the last time a true freshman cornerback earned a starting role at BYU, but Harper did it and has performed very well. He’s a confident kid, too. He said on Tuesday the coaches brought him to Provo to be productive and he has been. As a corner, you have to have that mentality.
5. Women's hoops in 2020
5. The BYU women’s basketball team learned its WCC schedule on Wednesday. Can the Cougars overcome Gonzaga to win the league title?
DICKSON: The league is loaded this year and could be even better if a few grad transfers get passes to play immediately. The ‘Zags will be really good again. Portland won the WCC Tourney and returns a lot of firepower. Pacific has some really talented scorers, San Diego can lock you down defensively and Saint Mary’s is a team that can beat you from the perimeter. The challenge is real for Jeff Judkins and his team. But this might be the deepest and most talented team Judkins has ever coached in Provo. With team leader Shaylee Gonzales back in the saddle, the Cougars will be very good in 2020-21. Remember, when Gonzalez was a freshman BYU beat the ‘Zags three times.
LLOYD: I don’t have any doubt that BYU has the pieces to be league champs once again but the biggest area of concern is whether this squad has the mental fortitude to overcome all the challenges that will come during the year. Having Shaylee Gonzalez back from injury and Paisley Johnson Harding in the backcourt will make a big difference, but I also expect newcomer Lauren Gustin to buoy up the Cougar toughness level. She was a workhorse in high school at Salem Hills and I’m certain she will bring the same type of drive to BYU. But the West Coast Conference should have a lot of good teams this year, which means there will be plenty of obstacles for the Cougars to surmount to get to the top.