After losing No. 2 overall pick Zach Wilson and four other NFL Draft mainstays after the 2020 season, and to seven teams from the Power 5 conferences, the BYU Cougars were supposed to be in rebuilding mode in 2021. Guess Again.
The Cougars have defeated six of those P5 programs; went 5-0 against the Pac-12, including a convincing 26-17 victory over Rose Bowl participant and rival Utah; and set up another outstanding season marred only by a 31–28 upset loss to UAB in the Independence Bowl. The Cougars have gone 21-4 the past two seasons.
So what will 2022 look like? For one thing, this will be BYU’s last as a college football independent. The Cougars will join the Big 12 in 2023.
Unlike 2021, however, the Cougars are not rebuilding. They return 18 of 22 starters and replace just four key contributors — running back Tyler Allgeier, receiver Neil Pau’u, center James Empey and defensive end Uriah Leiataua.
Expectations are high for the Cougars, if they can stay healthy. Mid-season and season-ending injuries last year derailed a special year, which seemed to be heading for another 11 or 12 win campaign until stars such as linebackers Keenan Pili and Payton Wilgar, Empey, Pau’u and even quarterback Jaren Hall can’t do it. to finish.
“These guys love each other,” head coach Kalani Sitake said when the Cougars wrapped up spring training on March 31. “They’re not happy with the way the season ended, and you saw that in the way they approached the offseason.”
Related: Athlon Sports’ Top 25 College Football for 2022
BYU Offense Preview for 2022
History has proven that whenever BYU has a senior quarterback, the Cougars have thrived on offense, which bodes well for 2022. Hall is technically listed as a junior on BYU’s roster, but it will be his fifth season in Provo, and it is hinted that it will be his last. By all accounts, Hall was in full control of the offense in spring camp, and he added arm strength to his repertoire through offseason workouts with former BYU QB John Beck and others.
Days after Allgeier’s declaration for the NFL Draft, Sitake and offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick were successful in luring Cal RB transfer Christopher Brooks away from Purdue and Notre Dame. Brooks was easily BYU’s biggest addition this offseason and could have the kind of impact Washington transfer receiver Puka Nacua made in 2021, coaches say.
The offensive line must be a force. Offensive line coach Darrell Funk can go nine or ten deep there.
Nacua and fifth-year senior gunner Romney form a solid double at receiving points. The Cougars finished spring camp with Keanu Hill, Chase Roberts, Brayden Cosper and Kody Epps competing to be WR3.
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BYU Defense Preview for 2022
BYU’s defense was solid to start the 2021 season, contributing to the Cougars’ big wins over Arizona State, Utah and Washington State. But injuries eventually took their toll, and the Cougars struggled to stop the run, losing to Boise State and Baylor and winning to Virginia and USC.
Stopping the run is a big priority for defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki’s squad in 2022, even as the Cougars try various defensive fronts in a never-ending effort to get more pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Developing depth is another focus, so top player injuries don’t have as much of an impact as they did in 2021.
“It feels like the same thing every year – our concerns are keeping them healthy, primarily,” Tuiaki says. “If we can stay healthy and get the ball bouncing the right way, we have a chance for a pretty special year.”
If the aforementioned Pili and Wilgar return to full health, the linebacker will be the strength of the unit.
Defensive end Tyler Batty returns for a front that looks more disruptive, while three-year-old starting free safety Malik Moore anchors a secondary who has plenty of cornerback experience but is looking for someone to step in at the strong point safety. . The candidates there are converted cornerback Micah Harper and Hayden Livingston, among others.
The best defensive addition is Vanderbilt transfer corner Gabe Jeudy-Lally, who brings SEC experience.
Preview of BYU Specialists for 2022
Punter Ryan Rehkow and kicker Jake Oldroyd combine to give BYU one of the best specialty tandems in the country. Three-year-old starters should be in contention for playoff honors, if they get enough attempts to qualify. Oldroyd was 9 of 13 on field goal attempts in 2021, while Rehkow averaged 48.6 yards per punt on 40 attempts. Kick returner Hobbs Nyberg and leading kick returners Caleb Christensen and Lopini Katoa also return.
The Cougars will score a lot in 2022 because their offense was explosive in 2021 and almost all of the key ingredients are back. If BYU can develop a more stingy defense and find playmakers on this side of the ball, watch out. The Cougars’ final season of independence could be memorable.
However, if the defense struggles to get off the pitch like they did in 2021, problems could follow. Certainly, several teams provided a plan last year on how to beat the Cougars. Their prolific offense can’t score from the sideline as opponents’ 10, 11 and 12 game drives become the norm.
Oregon, Baylor, Notre Dame and Arkansas will provide tough Tests, as will road games at Boise State, Stanford and Liberty. If the Cougars put together a third straight 10-win season, they’ll have earned it.
National Ranking: 27
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