It is November again, and the Brigham Young Cougars football schedule has nothing but WAC opponents. BYU’s bowl destination is already known. For these two reasons, many fans find their interest waning. Despite BYU being out of the running for a BCS bowl and no big name opponents left on the schedule, there are still several reasons to stay “fully invested” in the 2012 football season.
1. BYU defense.
This defensive unit is on the verge of elite status. Besides being one of the best in the nation, this group can make a run at being the best defense in school history. If they continue to excel in the final four games, they could make a strong case for that title. The table below shows the current averages allowed in several key defensive categories, as well as BYU’s current national ranking and compares them to the best averages and national rankings in school history.
This may or may not be the best BYU defense ever, but it is a special defense. Clearly the best that BYU has seen this century, and it may be several years before BYU has another defense this good. Soak it up.
2. Can Kyle Van Noy get a fumble recovery and a touchdown?
As pointed out last week on BLUE COUGAR FOOTBALL, linebacker Kyle Van Noy is just a fumble recovery away from repeating his 2011 phenomenon of recording a stat in every major defensive category. If he gets that fumble recovery, there is a good chance he takes the fumble to the house. In his career, Van Noy has recovered two fumbles and returned both of them for touchdowns.
Furthermore, it is still unknown whether Van Noy will be back for his senior season. He is a special talent—a once in a decade, maybe once in a generation, talent. Why miss four games of his career for fickle reasons?
3. Ansah the Monstah.
One hit wonder Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah will definitely be gone next year. He is another once in a decade type player. After hearing about his potential and natural gifts, fans are finally witnessing it on the field. He is flying up NFL draft boards as he develops and makes more and more plays each game.
Just like the 1992 team finished the regular season 8-4, it was still worth watching every game solely to see Hunter the Punter. Brad Hunter was a physical anomaly as a 260-pound punter. He only punted a few times a game. Ansah plays almost every defensive down.
4. Fab freshman Jamaal Williams.
Last June, BLUE COUGAR FOOTBALL made a list of the Top 10 BYU Freshmen. True freshman running back Jamaal Williams has made that list obsolete already. He already has 516 yards rushing with 8 touchdowns, and 226 yards receiving with 1 touchdown. Only three freshmen running backs, and just two true freshmen, have had more rushing yards than Williams. He has a legitimate shot to pass both true freshmen, and finish with the second most rushing yards by a freshman behind Harvey Unga (1,227). Williams needs to average only 54.5 yards in the final four games to finish with 734 yards to pass Ronney Jenkins. Williams has had 64 yards or more rushing in four of the last five games.
Jenkins scored 14 total touchdowns (11 rush, 3 pass), which will be a little more difficult for Williams to surpass. However, if he keeps scoring four touchdowns in a game, like he did at Georgia Tech, then he will finish ahead of Jenkins and could reach Unga’s high water mark of 17.
In the last three games, Williams has had over 100 all-purpose yards in each game against teams from BCS AQ conferences. He has two 100-yard rushing games this season, and his role in the passing game is growing.
While Williams isn’t leaving after this year like Ansah, and possibly Van Noy, he is exciting enough now to make watching these final four games a priority.
5. Can Cody Hoffman get to 1,000 yards receiving?
Junior wide receiver Cody Hoffman came close to the 1,000 yard milestone last year. Getting there this year appeared to be a foregone conclusion, especially when he had 281 yards after the first three games. Through nine games, Hoffman has 689 yards, which put him on pace to finish with 995 yards. Going down the stretch last season, Hoffman had three 100-yard games in 2011 and 385 yards receiving in the final four games. He is only 311 yards away right now.
6. Punting sensation Riley Stephenson.
Speaking of Hunter the Punter and once in a decade players, Stephenson has elevated his punting to that level. His punting average is up 4.7 yards this season. Stephenson’s 46.9 yards per punt average is easily the best by a BYU punter since Matt Payne averaged 47.6 in 2002, which was the first time a BYU punter averaged over 44 yards since Hunter averaged 47.6 in 1992, which was over two yards better than any Cougar punter since Lee Johnson averaged 50.6 yards in 1983.
Stephenson’s punting has been a work of art this season. Half of his punts (21) have been 50 yards or longer. He has had at least one punt longer than 50 yards in every game this season. Four games, Stephenson has had a punt 60 yards or longer. Nearly half his punts (19) have been inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. Less than 10 percent (4) of his punts have been touchbacks.
On a national level, Stephenson is ranked number four in average yards per punt.
7. Catch a sneak peak at 2013.
One of the great perks of playing bad teams, especially late in the season, is that the back ups get to play. Sometimes they play for an entire quarter or more. The 2012 team has a lot of seniors, so many of these back ups will be relied on next year to start. With the difficulty of the 2013 schedule, this playing time will be especially valuable.
BYU needs to replace both middle linebackers. Pay close attention to Uani Unga, Manoa Pikula, and Zac Stout. Everyone on the defensive line will be gone. Remington Peck is a player to watch here, while Bronson Kaufusi has probably caught your eye already. Who will replace Romney Fuga at nose tackle is wide open.
Most everyone will be back on offense, but keep an eye at quarterback. Jason Munns might finally get some playing time. He will be competing with Taysom Hill to start next year. The odds are very remote that Munns beats out Hill. If it happens, it will mean Munns did something in these final four games that you didn’t want to miss.
8. Can BYU squeak into the top 25?
Another top 25 finish isn’t out of the realm of possibility. Four big, strong wins by BYU coupled with good finishes by Notre Dame, Oregon State, Boise State, and Utah State could get BYU in the rankings as a 9-4 team due to the schedule strength.
Boise State’s loss to San Diego State will hurt. However, if Boise State can finish 11-2, they should be a top 25 team. BYU barely lost in Boise, 7-6.
Utah State must win the rest of their games to finish 11-2 if they are going to be ranked in the top 25. Their biggest test will be No. 20 Louisiana Tech (8-1). BYU beat Utah State 6-3.
Oregon State needs to keep winning. An upset over Oregon would be huge, but even with a loss to the Ducks, the Beavers should finish in the top 20, provided they win their bowl game. The less embarrassing Oregon State loses to Oregon the better.
Notre Dame is almost a lock to finish in the top 25, but it will be better if they finish in the top 10. The Irish need to play well in their BCS bowl. They have a history of getting blown out in those games. BYU lost 17-14.
Voters could give BYU the preferential treatment that is given to teams in BCS AQ conferences. In a normal season, a four-loss BYU team would have no shot at making the final top 25. This year, BYU would have played four ranked opponents with one win over a top 25 team (Utah State), and two very narrow losses (Boise State, Notre Dame). Another loss was close going into the final minutes against a top 20, maybe top 15 or top 10 team. BYU’s only other loss would be a three point loss to Utah. Don’t forget that BYU had an impressive win at Georgia Tech doing things to the Yellow Jackets that no ACC team has done for several years.
Also, don’t underestimate the power of the ESPN exposure.
9. Rematch or rivalry renewed in bowl game?
BYU will play a team from the Mountain West Conference in the Poinsettia Bowl. The Poinsettia Bowl has the second pick of MWC teams. Right now, four teams have one loss in conference: Boise State, San Diego State, Fresno State, and Air Force. Both Fresno State and San Diego State still have to play Air Force. The Falcons and the Broncos will not play each other.
Whatever way it sorts out, there is a good chance that BYU will have a rematch with Boise State, or renew its rivalry with San Diego State or Air Force. Very intriguing.
10. IT’S BYU FOOTBALL!!!!
Do we really need any other reason than this? Don’t be a fair weather fan. BYU football is still a really good product that fans shouldn’t cast to the curb early. This may not be the season we all wanted or expected, but it is still BYU football. There are only 13 opportunities in the entire year to see the Cougars strap it up, wear the blue and white, and add to their tradition and legacy. We shouldn’t want to miss a single game.
The Editor appreciates all feedback. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org