COMMENTARY – Once again football season is finally here and the long college offseason comes to an end. This offseason in particular seemed a little longer to me and my football enthused family and friends. As fall fast approaches, junior football leagues are filling up local parks, high school football is underway, the NFL is almost through preseason, Fantasy Football leagues are doing all of their drafts and college football is only days away from kickoff. Just like me, most football fans should feel like kids knowing that it’s the last week of school before the long fun filled summer vacation. I personally haven’t been this excited about filling up my spare time with football action in many years.
Last Friday, I went out to the Page High football game in Page, Ariz., for their season opener versus Tuba City. The head football coach, Coach Iverson had asked me to come give the pregame speech to his team in hopes it could help start their season off on the right foot. It was a great experience for me and has me that much more excited about all of this year’s games.
I speak to youth groups regularly, but this was different for me. It brought back football in its truest form. This was the real game of football! No paychecks, no cuts, scholarships, worries or politics of business to depict this upcoming battle on the field. It’s where young boys turn into men and learn how hard work pays off, and that you win and lose as a team. It was just pure football bliss and I was thrown right in the locker room again, telling these young men my favorite quotes and sayings I picked up from 15 years of competitive football.
There is no other feeling quite like sitting in the locker room before the season opener with all of the unknowns and uncertainties bubbling to the surface. After months and months of offseason workouts and training camp, the first game is finally here.
For me it was the first time I have been back in a locker room before a game since my NFL days. Just being in that locker room after their pregame warm-ups brought it all back to me. The very familiar sounds of coaching, the players’ energy, the sights and even the smells filled my body with emotions. This feeling comes to all former players in some fashion, but it brought me back to what football is really all about. Oh what I would have given to swap places and be in the cleats of one of those offensive or defensive linemen for the evening. The adrenaline from all of the mental preparations — it lasts up until you either hit another player or they hit you — cannot be replaced by any other event in life.
Watching this high school game from the bleachers, it reminded me of how typically the first game of the year is riddled with flag after flag. The opening game jitters were obvious because of the amounts of false starts and other penalties. After the players settled in a bit and with a little coaching, things got better and turned it into an enjoyable game.
There are always the season-opening jitters where you finally get to go up against another opponent from a different team. I would expect the same thing for BYU vs. Connecticut this weekend. There will be emotions running very high from all of those new to college football and those players who have been working their tails off to get ready for this coming season.
I sit here in my third year of writing my Blue Blood BYU column for STGNews.com and my mind starts to wander in many different directions. Talking about the offseason gains and losses is boring and really, that’s all past us now. Talking about facts for this year, well, there are no facts for this 2014 college football season yet, so let me talk about what we do know.
What we know is that this is a completely new year and BYU, just like all other teams, has a chance to write its own history. Will they finally turn the corner this year and win all of the games that they should? Only time will tell!
Let’s get right to talking about these two opponents that will meet this Friday. There are lots of questions that need answers and some of the most important answers can only come with consistency and wins for this year Cougars team. Having another season of “Woulda, coulda, shoulda,” will not cut it and everyone knows it.
With all of the offseason talk about not being considered a Power 5 opponent by several conferences, BYU must have a chip on its shoulder and play like it. No one will give the Cougars a win or vote for them in the polls just on reputation. BYU will have to earn everything moving forward, and that’s a fact.
Right now BYU’s coaches and players have to show everyone what they are establishing in Provo. Talking about it will not do any good, but if they can prove they can compete and win against great opponents year in and year out, they will have their doubters standing without ammo to use against them.
In all reality there is a reason everyone puts BYU in a certain category of good but not great. Because you only get flashes of greatness and that’s usually followed by average performances. The Cougars have to get rid of the down times if they want to be a power 5 team. I know they can do it, but do they?
Enough of that, instead of going off completely, I am going to jump right in to the season-opener for the Cougars. The BYU-Connecticut game Friday evening will be televised on ESPN at 5 p.m. BYU is coming off of a solid camp where the Cougars stayed relatively healthy and made progress on both sides of the ball.
Taysom Hill has proven he can run and throw, so he is a huge duel threat QB. With the flashes of potential becoming more and more consistent last season, the Cougars are in the driver’s seat to have a solid season. This 2014 roster does have several key pieces on offense and defense that will need to be filled and fast if BYU wants to take a step forward. How will BYU replace Kyle Van Noy, Daniel Sorenson, Cody Hoffman and several other key components that have been such a big part of their winning success over the last few years? Regardless of who fills the shoes this season and who is in and who is out, BYU needs to eliminate the need to play down to other teams’ levels and play poorly at times.
For example, the Cougars can’t lose to a team like Virgina and then turn around and beat a team like Texas shortly after as they did a year ago. They need to beat teams they can beat and compete with any Power 5 teams. I believe they can be consistent and they can beat teams week in and week out, and that is what needs to change for BYU in 2014.
They need to get on a roll again. With the talent in that program currently and the great coaching staff, they should win at least nine games this year.
The key to this game and the entire season is O-line play. It’s what’s been missing for too many years in Provo. I have closely followed BYU’s offseason and it appears that Coach Robert Anae (offensive coordinator) and Coach Garett Tujague (O-line coach) finally have confidence in the group at offensive line. This will be the difference in many of these bigger games. Having a solid O-line is where your team should start. It will keep Taysom Hill and all of the skilled players healthy and give them a lot more opportunities.
As a former BYU O-lineman, I am personally excited to watch the weekly battles in the trenches this year. Coach Bronco Mendenhall always has his defense prepared and ready for opponents, year in and year out. To me, it’s more about if the Cougars offense can match that level of play from the defense this year.
BYU continues to mature yearly and solidify at positions like QB, running back, tight end and wide receiver. Now, if BYU can go back to the good ol’ days of aggressive and precise O-line play, that side of the ball will improve drastically this season.
BYU cannot afford to stumble out of the gates like they did last year vs. Virginia in the opening game on the road. This was a winnable game for them last year, but the Cougars just couldn’t get anything going on offense. The Cougars gave up this game with a close loss and later it proved to be an embarrassing loss that followed them all season.
With a couple of key BYU players like Jamaal Williams, Devon Blackmon and Nick Kurtz suspended or injured this week vs. UConn, there will be plenty of opportunity for this team to see who can step up and compete. I do not expect the missing players to have a big impact on the game, but it would be nice to see the entire team competing this week.
The University of Connecticut is part of the AAC (American Athletic Conference) and is coached by Bob Diaco. UConn in 2013 was a sub-par program and went 3-9 with a moderately difficult schedule. These losses came by facing some good teams like Michigan, Maryland, UCF, Louisville and Cincinnati.
Diaco, the former defensive coordinator at Notre Dame, just announced last week that the starting QB would be Casey Cochran, who played in eight games for the Huskies last season. As the starter in four of those games, Cochran only saw one victory, but played fairly consistently.
Last year, UConn averaged 20.6 points per game while allowing 30.2 points a contest. Last season, they had a good balanced run and pass offense. Defensively, with the new coaching changes, some things will remain unknown until game time. I expect a team with drive and a lot of motivation, but with all of the changes they have had at coaching and skilled positions, I would say this looks be a rebuilding season for the Huskies.
Vegas has BYU as a 16.5 point favorite, so let’s just see if the 2014 Cougars can set the bar high for the rest of the season off the UConn game. Now that the seasons are underway, I would like to personally wish the whole state of Utah great luck in this 2014 season!
Blue Blood is a weekly column written by former BYU captain Scott Young. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. George News.
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