Blue Blood: High hopes in opener after offseason of change at BYU

What an offseason for the BYU Cougars, right?!

BYU’s opener vs. the Arizona Wildcats in the Cactus Kickoff has been a long awaited one for so many reasons. It could potentially start the ball bouncing in the right direction once again in Provo.

120px-BYUlogoThis was probably the longest offseason Cougar fans have had to endure for many decades. With all the dramatic coaching staff changes, all the Big 12 expansion talk, and a tiny little battle for the starting quarterback position, it made the summer of 2016 a really interesting time for the program.

The intrigue is ramped up when considering that several big-time players, who once were lost, are now back to the field for the Cougars, including the likes of Taysom Hill, Jamaal Williams and Tejan Koroma. These aren’t just average players back with the program. These are top tier players nationally and BYU needs all the help it can get this year.

Why? Well, the schedule in 2016 for BYU is a monster. A bona fide, fire-breathing, soul-stealing monster.

We’ll get back to that in a moment.

Taysom Hill (4) will start at quarterback. | Photo courtesy BYU Athletics
Taysom Hill (4) will start at quarterback. | Photo courtesy BYU Athletics

With Hill beating out Tanner Mangum for the starting QB spot, the team must come out playing with a chip on its shoulder and with a bad taste in the mouth from the 2015 Las Vegas Bowl loss to Utah.

Hill took a chance coming back to BYU. He graduated and the new-ish NCAA rule allows that he could play virtually anywhere in the country without having to sit out. Surely Taysom watched Mangum’s heroics last season and it would have been easy for him to let the torch pass to the new young gun.

Hill is a lot of things: A speedster, a smart guy, a family man. But most of all, he is a competitor. His lifelong dream has been to quarterback BYU to glory, to take the Cougars to new heights, and kudos to him for staying with that dream. If he can stay healthy this year, this truly could be the fulfillment of that dream.

Now, back to the schedule. It is one of the most diverse and challenging in the school’s history, and that’s exactly what athletic director Tom Holmoe set out for and was actively looking for years ago while negotiating these games.

2016 BYU football schedule
2016 BYU football schedule

That old saying “with big risk comes big rewards,” really comes into play as this schedule could speak volumes about what direction the new staff is taking the program. This big-time schedule presents itself with a huge opportunity if BYU can finally go on the road and not only compete well against the likes of Arizona, Utah, Michigan State, West Virginia, but win some road games consistently.

BYU, in the Bronco Mendenhall era, was known for winning some big games here and there, but losing games that they should have won (for instance, UCLA and Missouri on the road last year). BYU needs to start taking wins consistently on the road against good teams, to not only head the program in the right direction but set in stone its identity moving forward.

The funny thing about winning big is that when you establish an attitude of winning, your whole environment can change fast – and soon enough, the games BYU would consider an upset will once again be a favorite to win regularly. I believe the Cougars are on the right track nationally, but in today’s day and age, they need to build more respect.

There are a lot of question marks in Provo. How will the new coaching staff do? Should Hill have stayed? Are the Cougars good enough to compete in the Big 12?

This season, especially, BYU will have the opportunity to set everyone’s doubts aside and show that the Cougars are still worthy of being in a Power 5 conference and be ranked in the Top 25 in the nation.

To me, it’s a make or break season, even though it’s Kalani Sitake’s first year as head coach. Coach Sitake has surrounded himself with great assistants, like Ed Lamb, Ilaisa Tuiaki, Ty Detmer and Steve Kaufusi. With several other good coaches (Ben Cahoon, Mike Empey, Jernaro Gilford and Reno Mahe, to name a few) also joining the staff, BYU has some great new energy. I love that the majority of these coaches have some kind of deep ties to BYU and it can definitely take things to the next level for the Cougars if they gel well.

Yes, BYU will have its hands full against Arizona. But this game is winnable and can start things off right for Coach Sitake and his new staff. With the current players and great new staff, the Cougars have no excuses. This should not be a rebuilding year.

What better way to start the 2016 schedule off than the opportunity to go on the road and beat a Pac-12 program (that, coincidentally, has beaten Utah in the previous four straight seasons). Coach Rich Rodriguez is as good as they get and his teams are always fun to watch.

The matchup should be good. Both Arizona and BYU have changed up schemes on defense and BYU has a newly installed offense led by Detmer. With both teams not having real game footage of each other, I would expect a lot of adjustments and player error throughout this first contest.

Odds makers have Arizona the favorite by 1.5 points and the under set at 60.5. These predictions say the game will be a high-scoring affair that will most likely come right down to the last drive.

I see it much the same way and I can’t wait for the kickoff.

Note: The game is at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. Kickoff is 7:30 p.m. local time, 8:30 MDT (in Utah) and is being broadcast on Fox Sports 1.

Blue Blood is a sports column written by former BYU lineman and captain Scott Young. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. George News.

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Twitter: @oldschoolag

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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