Much has been written about BYU’s bold move into the realm of college football independence since last summer when the university announced it was leaving the Mountain West Conference. At first, most pundits thought it was a suicidal move for the Cougars, but as A.D. Tom Holmoe methodically cobbled together the program’s first indy season schedule with the help of broadcast partner ESPN, perceptions slowly began to change.

It’s a much stronger schedule than what they’d face if they were still in the MWC.

BYU’s 2011 schedule starts impressively – on the road at Mississippi and Texas, then back home for Utah, Central Florida and Utah State. Three additional tough road games are tossed into the mix with Oregon State, TCU and Hawaii. Technically, the TCU game is considered to be at a neutral site – Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Fort Worth. This game is minutes from the Horned Frog campus and it’s considered a neutral site? Right.

The rest of the Cougar schedule features Idaho, Idaho State, New Mexico State, and San Jose State, giving the team eight solid games and four that provide a little breathing room during the back stretch of the season. We don’t consider Utah State a breather because it’s a rivalry game, even though BYU has owned the Aggies for decades (27-8 record since

Bronco Mendenhall

1970). Every team gets up for playing BYU and Bronco Mendenhall can’t afford to let his squad take any opponent lightly.

H.B. Arnett of Cougar Sportsline (a subscription newsletter for BYU sports fans) is so high on this year’s Cougar football team that he’s predicting a BCS berth.

Quote: “… this is the year that BYU breaks into a BCS bowl. I’m not stupid. I know that means an undefeated season for the Cougars. That’s how stupid good this BYU team can be.”

We’d be inclined to agree with Arnett if Brigham Young’s new OC Brandon Doman already had a year of calling plays and total interaction with the offensive players and coaches under his belt. There is a lot of talent on this team and they appear to be unified and excited to take on the world as an independent.

New coaches Ben Cahoon (receivers) and Joe DuPaix (running backs) complement the move assistant head coach Lance Reynolds made to shore up a nationally touted (out of high school) group of tight ends in Austin Holt, Richard Wilson and Devin Mahina. (Note: Mahina is now out for the season with a fractured neck).

Cahoon has senior McKay Jacobson, soph Cody Hoffman, and redshirt freshman Ross Apo headlining a solid group of receivers, while DuPaix has senior sparkplug J.J. DiLuigi, second year bruiser “Juice” Quezeda, and senior Bryan Kariya to handle the rock out of the backfield.

Mark Weber’s offensive line is as solid as it’s ever been with Outland Trophy candidate Matt Reynolds holding down left tackle, and Braden Brown, Braden Hansen, Houston Reynolds, Terence Brown, and Ryker Matthews manning other ports

BYU QB Jake Heaps

of call at the scrimmage line. They’ll protect soph signal caller Jake Heaps who is poised for a big year, and solid backup QB James Lark. Dual threat southpaw QB Riley Nelson will be utilized in the Cougar offense, but not as Heaps’ backup, should that need present itself.

Defensively, the linebacker corps is experienced, swift, and highly underrated with three NFL-quality studs in Uona Kaveinga, Jordan Pendleton and Kyle Van Noy. Barring injuries, they’ll be considered one of the top units in the nation by the end of this season.

The defensive line depth looks solid, especially now that senior DE Matt Putnam has been cleared academically to rejoin the team. The addition of Putnam’s experience and wingspan, not to mention the psychological lift of returning to his teammates, cannot be overlooked. It should take him a few weeks to get up to speed with the line platoon of Romney Fuga, Travis Tuiloma, Graham Rowley, Eathyn Manumaleuna, and USC transfer Hebron Fangupo.

The defensive backfield finally has solid with Daniel Sorenson, Travis Uale and Mike Hague handling safety duties and Corby Eason, Preston Hadley, Joe Sampson, and DeQuan Everett handling the corners.  This group just needs some real game-time experience and you’ll see them gel nicely as a unit.

Prediction: 10-2 regular season, Armed Forces Bowl win, Top 15 ranking

BYU has a new OC and defensive backfield to break in. Look for them to lose close games on the road to Ole Miss and Texas the first two weeks of September and then rattle off 10 straight wins. Although they’ll be deserving of a Tier 2 bowl bid by season’s end, without the strength of a major conference affiliation they’ll be stuck playing in a Tier 4 bowl game.