It was a season with so much promise for BYU. Before Heisman candidate Taysom Hill went down with a serious leg injury against Utah State the Cougars looked to be the consensus favorite to take claim of the Group of Five access bowl spot in January. The Cougars' fortune seemed to turn immediately after Hill left the USU game as they would drop the regional rivalry that evening before losing their next three including an overtime heartbreaker against Central Florida and a 55-30 blow out in Boise.
MTSU has certainly had their struggles as well but the Blue Raiders' losses haven't come in bunches like they have for BYU. At 5-3, MTSU has generally beat the teams that they should and have suffered only expected losses. MTSU will be well rested this week as the Blue Raiders enjoyed a bye week after knocking off UAB two weeks ago. While BYU comes in to the game as a road favorite, they'll have to find a way to knock off a team that has won 12 of their last 13 home games.
Q&A With Vanquish the Foe
1, Have BYU fans thrown in the towel on this season? Obviously the team hasn't, with close losses against good teams (ok, aside from being blown out at BSU), but aside from winning out, how could the season be salvaged?
As much as it pains me to say it, yes many BYU fans have thrown in the towel on this team. In addition to receiving an Ivan Drago sized knockout punch by losing Taysom Hill, the Cougar defense has gone completely flat. Sure the losses to UCF and Nevada were very close games but at the end of the day BYU is on a four game losing streak and people are starting to question if Bronco Mendenhall should be the head ball coach come the end of the season.
Many disgruntled fans might tell you that the season is beyond salvage because there is no chance that BYU will get back to being a ranked team. It would be ideal for the Cougars to finish with five straight wins (four regular season contests and a bowl game) but that might be a stretch. At this point, fans are looking for young players like linebacker Fred Warner and wide receiver Devon Blackmon to show some promise so the fans can have something to look forward to next season.
2. Taysom Hill is injured, and he obviously was a (the?) key component in making the offense go. How well has Christian Stewart filled in since Hill's departure, and where do you think his ceiling is? Also, what other offensive players should we watch out for?
Considering that Christian Steward was a former walk-on and that his only experience was at a small junior college just down the road from Provo, he has done quite well. He has yet to put together a complete game but in every game since Taysom went down he's shown flashes of brilliance. His trouble has been getting into a grove (as to avoid the quick 3-and-outs) and not turning the ball over. If he can limit the mistakes and complete 65% of his passes then should be capable of leading BYU to some victories.
The rest of the offense is on the shoulders of running backs Jamal Williams and Paul Lasike. Williams isn't the strongest, fastest or quickest running back but no one in the country fights harder than that kid. When fully healthy, he is capable of a 100 yard game and at least two runs in which you will ask yourself "But how? He was wrapped up 7 yards back". Lasike is a converted rugby player and will straight up truck fools if they get in his way.
3. Has going Independent hindered BYU? What do you think about BYU's position as it relates to conference realignment?
This is a constant topic of discussion among the BYU media and fan base. Everyone can agree that independence is significantly better than being in the Mountain West conference but everyone would be much happier if BYU were able to land a spot in the Big12 or any other Power Five conference. The blessing of independence is that it has given BYU the opportunity to play higher profile games against programs like Ole Miss, Texas, Notre Dame and Wisconsin. This allows BYU to get the exposure that it wants. The curse is that the back half of the schedule is usually filled with the Idaho State's of the world.
For now the independent life is suiting BYU just fine but if the P5 schools, along with the College Football Playoff start to get more exclusive, Cougar fans will be worried.
4. MTSU's only two losses are to a ranked Marshall team and a Minnesota team, which until the loss last week to Illinois, was having a pretty solid season. How are Cougar fans (and media/the team) approaching this game?
Having lost their last four games, the Cougars faithful know that anyone is capable of beating this BYU team. It would be absolute foolishness for anyone to underestimate the Blue Raiders because BYU's defense is dressed up as swiss cheese for Halloween and the offense doesn't pack quite as much punch these days. Taking a long road trip against a hungry team doesn't exactly seem like an easy task.
5. BYU recruits a little bit differently than many G5/P5 schools. Provide a little insight on how the Cougars manage to continually score top prospects and develop them, even as they go on 2 year mission trips (sorry, that sounds like a test question or something).
Recruiting and allocating scholarships to BYU might be one of the toughest jobs in all of college football. With the majority of BYU football players identifying with the Mormon faith, you will see that most players will serve a two year mission at some point in their career. With the young men of the church being allowed to start their mission service at a younger age, those who decide to serve will either leave right after high school or they will go to one year of college and then leave. The curious part of all of this is the planning and forecasting. For example if BYU were to land a top recruit that is also Mormon, there is good chance that he won't contribute for another 3-4 years.
In order to get top talent to come to BYU, Bronco Mendenhall has embraced the core values of the university and has used them to his advantage. He has branded the program as a great place for those who want to be free from the distractions of the world. While it might drive others to find a place where they are allowed to do keg stands, there are many who are buying what Bronco is selling and want to come to a place of physical, intellectual and spiritual growth.