BYU football has enjoyed plenty of success the past two seasons — the Cougars have won double-digit games in back-to-back years for the first time in over a decade, and the team has been ranked in the final Associated Press poll each of the past two years.

Can Kalani Sitake’s program build the momentum back, though, after BYU won a couple closer-than-expected games last November before losing to UAB in the Independence Bowl?

It was last season’s finish that made ESPN’s Bill Connelly earmark the Cougars as a bounce-back team primed to “rebound from a 2021 stumble” earlier this week.

Other programs that Connelly designated for a bounce back in 2022 include the USC Trojans, Washington Huskies, North Carolina Tar Heels, Florida Gators and Stanford Cardinal, all of which had losing records last season.

“Predicting a team to ‘rebound’ after winning 10 games might seem odd,” Connelly wrote. “After the Cougars’ brilliant 2020 run, they managed to survive turnover and continue playing at a high level offensively, but an inexperienced defense plummeted from 21st to 79th in defensive SP+, and their record was boosted by four one-score victories.”

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The Cougars will face a bevy of teams with high expectations in 2022, including Oregon and Boise State on the road, Baylor and Arkansas at home, and Notre Dame in a neutral-site game in Las Vegas.

Even so, Connelly projects a 9-3 regular-season record for BYU this season. “Improvement on paper might not produce improvement in the win column, but it could!” Connelly said.

Part of that optimism could come from the fact the Cougars have plenty of experience coming back: Connelly has BYU leading the country in returning production at 85%.

“The Cougars return 16 of the 17 defenders who saw at least 250 snaps. Plus, cornerback Micah Harper and linebacker Keenan Pili are back from injury, and Vanderbilt cornerback Gabe Jeudy-Lally comes to Provo. If the defense improves to a top-50 level, the offense could make sure the Cougars have a chance in every game,” Connelly wrote. 

“Quarterback Jaren Hall is outstanding, the receiver duo of Puka Nacua and Gunner Romney is explosive, and Cal transfer Christopher Brooks could help mitigate the departure of running back Tyler Allgeier. This team has top-20 potential.”

BYU opened fall camp on Thursday, in preparation for its season opener Sept. 3 at South Florida.