Projection: What BYU’s offensive depth chart will look like in 2020 football season, and why
Because spring practices were cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic, BYU won’t release its 2020 depth chart until June or July, so the Deseret News is projecting it in this two-part series
Editor’s note: First in a two-part series projecting BYU’s depth chart.
PROVO — Any examination, or projection, of a college football team’s depth chart for the 2020 season has to begin with this one not-so-minor caveat: The season almost certainly will be unlike anything we’ve witnessed before and quite likely will be delayed, shortened or altered due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some games could be played without fans.
That disclaimer out of the way, now seems like a good time to take a stab at what the BYU Cougars’ two-deep chart could look like the week before the annual BYU-Utah rivalry game takes place, heaven willing, on Sept. 3 at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Keep your fingers crossed, everyone.
While sharing the annual spring football prospectus it put together after the Cougars got in six practices before camp was discontinued on March 12, a BYU football spokesperson said last Thursday that the program won’t release a depth chart until it puts out its media guide in June or July, “depending on how things go (with the pandemic).”
To tide you over in May, the Deseret News will present its unit-by-unit depth chart projections for the 2020 season in a two-part series. Today: offensive predictions (see accompanying two-deep chart). Tomorrow: defense and special teams.
Keep in mind that this is how we think the depth chart will look after fall camp ends and game-week preparations begin. But feel free to clip and save to check our work in June or July when the media guide comes out.
“(Zach Wilson) had some really great moments last year, and he had some ups and downs. I really wasn’t surprised; he (was) a sophomore, and you learn and get better by playing.” — BYU quarterbacks coach Aaron Roderick
Quarterback: Although quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator Aaron Roderick has repeatedly said the competition is wide open, 16-game starter Zach Wilson, a junior, gets the nod here, with redshirt sophomores Jaren Hall and Baylor Romney backing him up — probably in that order. Wilson should benefit from a full offseason of workouts and conditioning, after not having that in the lead-up to last season as he recovered from January shoulder surgery.
Wilson started in nine games in 2019 (he missed four games with a fractured thumb) but still threw for 2,382 yards and 11 touchdowns.
“He had some really great moments last year, and he had some ups and downs,” Roderick said. “I really wasn’t surprised; he (was) a sophomore, and you learn and get better by playing.”
Running back: BYU mostly lines up in one-back sets, so we will list just one starter here. It will likely be junior Lopini Katoa, who posted 358 rushing yards, 288 receiving yards and 207 kick return yards in 2019 and led the team in carries for the second-straight season. We see Utah fifth-year graduate transfer Devonta’e Henry-Cole pushing Katoa for RB1 duties a couple games into the season because it will take DHC some time to learn the playbook.
It’s a fairly deep group, with redshirt freshman Jackson McChesney and sophomore Tyler Allgeier also in the mix. Sophomore Sione Finau had knee surgery in January and will take some time to get back, while walk-on Alec Wyble-Meza entered the transfer portal last month, perhaps seeing the plethora of talent ahead of him on the depth chart.
Receivers: Look for the Cougars to use a lot of three-receiver sets in 2020, so we will list three starters, all juniors: Gunner Romney, Dax Milne and Neil Pau’u. All three were having excellent spring camps and should be the clear-cut go-to guys, barring injury, to step in for departed stars Aleva Hifo, Talon Shumway and Micah Simon.
Redshirt freshman Keanu Hill had offseason surgery and missed spring camp, but coaches are expecting the Texan, Colorado speedster Luc Andrada and walk-on Tevita Ika to add depth. Expectations are also high for prized recruit Kody Epps of Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, California.
Tight ends: The easiest depth-chart prediction of any position is here, where three-year starter Matt Bushman returns after announcing in December he’d be back. The Arizonan has caught 125 passes for 1,719 yards and nine TDs in his career and is closing in on several school records for a tight end.
Who will be Bushman’s primary backup, or join him on the field in two tight-end sets? We’re hearing good things about redshirt freshman Isaac Rex, who played in three games and caught one pass, a 23-yarder, last fall. It is a crowded room, with redshirt sophomore Hank Tuipulotu (injured in 2019), returned missionary Bentley Hanshaw and Carter Wheat also looking to contribute, along with hybrid tight end/fullbacks Kyle Griffitts and Masen Wake.
Offensive line: As outlined in an article last month, offensive line coach Eric Mateos has a lot of experience to work with this season, as every player that started on the offensive line in 2019 returns. Mateos told the Deseret News in March that only two guys — left tackle Brady Christensen and center James Empey — can be penciled in now as certain starters.
To those names we will add seniors Kieffer Longson (left) and Tristen Hoge (right) as the likely starting guards, backed up by sophomore Clark Barrington (left) and junior Keanu Saleapaga (right).
Sophomore Blake Freeland should hold onto his starting right tackle spot after emerging there in 2019, but senior Chandon Herring will push him and several others for a starting spot. We see sophomore Harris LaChance backing up Christensen and junior Joe Tukuafu, the converted tight end, backing up Empey. Sophomores Ethan Atagi, JT Gentry and junior Mo Unutoa, the Utah transfer, are options at center and guard as well.
“I still think there is a lot to get done,” Mateos said. “That is the disappointing thing about losing spring ball. I was excited to see where we could get at the end. But overall I was liking the direction that they were going, yeah.”
Deseret News’ projected BYU football offensive depth chart for 2020
QB: 1 Zach Wilson (Jr.), 3 Jaren Hall (So.)
RB: 4 Lopini Katoa (Jr), 7 Devonta’e Henry-Cole (Sr.)
WR: 18 Gunner Romney (Jr.), 24 Luc Andrada (Fr.)
WR: 5 Dax Milne (Jr.), 84 Tevita Ika (Fr.)
WR: 2 Neil Pau’u (Jr.), 12 Keanu Hill (Fr.)
TE: 89 Matt Bushman (Sr.), 83 Isaac Rex (Fr.)
LT: 67 Brady Christensen (Jr.), 76 Harris LaChance (So.)
LG: 74 Kieffer Longson (Sr.), 56 Clark Barrington (So.)
C: 66 James Empey (Jr.), 63 Joe Tukuafu (Jr.)
RG: 69 Tristen Hoge (Sr.), 61 Keanu Saleapaga (Jr.)
RT: 71 Blake Freeland (So.), 77 Chandon Herring (Sr.)