Will BYU’s defense be improved? Has the addition of TJ Woods fixed the Cougars’ offensive line challenges from a year ago? How, exactly, can the progress of BYU’s quarterback room be measured going into the summer before fall practice begins? With the Cougars picking up a former Colorado and Snow College offensive lineman who can contribute this fall, just how good or bad will this BYU team be in Year 2 of Big 12 play?

BYU’s Cougar Club hosted a FanFest in Arizona this past week and both players and coaches showed up to mingle with fans. Naturally, the presentation by BYU football players was positive and optimistic about the upcoming season. Fans were impressed. But what’s reality?

Cougar Insider’s predictions

Question of the week: There are football prognosticators who have BYU football wins in 2024 at 4.5, or less than five games with no bowl game. What is your opinion on this prediction for this coming fall for the Cougars?

Dave McCann: Is 4.5 wins too low?

You have to hand it to Las Vegas oddsmakers. They are good at what they do. During my years as a sportscaster at KLAS-TV, I sat in the back rooms of the Caesars Palace Sports Book and watched them do it. But this time, they seem a little off.

Las Vegas and just about every other prognosticating outlet have the Cougars’ 2024 win projection at 4.5 games. That feels low, especially when you consider last year’s 5-7 season was a couple of plays away from being 7-5 and qualifying for a bowl game.

Even while injury-riddled, including the loss of veteran quarterback Kedon Slovis after a 5-2 start, the Cougars mustered up dog fights against No. 14 Oklahoma and No. 21 Oklahoma State at the end of the season.

The Sooners needed a 100-yard pick-six to survive their first and only trip to Provo, a 31-24 victory. The following week, the Cowboys rallied from a 24-6 halftime deficit at home to beat BYU 40-34 in double overtime that earned them a spot in the Big 12 championship game.

Finishing the season with five straight defeats sent the Cougars into the postseason determined to get bigger, stronger and faster. BYU hired new coaches for the offensive line/run game and tight ends. The 2024 campaign will be the second season for the defense under coordinator Jay Hill.

Granted, the biggest area of the team that remains unsettled is the most important — quarterback. Jake Retzlaff started the last four games of the 2023 season and went 0-4. Gerry Bohanon has been successful in the past, but he didn’t play last year after having shoulder surgery at South Florida.

Las Vegas is clearly betting against either of those two getting the job done beyond 4.5 wins. The Cougars host Southern Illinois, Kansas State, Arizona, Oklahoma State, Kansas and Houston. The road battles include SMU, Wyoming, Baylor, UCF, Utah and Arizona State.

An improved team and a more favorable schedule than a year ago would seem to put BYU in position for more success in their second Big 12 season, not less. I’m in no position to tell Las Vegas oddsmakers that they don’t know what they’re doing, but even that group of number crunchers can get surprised on occasion — and BYU is counting on it beginning Aug. 31.

Dick Harmon: Dave has spent a good chunk of his professional time in Las Vegas as a local news anchor and knows this oddsmaker business far better than I do. A year ago, I predicted BYU would win seven games and go to a bowl game. At 5-2, that seemed doable until both the offense and defense, riddled with injuries and an offensive line that didn’t respond to the coach, melted down.

This year the Cougars are picked to finish among the bottom four in the Big 12, ahead of Baylor, ASU and Houston in The Athletic’s preseason summary. There is good reason for this. BYU finished poorly last year and stunk it up offensively and defensively. Also, this year, BYU plays the top seven Big 12 teams, while Utah will play the lowest seven teams. Schedules matter and BYU’s road will be tough.

Having said that, I do believe BYU’s defense will be better than a year ago with new pieces. Where BYU lost two starting safeties before the season began, they have far more talent at that position. Where the Cougars lost leading tackler Ben Bywater in crunch time a year ago, they’ve added Jack Kelly from Weber State, who stood up as a huge playmaker during spring practices. Additions along the defensive line, secondary and linebacker corps will help Jay Hill, who has promised his unit will be better.

Offensively, a new line coach has already worked wonders in motivating and elevating blocking and effort. I believe Jake Retzlaff will surprise a lot of people. No QB in school history had his career start with the quality of teams Retzlaff had to play last year and he is far more prepared. I think he’ll have a solid run game to help him and the receivers and tight ends are healthier, bigger and faster. I see BYU winning at least six and making a bowl game. So much of the four wins is based on a team from yesteryear.

Cougar tales

BYU men, ranked No. 7 and women ranked No. 6, will take their talents to the NCAA Track and Field preliminaries in Fayetteville, Arkansas, this week after finishing work at the Big 12 championships in Texas.

Four Cougars were named to the Big 12 honor list, read it here.

Noah Waterman, a stretch four and fan favorite, announced he is taking his basketball talents to Louisville to join former Cougar Aly Khalifa.

BYU’s golf team failed to advance to the NCAAs after two top players doubled-bogeyed and triple-bogeyed one of the final holes of play, thus missing out on a playoff in Texas.

From the archives

Related
The throw: Zach Wilson’s pro day performance continues to spark discussions
A lesson for the kids: 8 BYU student-athletes who exemplified to high school seniors what it takes to succeed
Jewish QB Jake Retzlaff sees BYU as a welcomed shelter from the storm

From the X-verse

Extra Points

Fanalysts

Comments from Deseret News readers:

The nice thing about predictions that the team isn’t any good is that it is much easier to exceed expectations. I suspect that, as usual, the truth will lie somewhere in between. I don’t expect a whole lot this year, but I do expect some improvement. I think the Keanu Hill transition from WR to TE will be successful (barring injury, of course), and the O-line and defense will be a little better. But will that be enough to show improvement. Maybe. I still expect a somewhat mediocre season. Maybe they get a minor bowl game, maybe not.

— Mabramso

Usually, But Not This Time ...

Dave McCann is a very good writer with keen and measured insights. Usually, I agree with his perspective, but not this time.

Using sports books, or any other betting source, shows poor judgement. The bookies pick “winners” but the winners they pick are not the teams or players. They are picking themselves, and doing what they can to separate us from our money.

Point spreads, over/under, etc., etc. is their way of making money using our greed, selfishness and lack of moral fiber to get it. Dave was a top sports reporter in Las Vegas for years, and he knows how this corruption works. But, neither he, nor BYU Sports Nation, or anyone connected with BYU or the Church, should reference sports books as a way to measure success on the field.

It’s one thing to compare legitimate sources, coaches, writers, etc., but not gamblers!

— Wer

Up next

May 22-25 | Track and Field NCAA West Preliminary | @ Fayetteville, Arkansas