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College Football End of Season Analysis: BYU Cougars

Coming into the 2010/2011 season the BYU Cougars had some high expectations. They were coming off of an 11-2 year in 2009/2010 that included wins over Oklahoma, Utah, Air Force and Oregon State.

After beating Jake Locker and Washington to start off the year, BYU fell into a tail-spin losing 4 consecutive games and 5 out of 6 including a loss to Utah State (which finished 4-8). BYU then reeled off 4 straight victories against teams with losing records before falling to a Top 25 team in Utah. In it's bowl game BYU made short work of Conference USA's UTEP by putting up 52 points against them. BYU finished 7-6 and in 5th place in the Mountain West Conference. Earlier this year we spoke with the website BYU Football Talk about the upcoming season in our Pre-Season Preview. Now that the season is over we once again call on our friends at BYU Football Talk to find out about their thoughts on the 2010/2011 football season and get a quick glimpse into next year.

In our Pre-Season preview you predicted BYU to finish 9-3. They ended up 7-6 after dropping 4 straight early before coming back to win 5 out of 6 to close out the year. Do you consider this year a success, a failure or somewhere in the middle?

As it stands now, the verdict on the 2010 BYU football season cannot be given. It wasn't the reloading success that I optimistically predicted last summer, but with a winning record and a bowl win, it can't be deemed a complete failure. Lack of experience and chemistry on offense cost BYU two, maybe three games early in the year. A series of bizarre plays cost BYU another win in the regular season finale against Utah. Poor defensive coaching the first five games didn't help either.

Two pivotal moments in the year were the firing of the defensive coordinator five games into the season, and the bye week eight games into the season. Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall took over the defense and the impact was immediate. He had those guys playing as well as the best defensive units in the country. The bye week gave the offense extra time to work on its chemistry, and that side of the ball exploded the final five games.

The best part of 2010 is that most of the contributors will be back, not just for 2011 but 2012 as well. Obviously, the early struggles cannot be ignored, so 2010 will never be considered a resounding success. However, if the lessons learned the hard way this year result in 11, 12, or even 13 win seasons and top 10 rankings (note the plural) in the near future, then we can look back on 2010 and call it a success.

One of the most interesting things about BYU is that their student athletes go on missions which takes them away from football for entire seasons. With Riley Nelson returning next season do you think it would be beneficial for young Jake Heaps to go now or wait until later in his career?

Following the New Mexico Bowl, Jake Heaps was asked the mission question. While many BYU football players who belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints serve two year missions, it is not mandatory. Heaps answered that he will not leave the team to serve a mission, rather he will stick around and help build what was started this year and help BYU start the Independent road successfully.

Riley Nelson has already served a mission and will be back next year. Coming off a medical redshirt, he will still have two years of eligibility. Although Nelson's running ability adds a wrinkle to the offense, Heaps showed that he is clearly the future. He has the potential to enter the Ty Detmer and Jim McMahon realm of BYU quarterbacks. Bronco Mendenhall is hesitant to name Heaps the starter next year, but it will take a catastrophic turn of events for Nelson to start over Heaps.

Outside of the QB position who are you most excited about seeing play next year?

There are a lot of players who get me excited about 2011.

Linebacker Kyle Van Noy is another freshman who not only contributed, but impressed. His speed and athleticism gives him the ability to make plays all over the field.

Cornerback Corby Eason should assume a full time role with Brandon Bradley graduating. He can become BYU's next shutdown corner. Besides his play making in the secondary, he also makes plays in the back field. Eason's specialty this year was the corner blitz. He had 3.5 sacks this year, which gives the BYU defense a tool that I don't ever remember seeing in over 20 years watching BYU football.

Wide receiver Cody Hoffman became Jake Heaps' go to guy, and BYU's best deep threat, at the end of the year. Hoffman also emerged as a dangerous return man on kickoffs.

Running back Drew Phillips redshirted this year, but the word coming from the practice field is that he is explosive and has playmaker written all over him. On the scout team, he scored over 20 touchdowns against BYU's first-team defense.

What was your favorite moment of this College Football Season?

Watching Jake Heaps breakout in the UNLV game. During the week before this game, I questioned on my blog whether Heaps was the worst freshman quarterback to ever play for BYU. He had thrown for less than 100 yards the two previous games, he threw a pick-6 in the last game that almost cost BYU the game, and he had a sickening 2:7 touchdown to interception ratio.

Against UNLV, Heaps made me look silly. He threw for 294 yards (season high) and 2 touchdowns, while guiding BYU to a 55-7 victory. The game was over at halftime with BYU up 38-0, punctuated by Heaps moving the team into field goal range in just 36 seconds after the defense intercepted a UNLV pass.

Once Heaps broke out, there was no stopping him. He passed for over 200 yards in each of the remaining four games, and finished with a 15:9 TD to interception ratio.

What area(s) does BYU need to improve on most going into the 2011/2012 season?

The defensive secondary will be replacing two corners and the strong safety. As evidenced in the New Mexico Bowl, BYU was susceptible to getting beat deep for long pass plays.

Tight end is another trademark position for BYU. This year, however, tight end play was abysmal. BYU is loaded with talent, but no one was able to step up and become the next great BYU tight end.

Defending mobile quarterbacks. BYU did well against Jake Locker in the season opener, but mobile quarterbacks for Florida State, Nevada, and Utah State all burned the Cougars.

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