The Huskies open the season in Provo against a BYU squad that would love to beat Washington to prove to the world that they and not Utah should be joining the Pac 10. At first glance if you are going to pick a year to play BYU on the road this is the one because the Cougars are rebuilding.
Bronco Mendenhall has established himself as one of the best coaches in the West during his six years at BYU. The Cougars under Mendenhall are traditionally tough on defense and he runs a physical offense that is surprisingly well balanced. That balance may be at risk early this season as they break in a new QB and try to find a suitable replacement for RB Harvey Unga who was kicked out of school for honor code violations.
Replacing quarterback Max Hall is at the top of the priority list at BYU. Hall was a three year starter for the Cougars, throwing for at least 3,500 yards and 25 touchdowns in each season. Jr Riley Nelson, So James Lark, and Fr Jake Heaps started battling it out for the starting QB job this past spring.
Riley and Heaps were the leaders coming out of spring practice with Riley holding a bit of an edge because of familiarity with the offense. Heaps is the future and it is just a matter of time till he wins the position but it might not be in game one. The battle will continue through pre season drills and I don't expect a starter to be named until the week of the opener.
The Cougars lose two very good TE's in Dennis Pitna, and Andrew George, but whoever the QB is will have some decent targets among the wide outs to throw the ball to. Jr McKay Jacobson (556 yards), Jr WR O’Neill Chambers (376) and Sr WR Luke Ashworth (387 yards) are all quality receivers with good numbers and experience.
Harvey Unga who posted three straight 1000 yard seasons has been removed from the roster so the Cougars will turn to Jr's Bryan Kariya (199 yards) and J.J. Di Luigi (248 yards) to help pick up the slack and give the offense some semblance of balance. Frosh Josh Quezada could emerge as a starter as the season goes on.
The offensive line returns four starters including frosh All-American Matt Reynolds but they do have to find a replacement at center which is a key position in the Cougar offensive scheme.
BYU has some big holes to fill in the front seven. The biggest loss of the defensive side of the ball is Jan Jorgensen, who led the team in sacks with six in 2009. Jorgensen also recorded 56 tackles, 10.5 for loss.
Russell Tialavea and Brett Denney are also gone along the defensive line, so finding replacements and suitable depth will be a challenge. Romney Fuga saw significant playing time a season ago, and Brett Denney who saw action in every game a season ago will have to step up if the Cougars are going to mount a pass rush.
BYU was decimated at LB by graduation. The Cougars will miss Matt Bauman, Shawn Doman, Coleby Clawson and Terance Hooks. Several players who will contribute at this position sat out this spring due to injuries or were recovering from surgery. The Coug's do have some young talent to fill in but they are going to have to get ready in a hurry if they expect to compete with an experienced offense like Washington's in the opener.
The secondary is the strongest link on the defense anchored by S Andrew Rich. Rich is a 6-3, 223-pound load who led BYU with 85 tackles and four interceptions last season. The Cougars are looking to find him a running mate at free safety. Like most MWC teams they don't have Pac 10 speed in the secondary but overall it is considered a deep and talented group.
Washington Vs Brigham Young
Playing in Provo is always difficult. The stadium seats over 60,000 and the fans are among the most rabid in the West. The Cougars aren't pushovers even if they are in a rebuilding phase. They along with TCU, and Utah are counted as the favorites to win the MWC crown in 2010. BYU has only lost one home game over the past four years and that was to TCU.
The last time these two schools played was two years ago in Husky Stadium. Washington scored a TD in the last moments of regulation and it looked like the game was going to go to overtime until Jake Locker was called for excessive celebration and UW missed the long extra point try. Washington compiled a 0-12 that season while BYU finished the season 10-3.
The tale of the tape going into 2010 leans heavily in Washington's favor at this point. UW has superior experience, depth, and talent at almost every single position on offense. Jake Locker and Chris Polk should be able to do whatever they want against a rebuilding BYU front seven.
Offensively the Cougars are in rebuilding mode and will be facing an improving Washington defense that probably isn't ready for prime time yet. Washington has depth problems on the ends and will be replacing some key players at linebacker. The secondary is in the best shape it has been since UW last ventured to a Rose Bowl. The loss of Harvey Unga is a potential season breaker for the Cougars. Having the luxury of a proven 1000 yard producer in the backfield would have taken a lot of pressure off of whoever the new QB will be.
Opening the season on the road in a hostile environment will be a challenge for Washington but I have to give the Huskies a ten point edge going into this one.