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ASU Football Opponent Primer: BYU Cougars

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On A Mission: Cougars looks to follow up an impressive 11-1 season.

NCAA Football: Boca Raton Bowl-Central Florida at Brigham Young Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

ASU’s 2021 Schedule

Sep. 2: vs. Southern Utah (Thu.)

Sep. 11: vs. UNLV

Sep. 18: @ BYU

Sep. 25: vs. Colorado

Oct. 2: @ UCLA

Oct. 8: vs. Stanford (Fri.)

Oct. 16: @ Utah

Oct. 30: vs. Washington State

Nov. 6: vs. USC

Nov. 13: @ Washington

Nov. 20: @ Oregon State

Nov. 27: vs. Arizona

BYU’s 2020 Season

Some analysts viewed the BYU 2020 season as a massive step forward in recruiting for head coach Kalani Sitake. Others simply criticized the Cougars’s 11-1 record for its lack of Power Five contests. Most will agree that the team will regress at least marginally with quarterback Zach Wilson going second-overall to the New York Jets in April’s NFL Draft.

BYU did take care of business in retrospect, playing a full 12-game schedule when many other programs did not. The Cougars earned impressive wins over Houston and a ranked Boise State team.

The lone loss, and the only obstacle in a run for a New Year’s Six Bowl appearance, was a close 22-17 loss to a historic Coastal Carolina team. When you factor in that BYU scheduled that matchup on two days’ notice, over 2,000 miles away from its home in Provo, the Cougar’s 2020 performance proved more than impressive.

They capped off the season in dominating fashion, completed with a Boca Raton Bowl victory over UCF 49-23. The Cougars reached the 11th ranking in the AP Poll, its highest postseason ranking in over 20 years.

Key Returners

BYU keeps its running back tandem from last year in the form of Tyler Allgeier and Lopini Katoa, who combined for over 1,500 yards rushing last season. Allgeier took the bulk load with an astonishing 1,130 yards on 150 attempts (7.54 YPC) and 13 touchdowns. Lopini adds a third-down presence with good hands, catching three touchdown passes in addition to his five house-calls on the ground. BYU fans might hear a lot of the phrase “establishing the run game” with its veteran backfield as the quarterback situation unfolds.

Biggest Losses

The Cougars lost most of the offensive-foundation that brought success to Provo in 2020, but no loss will hurt more than your Manning-Award finalist quarterback. Zach Wilson went on a tear in 2020, causing his draft stock to rise exponentially, and forcing him to go pro after his junior season. Wilson threw for over 3,500 yards, ran for another 250, and was responsible for 43 Cougar touchdowns (33 passing, 10 rushing) last year. However, credit to his decision-making, he limited himself to just three interceptions in 12 games.

Add Wilson to the list of non-returning Cougars, on top of three starting offensive lineman, and their top receiver in Dax Milne.

Reason Why ASU Could Win

After not playing any Power-Five opponents in 2020, BYU opens up the 2021 season with three-straight Pac-12 matchups (Arizona, Utah, Arizona State). The early September two-week stretch of Utah and Arizona State, granted both games will be played in Provo, is arguably the toughest back-to-back stretch for BYU all season. The Utes and the Sun Devils are both expected to compete for a Pac-12 title and a Rose Bowl appearance.

Whether or not Sitake has his starting quarterback by week three will be a huge indicator of how the Cougars will match up with ASU. BYU will likely have to match the Sun Devils’ offensive output. Most likely to be the signal-caller for BYU this fall is Baylor Romney, who took limited snaps last year in Wilson’s absence.

Jaren Hall, now healthy after sitting out 2020 with a hip injury, quit the BYU baseball team to focus on competing for the starting job. Four-star recruit and Chandler, Arizona native Jacob Conover is also expected to make a run at QB after returning from his mission in Paraguay.

ASU returns most of its already impressive attack, led by quarterback Jayden Daniels, who finds himself on the Manning Award-watch list. It is also worth mentioning that while the defensive statistics do not pop off the page, the Sun Devils return the entire starting defense from last season.

Reasons Why ASU Could Lose

Rarely do the Sun Devils go on the road for a non-conference matchup, but they will find themselves in Utah on the night of September 11 to face the Cougars. While Herm Edwards’s team has already developed an identity, anything goes on a Saturday night in September when it comes to college football. BYU is only months removed from being a top-10 team (depending where you look) in the nation, and they have not lost a game at LaVell Edwards stadium since September 21, 2019. This battle will feel as grand in-scale as any other conference-matchup this season.