BYU faces the most brutal schedule in Cougar history as it will play against the likes of Wisconsin, Notre Dame, Texas and Boise State. It will be the first time in program history that BYU can say it has a strength of schedule comparable to teams in automatic qualifying conferences.
Fortunately, the Cougars have some fantastic talent coming back for the 2013 season. Some reporters, including ESPN's Mel Kiper and Bleacher Report's Matt Miller, have linebacker Kyle Van Noy as a first round draft pick for the 2014 NFL Draft. Miller also has wide receiver Cody Hoffman as another potential first round draft pick.
However, BYU had these players last season plus defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, who just went to the Detroit Lions as the No. 5 overall pick in this year's draft. Yet, the Cougars finished 8-5 with tough losses against Boise State, San Jose State, Notre Dame and last but certainly not least against arch-rival Utah.
So, what's different about 2013? How can the Cougars hope to rise up against such a rough slate of opponents?
Two words: Taysom Hill.
Yes, BYU's offense is getting a much-needed overhaul now that Robert Anae has returned from Arizona as the offensive coordinator. His introduction of the no-huddle offense should help what was a somewhat anemic offense last season.
But any chance of a breakout year for BYU against such a tough line of opponents depends on the Cougars' new starting quarterback.
But what about BYU's stout defense? Well, we saw last season that the defense can only do so much to win games. True, Kyle Van Noy put up a Herculean effort as he blocked a punt and scored two touchdowns himself off of turnovers against San Diego State in the Poinsettia Bowl.
But then again, you have the game against Boise State where BYU didn't allow a single offensive point from the Broncos and yet the Cougars lost 7-6.
Last season was definitely different than what BYU fans have been accustomed to. Cougar fans remember the high-scoring days of quarterbacks from Jim McMahon to Steve Young to Ty Detmer and finally to Max Hall.
Riley Nelson just didn't quite fit into the pantheon of great BYU quarterbacks.
There's no questioning Nelson's grit or toughness. I'd like to know how many quarterbacks would have done as well as Nelson did as injured as he was. Even the likes of Johnny Manziel would likely have been sidelined had he suffered from cracked vertebrae.
But the bottom line is this: As tough as Nelson was, he just wasn't good enough to get wins against BYU's top opponents.
Nelson's biggest problem was that as injured as he was he couldn't throw the ball too far downfield. His longest completion against Boise State was for only 10 yards. Against Notre Dame, his longest completion was only for 20 yards.
When a quarterback can't throw the long ball, the opposing defense can cheat up and leave minimal protection downfield. This makes running the ball difficult unless you have a fantastic offensive line.
Unfortunately, the offensive line wasn't quite up to that challenge.
So, what about BYU's new signal caller?
We saw some encouraging things from Hill before he was hurt at the end of the Utah State game. He's quick with a 40-yard dash time of under 4.6 seconds. He made some impressive runs, like his 68-yard touchdown run against an admittedly weak Hawaii team.
Ah, but what about his arm?
Hill's been fairly accurate with a 59.2 pass completion rate, but the biggest red flag is that his average yards per pass attempt is only 5.99. In fact, the longest completion Hill had all year was for just 28 yards.
That has to change.53 comments on this story
As noted above, BYU has a fantastic wide receiver in Cody Hoffman. Hill has to be able to find him and the rest of the BYU receiver core on deep routes now and again so that opposing defenses have to respect the threat of a pass downfield. This in turn will help open up the running game and make the Cougar offense more like the fans are used to over the years.
It's hard to gauge just how much Hill has improved in throwing the deep ball as Hill was kept out of spring scrimmages as he is still not 100 percent recovered from his knee injury. We should get a better idea once BYU comes into fall camp.
But if Hill can become a legitimate deep ball threat and maintain his ability to run, BYU has an opportunity to make some huge statements against BCS-quality opponents.
Lafe Peavler is a national college football featured columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @MasterPeavler