Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
With the start of the 2014 collegiate football campaign just around the corner, there are some critical questions surrounding each of the state's "Big Five" programs.
Can BYU's dynamic quarterback, Taysom Hill, continue to make strides in the passing game which, combined with his incredible running ability, will make him an even more dangerous double-threat for opposing defenses to try to contain?
And can Hill and his strong supporting cast play up to the great expectations being placed upon the program and cruise to a glorious 10- or 11-win season that Cougar fans are craving?
Can University of Utah quarterback Travis Wilson come back strong from some frightening health issues that threatened to end his career last year?
And can he and the Utes find a way to win at least six games and get to a bowl game this season, thus keeping head coach Kyle Whittingham's job safe and secure for another year?
Can Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton return from last year's season-ending knee injury and ignite the Aggies' offense to a fourth straight winning season and third consecutive bowl triumph?
Can Jay Hill take the reins of a stumbling Weber State program, which has won just four games combined over the past two years, and get the Wildcats back on the road toward respectability?
And can Southern Utah University head coach Ed Lamb come up with an encore performance and keep the Thunderbirds, who earned their first FCS playoff berth last season, soaring to new heights?
Yes, there's a lot of intrigue as we enter the 2014 season, which gets underway Thursday when the Utes take on Big Sky Conference patsy Idaho State.
So let's take a look into our crystal football and, at the risk of likely looking very stupid four months from now — yep, been there and done that many times before — predict what will transpire for each "Big Five" team this year:
BYU — Unfortunately, you won't find in-state arch-rival Utah on the Cougars' schedule this season. But you will still find some quality opponents like Utah State, Texas and Boise State, as well as Connecticut, Houston, Virginia, Nevada and California — decent "name" opponents, which means their names are decent, even if their football programs aren't always.
Sure, some of them are solid teams that will provide competitive opposition, even if none of them are exactly world-beaters these days.
You'll also find a no-name school (Savannah "Smiles" State) and a couple other teams (Central Florida, Middle Tennessee, UNLV) who aren't going to strike fear in the hearts of anyone.
What you won't find on BYU's schedule is anybody who the Cougars would look at and say: "We can't beat these guys."
That's why it's conceivable they could pile up 10, 11 or — if everything falls BYU's way — even 12 wins this season.
It probably won't happen, though, because those magical seasons just don't come around very often, and the Cougars could stumble against Utah State, Texas, Boise State or one of those other "name" opponents.
And even if they did run the table, BYU's schedule has enough cupcake opponents to prevent the Cougars from being one of the four teams invited to play for the national championship.
Utah — Back-to-back 5-7 seasons with no bowl berth doesn't cut it for this proud program, and Whittingham and the Utes know it.
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