PROVO — Whether it's the return of a well-known quarterback for one final season or a new coaching staff being tested for the first time, there are plenty of intriguing storylines as BYU opens its 2016 season against Arizona on Saturday (8:30 p.m. MDT, Fox Sports 1).
Here's a look at a few factors that will likely play a key role in the outcome:
1. Taysom Hill returns to the field for BYU
Some of Hill’s best games have come against Power 5 opponents, and now the speedy quarterback will have a second chance at his senior season. Hill returns from a Lisfranc injury suffered in the season opener last year, and he was recently named the starting quarterback for BYU.
Hill adds a dynamic dual threat to the Cougar offense, which is moving to a pro-style look under first-year offensive coordinator Ty Detmer. Hill is known for his running — he's rushed for 2,212 career yards and 24 touchdowns — but he also showed touch in the passing game in last year's opener against Nebraska, when Hill completed 21 of 34 passes for 268 yards and a touchdown before being lost for the season.
2. BYU’s defensive front 7 vs. Arizona's offense
BYU is switching to a 4-3 scheme on defense while utilizing multiple fronts and will be without run-stuffing defensive tackle Travis Tuiloma, who is still recovering from his own Lisfranc injury. How the Cougars' defensive front — which had several key players change positions — matches up against the Arizona offense could be a determining factor in if this turns into a shootout or a low-scoring game.
The Wildcats have their share of weapons on offense and averaged 222.3 rushing yards per game in 2015 while scoring 37.4 points per game, 20th nationally. While there has been no announcement if returning starter Anu Solomon or Brandon Dawkins will start at quarterback for Arizona, Nick Wilson is back after rushing for 729 yards and eight touchdowns last season.
3. The unknowns of Game 1 with a new coaching staff
When Bronco Mendenhall announced last December he was taking the head coaching job at Virginia, it signaled the start of a new era in BYU football. Kalani Sitake is the one in charge now, and a few on his staff — including both coordinators — are stepping into roles they haven't been in before. This will be their first in-game test together.
The unfamiliarity isn't relegated to BYU's staff, though. After last season, Wildcats head coach Rich Rodriguez decided a change was needed on defense and brought in Marcel Yates, whom he lured away from Boise State, as his new defensive coordinator. There could be a learning curve on the sidelines for both teams, just as there will be on the field.
Email: [email protected]; Twitter: @brandonljudd