Phil Steele's 2018 college football preview magazine has hit the newsstands throughout the country. Included is an exhaustive analysis of every Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) team nationwide.
His highly respected analysis has been fair to BYU over the years. Based upon the disastrous 2017 BYU Cougar season, his expectations for the upcoming year are quite restrained.
Steele has a power ranking system that estimates the relative strength of each college football team. Based upon the current rankings, BYU could be a double-digit underdog in possibly as many as six games. To top it off, the Cougars may only be a clear favorite in three of the other six contests of the regular season.
On paper, it could be a daunting task to have a winning season or to even go to a bowl game. There is a ray of hope in Steele's analysis, as he predicts that the Cougars will play San Diego State in the Hawaii Bowl on Dec. 22.
There are also some favorable points about BYU in the magazine. The Cougars are 10-1 in the opening games for the last eleven years. BYU is No. 31 in the nation on the experience chart of returning players.
BYU averaged just 17 points per game in 2017, and Steele predicts 25 ppg for the 2018 season, a considerable improvement. He also estimates that the Cougars will allow about 24 ppg. In any case, he feels that BYU will be a better team than the 2017 version.
One interesting sidelight noted in the magazine was that BYU had been 18-0 over the years at home in November. That is until the inexplicable loss to the University of Massachusetts last year. The only BYU home game in November this year is against New Mexico State, providing only one chance to start a new November home winning streak.
The sobering fact is that BYU has quite a ways to go to regain respect in the national football community. Steady but sure progress would be a nice way to start since expectations are low and the Cougars have a solid core of talent.
A cause for concern is that none of the 2018 Cougar recruits were listed in Steele's national top recruits list. One surprising omission was Gunner Romney, the outstanding wide receiver for the Chandler High Wolves, the championship team from the state of Arizona. One rating service had him as the No. 5 recruit from Arizona this year. I saw his Chandler team dismantle a good Mesa Mountain View squad, and he was dominant in that game.
Of the top 18 recruits in the state of Utah for 2018, BYU picked up six of them. However, none of those were in the top 10 ranked players. Steele ranked BYU's recruiting class as 82nd in the nation. This is one area that will have to improve over a period of time to stay competitive.
Steele listed a number of BYU players in the ranking of top talent nationally at each position. QB Tanner Mangum, DE Corbin Kaufusi, DT Khyris Tonga, LB Zayne Anderson, LB Sione Takitaki, and safety Dayan Ghanwoloku all made the lists. One glaring omission was tight end Matt Bushman, who was a freshman All-American last year.
Bushman and several other Cougar players made Steele's All-Independent teams. Along with Kaufusi, Anderson, Takitaki and Ghanwoloku, others included were RB Squally Canada, WR Dylan Collie, offensive linemen Austin Hoyt and Thomas Shoaf, punt returner Michael Shelton, and long snapper Mitch Harris.
Steele says he believes that Coach Kalini Sitake will get things turned around. He expects that virtually every position group will be better this year, even with the loss of some key players, like LB Fred Warner, who was an NFL draft choice.
The Steele magazine also expects that the new offense established by offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes will be a better fit for quarterback Tanner Mangum.
It won't be long until we find out. Even though I am an eternal optimist, the low expectations approach has one advantage this year — it will likely take a while for BYU fans to over-hype a team coming off a 4-9 season.28 comments on this story
I know that Cougar fans have a history of being impatient, and some are apoplectic too soon, but incremental improvements should be the first order of business. Bravado, when the first sign of improvement takes place, should be replaced by quiet celebration and measured enthusiasm.
For those of us who lived through many difficult seasons prior to the advent of LaVell Edwards, any upward trajectory would be welcomed. If motivation is a key ingredient to success, this team has a built-in drive to redirect recent history. We get to be first-hand witnesses to the process.