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Provo • Although some opening-game suspensions loom over his program and a surprisingly high number of projected starters have missed key practices and scrimmages during preseason training camp, BYU football coach Bronco Mendenhall has been uncommonly loose, jovial and upbeat the past few weeks.
Having what he believes will be a pretty good football team will do that for a guy, Mendenhall explains.
"I like our team a lot," said Mendenhall as he enters his 10th season at the helm of the college football independent. "We have a good team. I like where we are."
The 2014 Cougars will have an experienced, athletic junior quarterback in Taysom Hill, plenty of offensive firepower with the likes of junior running back Jamaal Williams and receivers Mitch Mathews, Jordan Leslie, Devon Blackmon and Nick Kurtz. Williams and Blackmon have said they will be suspended for the opener on Friday at UConn, while Kurtz has a stress fracture in his left foot and will miss the first four games, or so.
Still, BYU expects to have its best offenses since Max Hall's senior season.
What's more, the offense will have speed to burn like perhaps never before in Provo, and a revamped line that spent the offseason with a chip on its collective shoulder, believing it deserved more credit for producing the No. 10 rushing offense in the country last season.
"Obviously, we are hoping for an undefeated season, and we think it is possible," said running back Algernon Brown. "We're hungry."
Defensively, there are some big holes to fill, mostly up the middle, which Mendenhall has always said is the key to his success over the years. The Cougars are trying to replace their nose tackle, middle linebacker and strong safety, along with All-American outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy.
The coach gave Nick Howell the title of defensive coordinator last year, and this year he validates that confidence in the young assistant by giving him defensive play-calling duties for the first time.
"He thinks like I think," Mendenhall said.
Special teams coach Kelly Poppinga said that unit cost the Cougars a possible bowl win against Washington last December giving up a kickoff return for a touchdown, among other miscues and vows this year to use the school's best athletes to avoid a repeat.
"We wore down in the last few games," Poppinga said. "That was unacceptable."
Overall, Mendenhall said this might be the deepest, most talented team he's had in Provo, and the schedule is far more forgiving than it was last year. Barring an injury to Hill, the Cougars might be favored to win every game they play, except the Week 2 showdown at Texas, which is still smarting from that 40-21 beatdown last year in Provo.
Asked what has to happen for him to call the regular-season a success after the finale at California on Nov. 29, Mendenhall declined to name a win total.
"For this particular team, I think I will just default to what I always think. As the coach at BYU, expectations are the top 25. To do that, you usually have to win double-digit [games]. That's just a yearly thing. So I would say that," he said.
All times mountain
Friday at Connecticut, 5 p.m.
Cougars' last trip to East Coast, 2013 opener, was disastrous
Sept. 6 at Texas, 5:30 p.m.
Longhorns will have revenge on their minds after 40-21 beatdown last year
Sept. 11 Houston, 7 p.m.
The red Cougars gave BYU all it could handle last year
Sept. 20 Virginia, TBA
Cougars hoping to make up for debacle in Charlottesville last year
Oct. 3 Utah State, 8:15 p.m.
Chuckie Keeton's final game in Provo should be a memorable one
Oct. 9 at Central Fla., 5:30 p.m.
Knights won a BCS game last year, but lost their outstanding QB to NFL
Oct. 18 Nevada, TBA
Jamaal Williams had a career-high 219 rushing yards against Wolfpack last year
Oct. 24 at Boise State, 7 p.m.
Did Cougars finally make it a rivalry by pounding Broncos in Provo?
Nov. 1 at Mid. Tenn., 1:30 p.m.
Blue Raiders have made this the marquee game on their schedule
Nov. 15 UNLV, TBA
Old Mountain West Conference foes tangle for first time since BYU went independent
Nov. 22 Savannah State, 1 p.m.
A pre-Thanksgiving breather against an FCS opponent
Nov. 29 at California, TBA
Shouldn't Bears be playing Stanford in their final regular-season game? The Cougars will succeed if ...
Taysom Hill, pictured, and the offense can complete drives, especially against the better teams on the schedule such as Texas, Central Florida, Utah State and Boise State, and the defense continues to shine like it has the past three seasons. Also, winning games in September will make late-season contests much more meaningful.
The Cougars won't succeed if ...
Defensive coordinator Nick Howell struggles in his first year as the defensive play-caller and inexperienced defenders can't fill in adequately for departed stars such as Kyle Van Noy, Eathyn Manumaleuna and Daniel Sorensen. The Cougars also have to improve on special teams, which faltered a bit down the stretch in 2013, costing them a chance at a bowl win.
Bottom line ...
With an experienced, play-making quarterback in Taysom Hill, plenty of offensive weapons and an improved offensive line, the Cougars should be able to score a lot of points against a schedule that is not nearly as demanding as last year's. If the defense plays at the same level it did in 2013, BYU should be able to post a 10-win season for the first time since 2011.
LT • Ului Lapuaho, Fr., 6-5, 333; Ryker Mathews, Jr., 6-6, 320
LG • Kyle Johnson, So., 6-4, 303; Edward Fusi, Sr., 6-0, 322
C • Tejan Koroma, Fr., 6-0, 280; Terrance Alletto, Jr., 6-3, 305
RG • Tuni Kanuch, Fr., 6-3, 325; Brayden Kearsley, So., 6-4, 295
RT • DeOndre Wesley, Sr., 6-7, 330; Brad Wilcox, So., 6-7, 305
QB • Taysom Hill, Jr., 6-2, 232; Christian Stewart, Sr., 6-2, 208
RB • Jamaal Williams, Jr., 6-0, 206; Algernon Brown, So., 6-1, 229
FB • Adam Hine, Jr., 6-1, 208; Paul Lasike, Sr., 5-11, 232
WR • Mitch Mathews, Jr., 6-6, 215; Kurt Henderson, Jr., 6-1, 185
WR • Jordan Leslie, Sr., 6-3, 215; Devon Blackmon, Jr., 6-1, 185
TE • Devin Mahina, Sr., 6-6, 251; Bryan Sampson, So., 6-4, 221
LE • Remington Peck, Jr., 6-4, 271; Tanner Balderee, Fr., 6-2, 250
NT • Travis Tuiloma, So., 6-2, 285; Marques Johnson, Sr., 6-2, 308
RE • Graham Rowley, Jr., 6-4, 280; Logan Taele, Jr., 6-2, 280
OLB • Bronson Kaufusi, Jr., 6-7, 265; Fred Warner, Fr., 6-3, 220
ILB • Zac Stout, Sr., 6-1, 235; Harvey Langi, So., -2, 240
ILB • Manoa Pikula, Jr., 6-1, 235; Jheremmya Leuta-Douyere, Jr., 6-1, 236
OLB • Alani Fua, Sr., 6-5, 234; Michael Alisa, Sr., 6-1, 220
CB • Jordan Johnson, Sr., 5-10, 189; Trenton Trammell, Jr., 5-11, 185
CB • Robertson Daniel, Sr., 6-1, 205; Jordan Preator, Fr., 6-0, 183
SS • Craig Bills, Sr., 6-1, 205; Harvey Jackson, Sr., 6-3, 215
FS • Kai Nacua, So., 6-1, 207; Dallin Leavitt, So., 5-11, 200
PK • Trevor Samson, Sr., 5-11, 183; Moose Bingham, So., 5-10, 180
P • Scott Arellano, Sr., 6-1, 190; Chasen Brown, Fr., 6-0, 173
KR • Adam Hine, Jr., 6-1, 208; Paul Lasike, Sr., 5-11, 232
PR • Keanu Nelson, Sr., 5-11, 184; Jordan Leslie, Sr., 6-3, 215
DS • Kevin O'Mary, Sr., 6-4, 240; Chase Larson, Jr., 6-3, 280