Our ranking: No. 27 BYU
Coach: Kalani Sitake (9-4, entering second season; 9-4 overall)
2016 record: 9-4
Look back: BYU fans suffered through a roller coaster ride of a 2016 season, with the Cougars losing three of their first four games by a total of seven points before earning a four-game regular season win streak and a thrilling win over Wyoming in the Poinsettia Bowl. Four of the team’s nine victories were by seven or fewer points.
Offensive starters returning: 6
Offensive starters lost: 5
Defensive starters returning: 6
Defensive starters lost: 5
Key losses: RB Jamaal Williams, QB Taysom Hill, WR Nick Kurtz, WR Coby Pearson, DE Harvey Langi, DE Sae Tautu, S Kai Nacua, DE Logan Taele
Top returnees: QB Tanner Mangum, WR Jonah Trinnaman, RB Squally Canada, LB Fred Warner, LB Butch Pau’u, LB Francis Bernard, CB Troy Warner, CB Dayan Ghanwoloku
Strengths: Taysom Hill’s up-and-down career at BYU comes to an end, opening the door for senior Tanner Mangum to step back into the role he owned in 2015 — starting quarterback. Mangum spent much of last season as the Cougars’ backup. His past experience leading the offense will be invaluable for a program that hopes to improve in Year 2 under offensive coordinator Ty Detmer.
Senior Tejan Koroma anchors an offensive line that showed massive improvement in 2016, allowing just 26 sacks, the lowest amount allowed since 2011. Koroma will be joined by fellow seniors Keyan Norman and Tuni Kanuch, a pair of 300-plus pounders who will provide a solid foundation for the unit in 2017.
The middle of the defense features talented linebackers Fred Warner, Butch Pau’u and Francis Bernard, who finished averaging 83 tackles last season. The group will be the heart of the defense. Despite struggling in 2016, the secondary features three returning starters including a pair of sophomore corners in Dayan Ghanwoloku and Troy Warner.
Weaknesses: Jamaal Williams wrapped up his college career as BYU’s all-time leading rusher and his departure leaves the program with a huge hole to fill heading into 2017. The Cougars hope juniors Squally Canada (315 yards) and KJ Hall (184) can help lead the rushing attack. The unit must make up for the loss of Williams, who accounted for 1,375 yards and 12 touchdowns while posting 12 runs of 20 or more yards last season.
The defensive line must replace three talented starters — Harvey Langi, Sae Tautu and Logan Taele — who accounted for 11 of the team’s 29 sacks in 2016.
Outlook: BYU’s success will hinge on the Cougars’ ability to survive the first six weeks of the season, which includes showdowns with LSU, Wisconsin, Boise State and Mississippi State. The Cougars have qualified for a bowl during every season since 2005 and there’s no reason to believe the streak will end in 2017.