Gman's Prediction Gold (PG)-13 for 2003

<b><i>1st in a series</b></i> <P> I have written nothing that will aid upcoming Cougar opponents in their game planning against BYU. In fact, they should expect the unexpected from BYU head coach <b>Gary Crowton</b>. That said, here are my bold Top 13 preseason predictions for BYU football in 2003.

1. BYU's defense will be ranked in the Top 25 nationally.

I've seen enough and I'm sold. BYU's defense will be very good – particularly the first unit. It has only increased its domination over the offense since spring. And BYU offense, by the way, will be significantly improved over last season. Judging how well BYU's offense and defense will be is highly speculative, but my impressions come from observing daily practices throughout spring and fall camp.

2. BYU's offense will NOT be ranked in the Top 25 nationally.

I believe the Cougar offense will be productive, but feel they are a year away from producing the kind of offensive fireworks BYU fans saw in 2001.

3. Quarterback Matt Berry will be efficient and very productive, but not spectacular.

Many of you know I am a big fan of Matt Berry. Remember, he's only a sophomore this year. He will be effective passing the football this year, but I'm not looking for many 300-plus yard games from him. He shouldn't have any problem reaching the 200-plus yard mark most games, but I see few games where he tops 300 yards. Part of it will be because of a more balanced offense with the deep and talented running backs in the fold.

4. Back up quarterback John Beck will make some noise.

Beck, a true freshman, has made noise with everything he's done since arriving at BYU – and we look for that to continue this fall. Crowton will play Beck in some situations and we look for him to perform well. Beck's strength outside of the pocket complement Berry's inside. Beck will continue to win over fans with his play, but Berry will prove to be the more effective quarterback.

5. BYU head coach Gary Crowton will be much more conservative in his play-calling.

The biggest reason is because he can afford to be. With a dominating defense, Crowton won't feel pressured to put up points fast and often on the board. He'll opt for a more "ball-control" type offense.

The second reason is BYU will unveil a very effective ground game this year with a lot of wrinkles. We love what Marcus Whalen, Fahu Tahi, Thomas Stancil and Reynaldo Brathwaite all bring to the backfield with their collective and impressive abilities. However, the biggest difference in BYU's run game will be in the person of Taufui Vakapuna as a lead blocker and effective running/pass-catching fullback. Don't be surprised if BYU runs more than it passes this season.

6. Marcus Whalen will run for over 1,000 yards.

Marcus Whalen has looked reborn during fall practices. He's not gimpy at all and has shown lateral movement that we've never seen before. He looks great. However, Whalen's biggest asset and the reason he will run for over 1,000 yards is Taufui Vakapuna. We love what Vakapuna brings to this offense. He will prove to be as effective as Kalani Sitake was as a lead blocker for Whalen and the other running backs. Furthermore, Vakapuna is deadly catching a screen pass out in the open and taking it downfield. He's strong, quick, elusive and hard to bring down.

7. Tight end Daniel Coats is still a year away.

Don't get us wrong: We love freshman Daniel Coats, a future BYU All-American barring injury. He will do some nice things this season. However, I think he's a year away from becoming the dominant tight end he's destined to be. I look for Coats to catch 20 to 30 balls this season and more than 50 balls every other season after this.

8. Wide receiver Toby Christensen will lead the team in receptions. Fellow wide-out, David Christensen (not related), will lead the team in receiving yards.

Toby Christensen is "Mr. Reliable" and will be where Berry needs him to be on most routes. He doesn't have great speed, but will catch a ton of underneath stuff for moderate yardage. David Christensen is great in the open field and will break open for big yardage on occasion. He can also beat defensive backs downfield. Berry has great rapport with both players.

9. Offensive lineman Ofa Mohetau will start by midseason.

Ofa Mohetau, a true freshman, came to Provo with a ton of hype. He has lived up to every single aspect of that hype with his play. He's every bit as athletic and powerful as he was hyped to be. However, the biggest asset Mohetau has is his maturity and focus. He rarely leaves unit leader Scott Jackson's side in practice and is totally consumed in gaining instruction whenever he can. Mohetau is humble, but confident. His fellow offensive linemen have raved about him – as have his coaches.

10. Linebacker Colby Bockwoldt will lead the team in tackles.

It's hard to think of a player on defense that will benefit more from Bronco Mendenhall's new defensive scheme than Colby Bockwoldt. He is literally all over the field during scrimmages and in on just about every play.

11. Levi Madarieta will lead the team in sacks.

This is my "out-of-left-field, where-did-that-come-from" prediction. I may be foolish to pick against defensive end Brady Poppinga, who is unquestionably BYU's best pass rusher. However, look for a lot of double teams on Poppinga this fall and with Mendenhall sending linebackers and safeties on blitzes on just about every down. I think a linebacker to lead the team in sacks. Why Madarieta? Why not? He has played particularly well during scrimmages. Since I've already tabbed Bockwoldt as our leading tackler, I think Madarieta will lead the team in sacks.

12. Cornerback Brandon Heaney will lead the team in interceptions.

Picking against Jernaro Gilford is tough, but I expect offenses to challenge Heaney more than they will Gilford. Indeed, Gilford has never looked better. The same can be said for Heaney, who has been nails during fall camp. He's very good at jumping underneath outs and slants.

13. BYU will finish the season with a 9-3 record and wiil win the Mountain West Conference title.

I look for BYU to "win ugly" in most of those nine wins. They will win ugly by forcing turnovers, controlling the clock and generally pounding victories out. The defense will win most of the games for BYU this year, with the offense not screwing it up.

That's my preseason take on 2003. It won't be a typical BYU season, but Cougar fans will take delight knowing the best is yet to come.

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