Reasons for Optimism

Yesterday, Scotten Whaley stirred a little discontent among Cougar fans when he considered what could go wrong for the BYU football team. Today, he seeks to calm the troubled waters by turning his attention to what is going right in CougarTown. Scotten presents ten reasons why BYU faithful should open their true blue hearts to hope in 2006.

T-minus one day and counting. The season is finally here. The winds of optimism are swirling across the Wasatch Front. The BYU Cougars are undefeated in their 2006 campaign and have nary a blemish on their perfect record. There are plenty of reasons to believe that anything from the good to the great is in store for BYU.

If you were put out by yesterday's Reasons to Fear, then here are ten reasons for you to get back in good spirits and for BYU fans to be excited about this season:

#1: John Beck. He is a four-year starter. He is in his second year in the same offense that saw him throw for 3,709 yards and 27 touchdowns in 2005. He is poised to climb as high as second on the BYU all-time passing chart in yards, attempts, completions, and possibly even touchdowns. His game experience during the last three years should serve him well as he leads the Cougars in 2006. Plus, he is surrounded by not just talented, but experienced players at nearly every other offensive position. A big year from John Beck could mean a big year for BYU.

#2: Curtis Brown. Fact: When Curtis Brown rushes for at least 100 yards BYU is 9-2. Fact: When Brown touches the ball at least 17 times in a game, BYU has won 11 of 16 games. Fact: Brown is on pace to become the school's all-time leading rusher (he needs just 759 yards) and could also score the most rushing touchdowns in school history (he needs 17). Fact: BYU is at their best when Brown is an integral part of the offense. Fact: If Brown rolls in 2006, BYU should too.

#3: Jonny Harline and the Tight Ends. No, it is not the name of a 60s pop band, but it just might be the best tight end corps in the country. Harline and Daniel Coats are both on the watch list for the John Mackey Award, which is given to the nation's best tight end. Behind Coats and Harline are two talented back-ups in Vic So'oto and Andrew George. Do not be too surprised if this group improves upon their production of last year (84 catches, 1,044 yards, 8 touchdowns).

#4: Cameron Jensen and the Linebackers. Continuing with musical theme, the four linebackers in this barber shop quartet are ready to dominate. There is speed and play-making ability on the edges with Bryan Kehl, David Nixon, Kelly Poppinga and Chris Bolden. There is strength and experience in the middle with Jensen, Markell Staffieri and Aaron Wagner. The new 3-4 defensive scheme was implemented to get more of these linebackers on the field at the same time so that the plays could be funneled to them. If the linebackers solidify the defense, that at times was both porous in pass defense and susceptible to the run, it would be a most welcomed development for the Cougars.

#5: Year Two of Bronco-ball. Both Bronco Mendenhall and offensive coordinator Robert Anae made rookie coaching mistakes, which admittedly cost the Cougars some games. But, they also learned from those mistakes and rarely repeated them. Those mistakes (be it game plan, game preparation or play calling) are now out of the way and the learning curve for both coaches will not be nearly as steep. Look for BYU to hit the season running and come ready to play every week.

#6: Jamie Hill. His teaching ability alone should improve the defensive secondary. Correct technique has been a point of emphasis since Hill was hired. One of these techniques is turning to look back and find the ball. Hill wants his players to make plays and he is teaching them in such a way that they will be in position to do just that. Any improvement this year will be a step in the right direction for the defense and Hill will be a major reason why.

#7 Offensive Line. After a shaky start to last year, this unit became one of the best in the Mountain West Conference. By season's end, they were at the front of three 90-yard drives in the Pioneer Pure Vision Las Vegas Bowl against one of the best defenses from the Pac-10. BYU had seven games of 150 yards or more rushing, including four with 200 yards and one 300 yard game. Three starters return from that line and there are others who saw significant time last year (like Ray Feinga). Sete Aulai is ready to assume the center's mantle from Lance Reynolds. There are potentially three All-MWC linemen (Jake Kuresa, Eddie Keele and Dallas Reynolds). And the back-ups are no slouches either. David Oswald, Travis Bright and Braden Hansen are chomping at the bit to contribute as well. With position coach Jeff Grimes entering his third year, this unit should again dominate its competition. Quality and consistent blocking for Beck and Brown should provide the means for lots of points and lots of wins.

#8. Wide Receivers. Yes, this position lost NFL Draft pick Todd Watkins. No, all-MWC receiver Austin Collie is not yet back from his mission. But as a whole, this could be an excellent group of receivers. Guys like Zac Collie, Matt Allen, McKay Jacobson and Michael Reed are reminiscent of old BYU receivers—guys with great hands who run great routes. These guys also add a new dimension: speed. Reed is set for a break-out year. Jacobson was the best wide receiver on the best high school team in the country last year. Nate Meikle will provide his usual steady performance and Bryce Mahuika is looking to be contributor after an injury-plagued 2005 campaign. Do not discount Mike Hague either. He is a true freshman with a knack for the big play. With so many options, teams will not be able to concentrate on just one player, which should open up the field for everyone.

#9. Young Talent. There are going to be many opportunities for true and red-shirt freshmen to contribute immediately. In fact, on the defensive line, these players could be key cogs. But these players also ooze talent, and they are ready to show what they can do. True freshman Ian Dulan has already been named a starter. Romney Fuga, Russell Tialavea, Jan Jorgensen and Matangi Tonga are looking to make their presence known. Look for Nixon and Jacobson to also make key plays for the Cougars throughout the year. Because they are so new, they could surprise teams early as opponents will not have any film of these players to study. By the time they do, they will have more experience and should be able to continue to contribute.

#10. Schedule. This is reason alone for optimism. There are no un-winnable games. There is no road game to Notre Dame and no home contests against USC. Every game is there for the taking. The home schedule should be enough, by itself, to make BYU bowl-eligible. There are some tough road games (Arizona, Boston College, TCU and Utah) but they are spaced enough that there are no "killer stretches." The schedule is set up for eight, nine or even ten wins – with a little luck.

The Cougars are primed for their best season in half a decade. The schedule is easier than previous ones. There is young talent aplenty ready to make plays. The wide receiver corps should be solid. The offensive line should dominate. Jamie Hill will have the defensive backs covering better and limiting big plays. Coach Mendenhall has earned his stripes and will take the next step. The linebackers will be a four-man wrecking crew. The tight ends will duplicate and then surpass last year's numbers. Curtis Brown will take his place as BYU's best ever all-around running back. John Beck will finally get the monkey off his back and lead BYU to wins over Utah and in a bowl game. The Cougars will be Mountain West Champions and the "Return to Glory" theme of 2006 will be changed in 2007 to "Back on Top!"


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