Let's get this one out of the way, as it's far and away the most discussed position battle. I've shared my thoughts on this battle pretty liberally over the course of the past two weeks and my decision has been tweaked some after studying my own observations, listening to Coach Mendenhall's quotes on the topic, and seeking out opinions from observers I have great respect for.
Fans can expect a two-deep roster at QB that reads:
1. Riley Nelson or Jake Heaps
2. James Lark
I do believe that Heaps has had the better overall practice session, but that the gap between Heaps and Nelson has closed during the fall due to several factors:
1. Coaches tweaking the offense for Nelson
Coaches have worked far better with Nelson and his strengths this fall as opposed to this past spring, which has generated some much improved play from the Utah State transfer. We obviously can't get too specific here, but it's an offensive system that plays to Nelson's strengths instead of the base Cougar system which put him clearly behind Heaps.
2. Nelson has improved his mid-range passing
During spring, this was one area where Heaps was miles ahead of Nelson, but it's something where Nelson has seen marked improvement. Heaps is still clearly the better of the two in delivering the mid-range and especially the long-range pass, but Nelson has done enough in improving this facet of his game to warrant some playing time.
3. Heaps has improved as well
All this talk about the strides Nelson has made should not diminish the fact that Heaps has seen continued improvement during this fall camp session. Nelson had more to improve upon than Heaps to be certain, but the true freshman has not let up and overall has had the better practice session of the two when considering every single factor.
4. Consider the opponent
The coaches are fully aware that they have something extremely special in Jake Heaps. They are also keenly aware of how amped he'll be to start against Washington, which was the family's second choice through a large part of the recruiting process.
Most fans are probably unaware of just how ugly it got for the Heaps family in dealing with Washington and Steve Sarkisian during the recruitment process. Heaps is about as well known as any prep player that has ever come out of the state of Washington and will be receiving a ton of press leading up to the game.
Do you want to put all of that on a true freshman quarterback in his first ever collegiate performance by naming him the outright starter? I strongly suspect that Mendenhall doesn't want to be the coach that does.
We'll go from one of the hardest positions to handicap to the flat-out easiest: offensive line. Matt Reynolds will start at left tackle, Braden Hansen will start at left guard, Terence Brown will start at center and Braden Brown will start at right tackle. However, should the left-handed Riley Nelson get in at quarterback, the two tackle spots could possibly be switched.
The intrigue surrounds the two-deep and who will be starting at right guard. If fall practices are any indication, Jason Speredon looks to be the guy who coaches will give the nod to start. However, Nick Alletto will certainly play in some capacity, filling in frequently at either guard or at tackle.
The primary backups look to be Houston Reynolds at center, Walter Kahaiali'i at either tackle position, Marco Thorson at either guard position (but primarily at right guard) and Ryan Freeman at left guard. Jordan Black could very well be listed on the two-deep roster at either tackle spot, but he won't be the first option to replace either Matt Reynolds or Braden Brown.
Both J.J. Di Luigi and Bryan Kariya did a very good job of solidifying themselves as the top two options for BYU at running back this coming season. Kariya has looked like his old reliable self, but Di Luigi seems to have gained some speed and quickness which will serve him well. The team will look to replace Harvey Unga by committee, a committee that will consist primarily of those two players.
Joshua Quezada has had a good fall, but probably not good enough of one to earn a spot over both Di Luigi and Kariya. He'll serve as the third option at running back and should see some game time as the season wears on.
Zed Mendenhall is the starting fullback, but who will back him up as a lead blocker has yet to be established. Coaches have mentioned using Vic So'oto as a lead blocker during short-yardage situations, and with how Coach Reynolds really doesn't designate a specific fullback on his two-deep roster, the running back two-deep will most likely read:
RB - J.J. Di Luigi/Joshua Quezada
RB - Bryan Karia/Zed Mendenhall
This is an interesting one, as it's not quite clear if coaches will designate a two-deep at XR, ZR and HR instead of just the XR and ZR positions they have started over the past three seasons. Regardless of which position slot he'll appear under, McKay Jacobson will undoubtedly find himself on top of the depth chart along with O'Neill Chambers. Should they designate the HR spot on the two-deep roster, Luke Ashworth will be the player on top of the two-deep at the ZR position.
The backup positions are somewhat interesting, with Cody Hoffman doing enough to probably earn himself a spot on the two-deep at XR. Ross Apo is the real wildcard here, as he was set back about a full week due to some tight quads, but has begun to assert himself here of late and will have to make a big push in the coming days if he hopes to find a spot for himself at the ZR position.
XR-O'Neill Chambers/Cody Hoffman or Spencer Hafoka
ZR-Luke Ashworth/Ross Apo
HR-McKay Jacobson/J.D. Falslev
It's designated as the YR position in Robert Anae's offense, but it's better known as tight end, and is a position still waiting for someone to become the clear leader. Mike Muehlmann is the most steady and reliable of the bunch and he'll most likely show up on top of the two-deep roster, although he's been held back a bit due to a shoulder separation.
Richard Wilson had an outstanding second week of fall practices and probably earned himself a spot on the two-deep roster because of it. Devin Mahina got off to an awful start, but has rebounded a bit to the point where he'll be considered a two-deep option as well.
The two-deep at YR will most likely read:
Mike Muehlmann/Richard Wilson or Devin Mahina
Austin Holt did show well, but was very much set back in being only a month removed from his mission and not having much time to full acclimate himself to playing tight end at BYU. Marcus Mathews has showed well at spots and has a bright future ahead of him, but both him and Holt are most likely headed for a redshirt year.