Monday, August 17, 2009

O Line Getting Thin

[Originally Posted on August 17, 2009 at]

Only eight fall practices are in the books and already the offensive line is getting thin. Going into fall camp without four starters from last year, revamping the offensive line was one of the primary concerns. Now it is THE primary concern. With 19 days remaining until this group faces an Oklahoma defensive line that will put several players on your TV screens on Sundays, here is where the team stands:

• Matt Reynolds (So), LT—The lone returning starter broke his hand and had to have it surgically repaired. He is now the proud owner of a pin and a metal plate inside that hand, and is expected out for 2-3 weeks. Given the level of expectations placed on him, look for him to find a way to play in the opener, but will be held out of practices until then and may not be at 100%.

• Jason Speredon (Jr), LG—The other protector of Max Hall’s backside is out for the season with a torn rotator cuff in his shoulder requiring surgery and 3-5 months of rehab.

• Jesse Taufi (Jr), LG—Expected to add depth in the two deep at right guard, Taufi has not yet been cleared academically to join the team. There is a possibility that he is able to join once school starts, but that may not be much consolation going into the Oklahoma game.

In the mean time, the offensive line is playing with 5 freshmen and 3 sophomores on the two deep and is as follows (first team, second team):

LT: Braden Hansen (Fr), Terrence Alletto (Fr)
LG: Marco Thorson (So), Ryan Freeman (So)
C: RJ Willing (Sr), Houston Reynolds (Fr)
RG: Terrence Brown (So), Tui Crichton (Fr)
RT: Nick Alletto (Jr), Fono Vakalahi (Fr)

Friday, August 14, 2009

And the Bowl Frenzy Begins

It has finally started. The Pac-10 pushed over the first domino this week in the bowl game free-for-all by agreeing in principal with the Alamo Bowl to send its second place finisher there, bumping the Big 10. The Big 10 in turn is talking to the Gator Bowl bumping the Big East… and the frenzy begins.

For several years now, conferences and bowl games have quietly signed contracts ending with the 2009 season, knowing that it was the end of the current BCS contract, and wanting to not be left out when the dancing started. Well, the new BCS contract has been signed and the dancing has started. Early props go to the Pac-10 for being proactive.

So what are the implications for BYU and the rest of the MWC? If the conference wants to increase its national profile, then lining up higher profile post-season games for its teams should be high on the list. And, since an automatic bid to the BCS is off the table at least for a few more years, this might be the only structural change that can be made until then.

Currently, the conference has contracts with five bowl games for 2009, all of which are up for renegotiation after this season. They are:

Las Vegas                        MWC #1 vs Pac 10 #4/5  $1.1M     Dec 22
Poinsettia (San Diego)      MWC #2 vs Pac 10 #6     $750K     Dec 23
Armed Forces (Ft Worth) MWC vs CUSA               $600K     Dec 31
Humanitarian (Boise)         MWC vs WAC                $750K     Dec 30
New Mexico (Albuq.)       MWC vs WAC                $750K     Dec 19

While that doesn’t seem like much of a lineup—three games played before Christmas, paltry payouts by bowl standards (even BYU home gate receipt standards), and with the exception of Boise (at least right now) all games are played in league stadiums. However, at least that is improvement over the initial conference post-season. These were the bowl tie-ins in 1999:

Liberty (Memphis)      MWC #1 vs. CUSA #1     $1.3M     Dec 31
Motor City (Detroit)   MWC vs. MAC                $750K     Dec 27
Las Vegas                  MWC vs. WAC                $750K     Dec 18

The conference has improved its access (now with 5), geographic proximity to league fan bases, and to a lesser degree, matchups (reality is that it is nearly impossible to change the outside perception of the conference without playing teams from automatic qualifying BCS conferences).

Here is where the league needs to go from here (e.g. Craig Thompson’s marching orders):

• Improve the payouts to league teams—especially the conference champion
• Improve matchups, trying to get more teams from AQ BCS conferences and higher in the pecking order—in particular for the MWC conference champion
• Maintain five bowl tie-ins (MWC unlikely to ever qualify six teams)
• Maintain ties with bowls in the western US (unless prestige or payout justifies it), prioritizing destination cities (San Diego > Boise, for example)

With these criteria in mind, here are the potential options:

Cotton (Dallas)            Big 12 #2 vs SEC                $3.0M    Jan 1
Alamo (San Antonio)   Big 10 # 4/5 vs Big 12 #5    $2.2M    Jan 2
Holiday (San Diego)    Pac 10 #2 vs Big 12 #3       $2.1M    Dec 30
Sun (El Paso)              Pac 10 #3 vs Big 12 or BE   $1.9M    Dec 31
Insight (Phoenix)          Big 10 # 6 vs Big 12 # 6      $1.2M    Dec 31
Emerald (San Fran.)    ACC #5/6/7 vs Pac 10        $850K    Dec 26
Texas (Houston)          Big 12 #8 vs Navy              $600K    Dec 30
Hawaii (Honolulu)        WAC vs CUSA                 $400K    Dec 24

What are the chances for the MWC with each of these?

Cotton—This would be the dream scenario. But not going to happen.
Alamo—Good city with a nice date and matchup. It has been reported that they will up the payout to $3M starting next season and take the Pac 10 #2. With that in their back pocket, it looks likely that this bowl will also move up in the Big 12 pecking order. So, take this one off the table for the MWC.
Holiday—Looks like this bowl is going to be relegated to the PAC 10 #3 and possibly to Big 12 #4, which might open a door for the MWC champion. Good location, good payout, good matchup. Would be an ideal upgrade.
Sun—Nice payout, good New Years Eve game date, would be great to play a Big 12 team, warm weather location and proximity is good (although El Paso, isn’t really a destination city). Would be great to Probably getting bumped to Pac 10 #4, so could possibly open the door for MWC #1 or #2.
Insight—Similar to Sun Bowl (date, matchup, geography), only better city (closer to fans), less history, and reduced payout. The date for this is better than the Vegas bowl, payout about the same, city not as good, matchup about the same. All in, probably on par or just below Vegas bowl, a good option for MWC #2 or #3.
Emerald—A better city and date than a few of the MWC’s current bowls. Better potential matchup and slightly improved payout. Toss up with Poinsettia Bowl. Would be good for MWC #3 or #4.
Texas—Non-destination city would be a stretch for most MWC fans not from Texas, payout is poor, matchup is sub-par. MWC should pass on this one.
Hawaii—great location, but destination would have to be its own reward, since given the low payout the conference would probably lose money. Would likely be playing against Hawaii in most years or another WAC team. Still, much easier to get excited about than Humanitarian or New Mexico. A potentially good option for MWC #3 or #4 or #5, but would need to increase the payout to make it work for the conference.

Here is the best case scenario (without considering a BCS game):

MWC #1—Holiday or Sun Bowl. Champion goes to Holiday Bowl to play Pac 10/Big 12 #3/4 team on Dec 30 with $2M+ payout. Sun Bowl paying $1.9M (playing either Pac 10 #4 or Big 12 #4/5) would be first alternate, should Holiday Bowl go another direction. MWC would not be able to get both of these, so it’s one or the other.
MWC #2—Vegas Bowl. Great city. The date holds it back from becoming a great bowl game, as it will always be played before Christmas. The matchup is sub-par and looks to get worse as it will likely be the Pac 10 #5 going forward. Also, will be known as the Maaco Bowl starting this year. Seems like a definite downgrade for a conference champ, but still a destination that fans will travel to for a game, and should be kept in the MWC fold.
MWC #3—Insight Bowl. Good conference matchup with Big 10 or Big 12 (although likely the #6 from those conferences) in warm location (but below Vegas) on Dec 31 (better than Vegas). Payout at $1.2M is similar to Vegas Bowl. If matchup could be upgraded to ACC #4, Big East #3, or Big 10/Big 12 #5, then this would a great spot for the MWC #2.
MWC #4—Poinsettia Bowl or Emerald Bowl. Two bowls in the same city might be overkill. Take Poinsettia if we don’t already have Holiday, and Emerald if we do. Can’t go wrong with San Diego or San Francisco.
MWC #5—Armed Forces Bowl. It’s good to have some presence in Texas for recruiting and media exposure. The New Year’s Eve date is also good for the conference profile.
Alternates—Hawaii Bowl. If the payout were increased to $800-900K, then this bowl might be a nice option for the conference at #4 or #5.
Drop-outs—Humanitarian and New Mexico Bowls. The Humanitarian Bowl is a one year contract for 2009 and likely won’t be continued. The New Mexico Bowl, although it is in a good position when New Mexico qualifies, has served the conference well for the last few years and should now be passed on to the Sun Belt and WAC.

The commissioner has his work cut out for him, but the options are out there. Things are going to happen fast, the conference better be ready.

[Nov 2010 Update:]

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Records Should Fall

[Originally Posted on August 12, 2009 at]

Last week, I looked at the historical success of the BYU program over key periods. I noted that one of the obvious pieces missing over the last three seasons for BYU (as opposed to the previously successful periods) was individual awards and recognition. This might be the year to get back on track.

Several players have been nominated to preseason watch lists:

• Max Hall: Walter Camp Award (player of the year), Davey O’Brien Award (quarterbacks), Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award (senior quarterback)
• Dennis Pitta: John Mackey Award (tight ends), Fred Biletnikoff Award (receivers)
• Jan Jorgensen: Ted Hendricks Award (defensive ends)

Hall, Pitta, Jorgensen, as well as Harvey Unga are also on tap to crash the BYU career stat leader boards. By the end of the season, look for Max Hall to be second in passing yards, second in total offense, and second in TDs thrown. Pitta should be first in receptions and either first or second in receiving yards. Unga should be first in rushing yards, first or second in touchdowns, top three in all-purpose yards, and second or third in scoring. If these players can manage to avoid injury, keep up the career-setting pace, and win some big games, there just might be some post-season hardware coming to Provo at the end of the season.

Max Hall, Sr
• Passing Yards: currently ranked #7 with 7,805; needs 3,217 yards to pass John Beck for second (Ty Detmer is first with 15,031)
• Total Offense: currently ranked #6 with 7,934; needs 3,126 yards to pass John Beck for second
• TD Passes: currently ranked #6 with 61; needs 24 to pass Jim McMahon (84) for second, would need 61 to pass Ty Detmer (121) for first

Dennis Pitta, Sr
• Receiving Yards: currently ranked #8 with 2,072; needs 1,184 to pass Austin Collie(3,255) for first, needs 994 to pass Eric Drage (3,065) for second, and needs 770 to pass Margin Hooks (2,841) for third
• Receptions: currently ranked #8 with 159; needs 57 catches to pass Austin Collie (215) for first, 46 to pass Matt Bellini (204) for second, and 31 to pass Margin Hooks (189) for third

Harvey Unga, Jr
• Rushing Yards: currently ranked #8 with 2,368; needs 854 to pass Curtis Brown (3,221) for first
• All Purpose Yards: currently ranked #10 with 3,335; needs 1,662 to pass Curtis Brown (4,996) for first, needs 1,315 to pass Austin Collie (4,649) for second, and needs 1,033 to pass Jamal Willis (4,367) for third
• Scoring: currently #7 with 200 points; needs 134 to pass Owen Pochman (333) for first, needs 113 to pass Matt Payne (312) for second, needs 91 to pass Luke Staley (290) for third
• Touchdowns: currently #4 with 33 touchdowns; needs 16 to pass Luke Staley (48) for first, needs 8 to pass Jamal Willis (40) for second, needs 4 to pass Curtis Brown (36) for third

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Fall Camp Update

[Originally posted on August 11, 2009 at]

Players reported on Friday and the team held the first practice on Saturday. Since I cannot be at practice in person, I will not be breaking any camp news this fall, but I will keep everyone updated on the big picture and report important roster changes and other items of interest. Here are the notable stories after day one:

• Rick Wolfley, who had been expected to compete for the backup spot at NT, has quit the team to focus on school.
• Tyler Kozlowski, expected to contribute on special teams and add depth at WR, also quit the team for personal reasons.
• Robbie Buckner, a redshirt freshman return missionary, has jumped out in front as the player to beat at the open corner spot (over the three incoming JC transfers)
• McKay Jacobsen, who returned from a mission and will be a sophomore WR, confirmed reports of being ready to contribute this season by winning the annual run up Y Mountain, being the first player to arrive at the top.
• Brett Thompson, Mitch Matthews, and Cody Hoffman—all true freshman WRs—already turned heads and should compete for time in the WR rotation. In particular, look for Thompson to find the field sooner than later.
• Houston Reynolds, freshman return missionary looks like he is on track to find a place on the offensive line two deep.

Friday, August 7, 2009

25 Years

It has been 25 years since the 1984 football season which saw BYU voted number one in the nation by the AP and UPI voters, bringing the school its only football national championship. This CNNSI article provides a good recap of that season and the controversy that surrounded it at the time. (In honor of the silver anniversary, a 25th anniversary diamond logo will appear on this year’s fan t-shirts and will also be worn on the back of the players’ helmets.) The 1984 season was the culmination of several years of football success by the Cougars, which you could say is what made 1984 possible. In this blog entry, we are going to take a closer look at what transpired in the five seasons prior to 1984 (1979-1983), as well as what the Cougars have accomplished in the 25 years since their accomplishment.

1979-1983 (Five seasons leading up to 1984)
55-9 Record (.859)
5 wins over current BCS teams: Texas A&M, Wisconsin, Washington St, UCLA, Missouri
4 Top 15 final AP rankings (13th, 12th, 13th, 7th)
5 Conference championships
5 Bowl games (3-2)
5 Consensus All-Americans
2 Davey O’Brien Awards
3 Sammy Baugh Trophies
4 Top 5 Heisman finishes (2nd, 3rd, 3rd, 5th)
1 Coach of the Year Award
4 College football Hall of Fame inductees
4 First round draft picks
28 Players drafted (5.6 per year; including NFL ROY, 2x NFL MVP, Super Bowl MVP, 2x Super Bowl champion quarterbacks)

13-0 Record
3 Wins over current BCS teams: Pitt, Baylor, Michigan
1 Top 15 final AP ranking (1st)
1 Conference championship
1 Bowl game (1-0)
23 Game winning streak at end of season
1 Top 5 Heisman finish (3rd)
1 Sammy Baugh Trophy
1 Davey O’Brien top two finish (2nd)
1 Coach of the Year Award
1 First round draft pick
6 Players drafted (in 1985 draft)
23 Starters were either drafted or signed contracts

Looking at the accomplishments of the 1984 team it is plain to see that it was just a continuation of a string of successes that had been ongoing for five years. It is also clear, based on post-season awards and draft picks, that the BYU teams of the early 1980’s were clearly talented teams. This body of work would say that the 1984 national championship was not a fluke, but the product of well-coached talent stringing together several consecutive years of success on the field. It would likely take another multi-year string of such successes for BYU or any other team outside the current AQ conferences to once again have a chance at a national championship.

Those were definitely glory days for BYU football. In the 24 seasons that have passed since 1984, BYU has had its share of success, but not quite at the elite level like what they were able to do from 1979-1984. Here is what the program has accomplished since 1984:

204-98 Record (.675)
28 Wins over current BCS teams (1.17 per year): Arizona, 2x Arizona St, Boston College, 2x California, Colorado, Georgia Tech, Iowa (tie), Kansas St, Miami, Mississippi St, 2x Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Oregon, Penn St, Syracuse, 2x Texas, Texas A&M, 2x UCLA, 3x Washington, Washington St, Virginia
2 Top 15 final AP rankings (5th, 14th)
10 Top 25 final AP rankings
12 Conference championships
18 Bowl games (5-12-1)
1 Heisman Trophy, 3 Top 10 Heisman finishes (3rd, 3rd, 9th)
2 Davey O’Brien Awards, 1 top five finish (3rd)
2 Sammy Baugh Trophies
1 Doak Walker Award
2 Outland Trophies
7 Consensus All-Americans
5 First round draft picks
61 Players drafted (2.5 per year)

Looking over this 24 year body of work and comparing it to the six seasons culminating in a championship, it is not nearly as impressive. Although the Cougars have continued to beat some of the biggest teams in the country and have done so consistently, their overall winning percentage has declined, and (despite several individual honors) based on All-American citations and draft picks (although the draft has changed over the years), it appears that the talent level has dropped off since the early 1980s as well. Most glaringly, the rankings have also dropped off—after five top 15 finishes in six years (79-84), there have only been two in the last 24. During this period, the team would average 8-9 wins, a bowl game (usually a loss), and a ranking every 2-3 years. Above average, but not especially note-worthy and not positioning-for-a-national-championship type performance.

Cougar fans would like to believe that the team has turned a corner once again, however, and is building momentum for a BCS-busting season, or even a national title run again in the coming year or years. If so, then one would expect the team to post 1979-1983 like results for a few years prior to a big breakthrough. And, perhaps it is in the middle of doing just that. Here are the results of the most recent three seasons (2006-2008):

32-7 Record (.821)
5 Wins over BCS teams (1.67 per year): Arizona, Oregon, 2x UCLA, Washington
1 Top 15 final AP ranking (14th)
3 Top 25 final AP rankings (14th, 16th, 25th)
2 Conference championships
3 Bowl games (2-1)
0 Consensus All-Americans
0 First round draft picks
5 Players drafted (1.67 per year)

The rankings, big wins, winning percentage, championships, and bowl games are all very similar to the 1979-84 period. The most obvious difference is the lack of individual honors (awards, consensus All-Americans) and draft picks, a sign of perhaps overachieving with lesser talent. If the program can continue on this trajectory and reload at higher talent levels than have been on the field over the last few years (which appears to be the case looking at those committed, signed last year, on missions, and returning from missions), then BYU might be on track to once again be a challenger in the hunt for the national championship.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Finally... Camp Week

[Originally posted on August 3, 2009 at]

After a long summer spent living with the memories of last season’s shortcomings, BYU’s fall camp finally arrives this week. Players report on Friday and the first practice will be held on Saturday morning, August 8th. Here is a look at key stories and positions to watch heading into fall camp.

Open Practices
Three practices and a meet the team event will be open to fans:
Aug 14—10am (practice)
Aug 14—5pm (practice)
Aug 18—10am (practice)
Aug 18—6pm (Cougar Kickoff, meet the team event)

Scrambling for Tickets
After twelve consecutive sellouts dating back to the 2007 opener against Arizona (W, 20-7), and a better than usual home slate, season ticket sales were halted last week. If you are still in the market for tickets, your best bet now is either a student package if you qualify (went on sale Aug 3rd at 9am and is likely to sell out soon) or single game tickets for the games with fewer tickets reserved for the visiting team (Air Force, Utah State, Colorado State).

Positions to Watch During Fall Camp
Going into fall, this season’s position battles essentially break down into three categories:

1. Battles for open or unsettled starting spots (OL, WR, CB, DT, ST)

Offensive Line—Only Matt Reynolds (6-6, 320 So), who started as a freshman at the key left tackle spot last year (Freshman All-American) returns, leaving four vacant spots created by the departure of seniors Dallas Reynolds, Ray Feinga, Travis Bright, and David Oswald to NFL camps. The likely replacements all come with significant experience, so although this position represents the biggest question mark on the team, it is one that is in good hands.
o Keep your eyes on RJ Willing (6-5, 310 Sr) who has experience at nearly every line position and is expected to start at center.
o Pencil in Terrence Brown (6-3, 351 So) at right guard, as he took all of the reps with the ones in spring and crashed the two deep as a freshman prior to his missionary service.
o Either Nick Alletto (6-6, 318 Jr) or fresh-off-a-mission Braden Hansen (6-6, 286 Fr) are expected to win the battle for right tackle.
o Jason Speredon (6-5, 305 Jr) and redshirt JC transfer Jesse Taufi (6-4, 302 Jr) will be battling it out at left guard. Ryan Freeman (6-4, 275 So), who returned from a mission this spring after cracking the two deep as a freshman in 2006, is a potential dark horse.

Wide Receiver—The departures of Austin Collie (led NCAA in receiving yards last year and now with Colts) and Michael Reed have opened the door for several talented receivers to step up. It is unclear how many will make Robert Anae’s rotation, as it has varied over the last several years, but here are the leading contenders:
o McKay Jacobsen (5-11, 192 So), is all but guaranteed one of the open spots, as he was a significant contributor as a freshman prior to his mission and is one of the fastest players on the team.
o The remaining open spot is being seriously contested by a half dozen returning players, with the leading competitors being Luke Ashworth (6-2, 201 Jr) and O’Neil Chambers (6-2, 209 So). Spencer Hafoka (6-0, 183 So), back from an extended and serious bout with influenza that kept him out during spring, must be considered a serious candidate as well.

Cornerback—Brandon Bradley (6-0, 200 Jr) has solidified his position at one of the CB spots, but the departure of Brandon Howard from the other side, leaves possibly the most glaring hole on the team. In contrast to the other key open positions (OL, WR), that return players with significant experience to compete for starting spots, this one is wide open and will likely be filled by a newcomer.
o There are three incoming JC transfers, brought in specifically to challenge for this position—Brian Logan (5-9, 195 Jr), Lee Aguirre (5-9, 200 Jr), and Corby Eason (5-9, 180 Jr). Not having stepped a foot on campus yet, they are essentially unproven, but it is expected (and hoped) that one of these will be able to perform at a level high enough to win the job.
o Should the JCs falter, watch for redshirt freshman Garret Nicholson (5-9, 181 Fr) or returned missionary freshman Robbie Buckner (5-10, 165 Fr) to step in and take over.

Nose Tackle—This position will be interesting to watch only if returning starter Russell Tialavea (6-3, 286 Sr) leaves for his mission and does not participate with the team this fall. Should he delay his mission until after the season, he is a lock to start. If not, this significant hole would be likely filled by Romney Fuga (6-2, 280 So) who started prior to his mission, or Rick Wolfley (6-3, 352 Jr) an offensive lineman switched to DL to add depth at the position.

Special Teams—A number of key spots on special teams will be open this fall. Departed are Austin Collie on kick returns (NFL), Justin Sorenson on kickoffs (mission), and CJ Santiago on punts (graduated). Punt return ranked among the worst in the country last year and was done by committee, so it goes without saying that it is wide open as well.
o Watch for WR O’Neil Chambers to return at one of the kickoff return spots, with the other spot a key area of interest going into fall camp.
o Mitch Payne (6-2, 210 Jr), who handled kickoffs his freshman year (prior to the arrival of super-leg freshman Justin Sorenson), and will be handling place kicking duties again this year, should be back at kickoff duty. It will be worth watching to see if his distance has improved from the 2007 season, where his short kicks were a frustration to the team and fans alike.
o Riley Stephenson (6-0, 175 Fr), just back from a mission, and Tyler Holt (5-9, 177 So) should battle for punting duties.
o Punt return is wide open, but look for WR McKay Jacobsen to be a prime candidate as he was especially effective in that role as a freshman in 2006.

2. Interesting developments or battles for key backup spots (QB, RB)

Quarterback—Max Hall (6-1, 201, Sr) has had the QB spot locked down for three years now, but fans and coaches will be watching closely to see how return missionary transfer Riley Nelson (6-1, 195 So) progresses. Brendan Gaskins (6-4, 213 Sr) was the backup last year and this spring, but should be pushed by Nelson, who will be the only returning quarterback next season, so look for coaches to try to get Nelson some game time reps in preparation for next seasons battle with Jason Munns, James Lark, and Jake Heaps for the starting job.

Running Back—Harvey Unga (6-0, 239 Jr) is also a lock at running back for the third season in a row. Last season, without a reliable backup, Unga carried nearly the entire load at running back and began to pay the price physically for that effort as the season wore on. Coaches are hoping to avoid a similar fate this year and will be trying to find a back that can take some of the burden this fall. Primary candidates are JJ Di Luigi (5-9, 198 So), Malosi Te’o (5-10, 199 Fr), and Brian Kariya (6-0, 212 So). In particular, fans are hoping to see Di Luigi to perform at the level expected of him after a highly decorated high school career and a disappointing freshman season. Also look for fullback Manase Tonga to take some reps should he be able to rejoin the team.

3. Positions that are essentially determined and of less interest (LB, S, DE, TE)

Linebacker, safety, defensive end, and tight end are all filled with senior returning starters. There won’t be much question in camp as to the personnel manning the spots, as much as the level of performance they are able to achieve. While DE and TE should have all-conference, and possibly even all-American performances again this year coming from TE’s Dennis Pitta (6-5, 248 Sr) and Andrew George (6-5, 249 Sr), and DE Jan Jorgensen (6-3, 259 Sr), the linebacker and safety positions need to improve if BYU is going to win a conference championship this year.
o Safety—Scott Johnson (5-11, 188 Sr) has been moved from CB to free safety and Andrew Rich (6-3, 215 Jr) takes over at strong safety. Improvement over last year is expected, with these two now at the helm.
o Linebacker—There are five returning senior linebackers in the two-deep. This group was embarrassed in the Las Vegas Bowl against Arizona, so improvement is needed. They have been working hard and fans will want to listen for any vibe surrounding this group.