Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Summer Review

[Originally Posted July 28, 2009 at www.philsteele.com/Blogs/Individual_Team_blogs/BYU_Blog.html]

Welcome Back.

Whether you spend hours a day worshipping at the shrine of your preferred patron fan board or are just getting back up to speed on the team happenings over the summer, as college football fans we are universally anticipating the arrival of opening kickoff… or, in reality, for many of us even the start of fall camp in a few days will begin to satisfy our thirst for action after the long summer drought. That said, I hope that you have had a summer full of adventure and have big plans to take advantage of what still remains, because I already know that your September, October and November Saturdays are booked.

This opening blog is dedicated to helping fans who took the summer off to quickly catch up on the top stories since spring camp (April, May, June, July). The next entry will take a look ahead at key stories going in to fall camp.

BYU Football Top Summer Stories

1. Recruiting—I will be the first to recognize that recruiting hype is just that. It doesn’t directly do a thing for the scoreboard, which at the end is just about all that will matter. But with that caveat, or perhaps because of it, recruiting was the top story of BYU football this summer. Based on the 20 known commitments the program has received thus far, BYU is on track to land its highest rated (which hopefully translates to most talented) class ever. The class is headlined by Jake Heaps, a 6’-2”/195 lb two-time state champion QB from the Seattle, WA area. He was offered a scholarship by just about every major program in the country, is rated the number one player in the country by Scout, and was the winner of the MVP at the Elite 11 QB camp in California last week. That in itself might get fans excited, but what has really fired up the Cougar Faithful, is the ownership Jake has been taking of his own class. Beginning with a press conference in June to announce his commitment, where he introduced fellow commits Ross Apo (WR previously committed to Texas) and Zac Stout (rated top five linebacker in US by Scout), Jake has blossomed into a one-man recruiting pitch to some of the top talent around. No doubt in part due to this influence, BYU is winning head to head recruiting battles with the best of them and fans are energized.

2. Personnel—It is not uncommon for adjustments to be made to the roster in the offseason. Players transfer or move on. Others never recover from injury. Some don’t qualify. This summer is not any different. Although what may be changing is the 24/7 media coverage of such changes, which creates headlines and chat room frenzy out of each one. These are the roster situations that caused a stir this summer:

-Russell Tialavea, senior starting nose tackle unexpectedly decided to apply for missionary service and will likely not participate with the team this fall, leaving an unexpected and potentially vulnerable hole in the middle. Word is that there is a slight chance (very slight) that he may not enter the Missionary Training Center until after the season, and would therefore be able to participate.

-Brandon Howard, starting corner, has left school for personal reasons and is not expected back

-Matt Ah-You, senior backup linebacker, has left school in hopes of an opportunity to start with another program. Although not a starter, he provided valuable depth to the linebacking corps.

-Bernard Afutiti, after some impressive practices and a redshirt year, coaches, teammates and fans were looking forward to having him on the field this fall, but he wasn’t able to get it done in the classroom, and is academically ineligible.

-Manase Tonga, senior fullback, is expected to rejoin the team this fall, pending academic performance in a few classes on campus this summer. Suspended from school for academic reasons, he spent the last year working on his grades and degree progress at Utah Valley University, and could be an extremely valuable piece of the puzzle in the backfield this fall.

-Jamie Hill, defensive coordinator, will have full responsibility for calling the defensive plays this season, a duty that he was heavily involved with last year, but now becomes his.

3. MWC and the BCS—After the on field performance by Mountain West Conference teams last season, the off season was spent by conference big wigs shining a light on the issue. First it was a playoff proposal sponsored by the MWC at the NCAA meetings. Then it was BCS anti-trust hearings in the US Congress sponsored by Utah Senator Orrin Hatch. A big deal was made about signing (or at least waiting until the last minute) to sign the new BCS television deal with ESPN. Of course all of this culminated with speculative talk of adding Boise State to the league—the vibe seems to be tilting to a ‘not if, but when’ scenario. Not many people, if any (including conference and school executives), expected any actual near-term changes to come out of all of the activity, but if the goal was to raise the conference profile, increase national awareness, and put a big fat spotlight on this upcoming season, then it was a success.

4. Riley Nelson Rule—A little known and relatively obscure rule change was passed at the NCAA gathering this summer that has come to be known among Cougar Fans as the Riley Nelson rule. The rule, sponsored by Utah State, makes changes to how missions are treated for transfer purposes and essentially requires that a returning missionary must sit out a year should he decide to transfer, just like any other athlete that remained in the program. It is unclear what impact this will have on the program, but caused a bit of a local ruckus among finger-pointing fans in the Beehive State, when it was learned that Utah State QB Riley Nelson would be transferring to BYU upon completion of his missionary service.

5. MWC Media Days—As per tradition, the media gathered in Las Vegas during the second to last week in July and talked football with the coaches and a few players from each team. The outcome of preseason (and essentially meaningless) polls has the Cougars finishing second to TCU (Utah third), with QB Max Hall as the MVP, and along with RB Harvey Unga, TE Dennis Pitta, and OL Matt Reynolds selected to the first team.

6. Oklahoma—Finally, there has been buzz around the Oklahoma game circled on September 5th on prime time ESPN. The Cougars are expected to be heavy underdogs, but summer chatter has focused on just about every aspect of that game—The chances the team will have in that game. How we stack up. What adjustments should be made to give the team its best chance. The new stadium. Its scoreboard.—Fans quickly gobbled up available tickets and are busy planning trips to Dallas.

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