It finally looks like the Badgers are ready to upgrade their non-conference schedules after years of scheduling games with bottom of the barrel MAC teams. The Badgers will host the BYU Cougars at Camp Randall Stadium this year on Nov. 9, and I doubt that game will be a walk in the park.
The Cougars were a lot better than their 8-5 record showed last season, and after years of playing against BYU I don't think Gary Andersen will let his players take them lightly. The Cougars return 12 starters from last year's team, including All-American linebacker Kyle Van Noy, who new Wisconsin offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig should remember well after Van Noy terrorized San Diego State in their 23-6 loss to BYU in the Poinsettia Bowl.
So while Wisconsin's new staff is already pretty familiar with the Cougars, I'm willing to bet a lot of people out there aren't. To fix that problem I went to Kacey Robbins from CougarNation.com on the Rivals.com network. Kacey answered a few questions I had about BYU, and his answers are included below.
BYU seems like a team that ran into a lot of bad luck last year. How much of their 8-5 record was just bad luck? Personally I thought BYU looked like a better team than their record showed at the end of the year.
Kacey Robbins: The bad luck BYU had was, it was the best defense in BYU history matched with could be the worst offense in BYU history. BYU has been a toss up with the QB situation for the past three seasons and that has been the biggest problem. Riley Nelson was not a typical BYU quarterback, he was scrambler more than a thrower and he played injured. Then when BYU went with Taysom Hill (transfer from Stanford) he got injured at the end of the game when coaches were trying to get his attention to kneel to finish out the game but instead ran up the middle. The QB and O-line were the biggest struggles for the offense last year. To give you an idea of how bad it was, BYU shut out Boise State in Boise and still lost the game.
How much talent do the Cougars return from last season? Kyle Van Noy is obviously a big headliner, but who else are the Cougars expecting to contribute this season?
KR: The top returning players for BYU this year are Kyle Van Noy and Cody Hoffman, they are the two most recognizable. BYU saw enough of Taysom Hill last year that they are back to being happy with the QB situation, Jamaal Williams was a really impressive true freshman running back who will return to lead the backfield. Daniel Sorenson is also productive at safety.
BYU looks like they've set themselves up with a very ambitious schedule this season. Is that just something the Cougars have to do as an independent? Or do you think they're more focused on building up their strength of schedule for the upcoming College Football Playoff?
KR: It is a combination of both. When conference realignment was actively going and BYU saw that they were not going to be invited to any of the big conference schools they knew they had to make a change. BYU is a faith-based school and so has a large fan base outside of Utah. BYU wanted to be able to get to visit areas where there fans can see them and they wanted to be able to have those same fans be able to watch them weekly. So going independent BYU gained a great partner with ESPN who is helping coordinate some of these games. BYU wont say this, but I think that part of it was it's biggest rival Utah left for the Pac-12 and so to make sure BYU fans don't go to irate, they needed to compete with that. So far, Tom Holmoe has done a fabulous job getting BYU scheduling agreements with the Wisconsin's, Notre Dame's, Texas' and USC's.
Do you think BYU can sustain its independence? Is this a long-term solution for them or do you see the Cougars rejoining a conference sooner rather than later?
KR: BYU won't join a conference if Sunday play is involved. I also don't think they would join a conference if BYUtv would not be able to rebroadcast games. I see BYU in for the long haul with Independence and I don't see why they would not be able to sustain it. They are getting great home and away games scheduled, they are consistently on ESPN's family of networks and they are getting more pub than before because of that. It all comes down to one thing- winning games.
What do you expect out of the Cougars this year? Can they top last year's record or is their schedule going to be too much to handle?
KR: BYU probably wont be as good on defense as they were last year but should not drop much. BYU has a better QB this year and so the offense should be more productive. With that being said, you are right the schedule is tougher than before. Right now, I see BYU going 8-4, the 5 games that will be tough for BYU will be Texas, Utah, Boise State, @Wisconsin and @Notre Dame.