With the 2011 baseball season on life support after a heartbreaking series loss at home to the rival Bulldogs, we at the Cup turn our attention to the college football offseason. With the September 3rd opening date being just over one hundred days away, we are taking an early look at our Rebels' first opponent of 2011-12: The Brigham Young Cougars.
Being as how we plan to go further in depth with BYU's schedule, statistics, returning players, and coaches as the season opener approaches, we felt this would best be a time to focus on their (and our) more recent football concerns -- things such as departing seniors, the NFL Draft, National Signing Day, spring practices, and any of the other elements of the college football offseason. Helping us with this look at the Cougars' offseason are the folks from SBNation's BYU blog Vanquish the Foe, who were kind enough to answer any and all of our questions.
Our offseason questions and their answers are after the jump.
Red Cup Rebellion: Did BYU suffer any big time losses this year due to either graduation or the NFL Draft? If so, who were these players and what kind of impact did they have on your team this past season?
Vanquish the Foe: We didn't lose to much this off season. We only lost one underclassman, LB Jadon Wagner, to the CFL draft. He was a pretty solid contributor but not really an impact player. Unfortunately we didn't have any players drafted (for the first time since 1994) but we did lose a few key seniors. Safety Andrew Rich, LB Vic So'oto, DBs Brian Logan and Brandon Bradley, and kicker Mitch Payne all graduated last year. Rich, Logan, and Payne are the biggest losses; Rich was a team captain and one of our best defensive plays along with Logan. And Payne is the all time leader in points at BYU. (For kickers.) BYU returns ten starters on offense and eight on defense.
RCR: How did BYU's signing day turn out? Are there any incoming freshmen you expect to make an impact this Fall?
VTF: Our signing day wasn't the best we've had, last years was definitely better. But like every good mid-major we still manage to get the best out of what we got. One freshman expected to make an immediate impact is Ryker Mathews. Mathews is a 6-6 285 left tackle. During spring he received a majority of the reps at that position because our starter, Matt Reynolds, was injured. The coaches had nothing bad to say about him and he's in the running to start at right guard.
RCR: What did you learn from your spring practices? Give, if you can, one offensive and defensive player who showed significant promise during offseason workouts and practices.
VTF: According to our head coach this is the best spring he has been through. It's been more intense and had much more energy than previous springs. On defense one player that's show promise is Mike Hague. Last season Hague played as a fullback receiving minimal minutes. This year he's lost weight and switched over to defensive back. The weight loss seems to have given him an extra boost and he's becoming known for crushing hits. He may not start but he's one to look out for. On offense I'm going to pick... I could probably pick anyone, but I think I'll stick with Ross Apo. Apo came in last year with a lot of hype. He was big, he was fast, and he BYU fans expected him to be our next Austin Collie. Then he injured his thumb and was out the rest of the season. But now he's back, and the expectations are still there. BYU Nation is waiting for the first Jake Heaps to Apo TD pass.
RCR: Did BYU go through any coaching changes that we should be aware of?
VTF: Oh where do I start... Well half way through last season our head coach Bronco Mendenhall fired our DC and took over the defense himself. Since then our D was very impressive, and it wasn't just the bad schedule. We held SDSU, TCU, and Utah to some of their lowest offensive outputs, especially in the rushing game. On offense we had changes at almost all positions. Our OC resigned after some questionable play calling and many fans calling for his head. Our running backs coach moved over to tight ends and our receivers coach also resigned. Replacing these guys are quarterbacks coach Brandon Doman at OC, Ben Cahoon at receivers, and Joe Dupaix at RB. Doman played at BYU and has worked his way up through the coaching pyramid. He is also staying on as WB coach. Cahoon also played at BYU and recently retired from the CFL after becoming the CFL's all time receiving leader. Dupaix was the slotbacks coach at Navy before he came here.
RCR: It's not often that BYU gets to play an SEC team. Have the fans had any interesting reactions one way or another regarding an away opener against Ole Miss?
VTF: I don't think fans are as excited about playing Ole Miss as they are about our schedule in general. We play a few high profile opponents this year. But I think all our minds go back to the 2008 Sugar Bowl when Utah beat Alabama. Ole Miss isn't necessarily an SEC heavy weight so the hype isn't as big. Most BYU fans are expecting to start the season off with a win.
RCR: And finally, how do you feel about all of the conference changes that have taken place so far this offseason? What advantages will conference independence have for BYU?
VTF: I know we haven't played any games as an independent so far but fans are loving it! Like I said above fans are really loving the schedule. (Other than the WAC teams we have to play, but eventually those will diminish.) With ESPN as our partner we've been able to get more high profile opponents and we're guaranteed to be on national television at least six times a year. As opposed to hoping for one nationally televised game in the MWC. BYU has said that independence is not for money or more access to the BCS (although those are great side effects), and it isn't, it's about exposure. With our independence and ESPN we have high expectations for the future of our program.
Thanks again to the fine folks at Vanquish the Foe for their answers. We've returned the favor by answering a handful of their offseason questions, and as soon as they're up and ready on their site we will be sure to link them here.