Brigham Young season preview

Today we're looking at Brigham Young, which is ready to put its elite defense to the test against tough FBS Independent schedule.

Brigham Young Cougars

Coach: Bronco Mendenhall (74-29, 8 seasons; 74-29, 8 seasons at BYU)

2012 record: 8-5

Key losses: DE Ezekiel Ansah, QB Riley Nelson, LB Brandon Ogletree, OL Braden Hansen, DT Romney Fuga, LB Uona Kaveinga

Key returnees: LB Kyle Van Noy, WR Cody Hoffman, S Daniel Sorensen, RB Jamaal Williams, LB Spencer Hadley, TE Kaneakua Friel, OT Ryker Mathews, WR Ross Apo

Newcomer to watch: Junior college transfer cornerback Robertson Daniel appears to be the favorite to replace Jordan Johnson in the starting lineup. He hasn’t played in quite a while after sitting out the entire 2012 season to work on academics, but he’ll need to contribute.

Biggest games in 2013: Even with some powerhouses on the schedule this season, the Sept. 21 matchup with Utah still has to be priority No. 1, especially after BYU lost a heartbreaker last year with two missed last-second field goals.

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: The Cougars have questions marks at a few positions, including nose guard, corner and on the offense line. The big-picture question is this: BYU has one of the best defenses in the country, but just how good can its offense be in 2013 after finishing 65th nationally in scoring last year?

Forecast: Make no mistake: Van Noy is as good as advertised and makes this BYU defense a formidable problem for an opponent.

The preseason All-America candidate racked up 13 sacks, 22 tackles for loss, six forced fumbles and two interceptions. BYU is replacing its starting defensive line, two linebackers and now both corners after Jordan Johnson (torn ACL) was lost for the season in fall camp. And yet, with Van Noy leading the way, this unit can still go down as one of the nation’s best.

It’s the Cougars offense that has to take the next step. New offensive coordinator Robert Anae is pushing a “go fast, go hard” mantra with faster tempo, and he inherits one of the better receivers in the country in Hoffman, who put up 1,248 receiving yards last season. Taysom Hill will be trusted to run the faster scheme and has recovered from a knee injury that cost him the final seven games of 2012.

BYU is in for another challenging schedule in its third year as an FBS Independent, with trips to Virginia, Wisconsin and Notre Dame and home games against Texas, Georgia Tech and Boise State on the slate. That could prove brutal if Hill and the Cougar offense don’t rise to the occasion, but a defense this good can go a long way.