BYU can end its stint as an FBS Independent with a bang. The Cougars have a healthy mix of talent and experience on both sides of the ball — enough to push for a third straight 10-win season and an AP Top 25 finish.
Also see: BYU Cougars 2022 Season Preview and Prediction
Jaren Hall gives BYU reason to be optimistic on offense while Tyler Allgeier makes the move to the NFL. Hall is an electric playmaker at quarterback. He threw for 2,583 yards and 20 touchdowns in 10 games. Hall also averaged 5.0 yards per carry as a rusher and ran for three points. Top targets Gunner Romney and Puka Nacua are back and Keanu Hill is poised to become a star at receiver. California transfer Christopher Brooks gives BYU a proven replacement for Allgeier in the backfield. The Cougars are bringing back 10 starters on a defense that was rock solid early last season before injuries decimated BYU that side of the ball.
BYU will be tackling one of its toughest schedules since exiting the Mountain West Conference in 2011. The Cougars host Baylor, Arkansas and Utah State in Provo. Away games against Oregon and Boise State are on the schedule. A clash with Notre Dame in Las Vegas in October could offer an opportunity to make a national statement.
Here’s a breakdown of BYU’s 2022 schedule, ranked from easiest to hardest:
12 Nov 19 v Utah Tech
BYU has not lost to an opponent outside of the FBS since 1960. Utah Tech (formerly Dixie State) will not be the team to pull off this winning streak. The Trailblazers are entering their third season in the FCS ranks and have won three games total since jumping out of NCAA Division II. Expect this to be a game where every sane player on BYU’s roster gets meaningful snaps.
11. 3 Sept at USF
The Bulls have a chance to make real progress as a program. South Florida has won just three games over the past two seasons, but that total should improve if Baylor transfer Gerry Bohanon picks up quarterback. Bohanon helped Baylor record a 10-2 record and win the Big 12 last season while throwing for 2,200 yards and 18 touchdowns. Defensive improvement is mandatory if USF wants to make a bowl game. The Bulls gave up 470.6 yards and 34.7 points per game last season.
10. September 24 vs. Wyoming
The Cowboys are bringing back just five starters total after enduring a mass exodus of players to the transfer portal. The loss of leading rusher Xazavian Valladay (who was transferred to Arizona State) hurts the most after Valladay rose to No. 2 on the school’s all-time rushing list. Titus Swen is a capable defender who will play an even bigger role now after rushing for 785 yards and seven touchdowns a year ago. The quarterback is a question mark as Utah State transfer Andrew Peasley will likely be the fall starter. Wyoming has not beaten BYU since 2003, losing to the Cougars eight times in a row.
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9. October 28 vs. East Carolina
The Pirates ended the season with a win for the first time since 2014 thanks to a vastly improved offense. Holton Ahlers threw for 3,126 yards and 18 touchdowns a year ago, while Keaton Mitchell added 1,132 yards and nine points on the ground. Her performance helped East Carolina average 433.3 yards per game. If injuries start to pile up again on the BYU defense, the Pirates could prove to be a tougher opponent than expected.
8. November 26 at Stanford
Stanford had a long streak with BYU that was reduced to a few games after the Cougars accepted an invitation to join the Big 12. The cardinal should consider it a blessing. This could be an ugly game considering how Stanford fared on offense last season. If quarterback Tanner McKee stays healthy, he’ll give Stanford a good shot at being competitive. McKee threw for 2,327 yards and 15 touchdowns a year ago while battling injuries. The Cardinal lost his last seven games of 2021, scoring exactly 100 points in the process.
7. October 22 at Liberty
Like BYU, the Flames are playing a final season as an FBS independent. Liberty will join Conference USA in 2023. Finding a suitable replacement for Malik Willis at quarterback will determine whether the Flames finish independence strong or simply flare up. Utah transfer Charlie Brewer struggled when he faced the Cougars last season. Brewer was a standout player for Baylor over four seasons but lost his starting job with the Utes after just three games before abruptly leaving the program. When the 2019 Baylor version of Brewer shows up, Liberty will be in good shape. If not, it could quickly become a long season.
6. September 29 vs. Utah State
Head coach Blake Anderson wasted no time in getting the Aggies out of the basement. Anderson led Utah State to its first Mountain West Conference title and set a school record with 11 wins in his freshman season at Logan. The pieces are there for the Aggies to repeat as champions. Logan Bonner is back after throwing for 3,628 yards and 36 touchdowns. Calvin Tyler Jr. returns to the backfield after 884 yards and seven touchdowns a year ago. Utah State will be motivated to reclaim the Old Wagon Wheel as this marks the last meeting between the rivals for the foreseeable future.
5. November 5th in Boise State
An upset 26-17 win over then-undefeated BYU offered the Broncos a bright spot in a sour season. Boise State should improve this year. Hank Bachmeier has 25 starts as a quarterback. The senior is capable of big games, as evidenced by his 3,079 passing yards and 20 touchdowns last season. But Bachmeier can sometimes be contradictory. If George Holani stays healthy, he has the potential to become Boise State’s next 1,000-yard rusher. The Broncos would love nothing more than to earn a second straight win over BYU before that rivalry streak is broken in 2023.
4. September 17 in Oregon
It may be a while before the Ducks’ offense flies under new head coach Dan Lanning. Oregon lost top running backs Travis Dye and CJ Verdell. How well the Ducks do may depend on Auburn’s transfer Bo Nix. Nix is taking over as quarterback reign after throwing for 2,293 yards and 11 touchdowns in an up and down 2021 season for the Tigers. BYU has not played Oregon since beating the Ducks 38-8 in the 2006 Las Vegas Bowl.
3. September 10 vs. Baylor
The defending Big 12 champions will make some offensive changes this season. Blake Shapen won the starting quarterback job that spring after a stellar performance against Oklahoma State in the Big 12 title game, where he completed 82 percent of his passes. Replacing Abram Smth in the backfield won’t be easy. Smith rushed for a school record of 1,601 yards last season. BYU’s 5-0 start collapsed a year ago with a 38-24 loss to the Bears in Waco.
2. Oct 15 vs. Arkansas
Third place at SEC West is like first place at other smaller conferences. That’s exactly what Arkansas did a year ago. The Razorbacks are a team on the rise. It all starts with quarterback KJ Jefferson. The junior threw just four interceptions last season while rushing for 2,676 passing yards and 21 touchdowns through the air, and added 664 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. Jefferson operates behind an experienced offensive line, so he will be just as dangerous this season. Arkansas will be the same tough opponents they were last season.
1. 8 Oct vs. Notre Dame (in Las Vegas)
This neutral side matchup fills the final game in a deal signed by the two teams more than a decade earlier. Notre Dame is bringing in a new head coach, Marcus Freeman, and a new starting quarterback, but likely won’t take a huge step back. Four starters return to the offensive line, which should smooth out some of the offensive transition. Tight-ended Michael Mayer is a surefire NFL pro after a season in which he led the Irish for 840 yards and seven touchdowns in 71 catches. BYU has not beaten Notre Dame since 2004, the last time the two teams played outside of South Bend.
– Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter based in Utah. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.