BYU's secondary is the strength of the defense. Both Brandon Heaney and Jernaro Gilford are healthy and set to have huge years in defending the pass. Having two good corners will allow BYU to play man to man coverage which will free up other players to blitz the quarterback. Combine this with Bronco's defensive philosophy of blitzing on every play and teams will have a difficult time throwing the ball against the 2003 defense.
2. Aaron Francisco will lead the team in sacks.
In Bronco's new defense, Francisco has a chance to shine. He will be given the opportunity to blitz throughout the game. Since Manaia Brown and Brady Poppinga will be double teamed on a frequent basis, this will leave Francisco to create havoc in the offensive backfields of opponents, which he will. 3. Three freshmen will start the majority of the games played on the offensive line. With Eddie Keele and Jake Kuresa having their starting positions locked down for the Georgia Tech game, it's just a matter of time before Ofa Mohetau gets the starting nod over the incumbents. Mohetau is far too talented to be sitting on the bench and he will leave his mark on the team before his mission. Starting three freshmen leaves BYU susceptible in pass protection, but the long term rewards will outweigh any rookie mistakes that will be made.
4. BYU will average more than 200 yards a game rushing.
Crowton needs more time to develop his young quarterbacks and will turn to this year's team strength: running the football. The running backs are some of the best athletes on the team. Marcus Whalen, Fahu Tahi, Thomas Stancil, Fui Vakapuna and Reynaldo Braithwaite will all need touches and Crowton will give it to them. The front three OL of Kuresa, Jackson and Ofa all run block very well, which makes running the ball an even greater strength for them. They will run especially well against inferior MWC defenses.
5. BYU will be significantly improved in running the ball in short yardage and goal line situations.
There are three reasons why BYU will be better in short yardage and goal line situations: 1) The installation of a fullback in this year's offense will give the backs a lead blocker to help them get in 2) The aforementioned big three of Ofa, Kuresa, and Jackson will create a huge push up the middle for the backs 3) John Beck will run the option with more precision than in 2002, keeping the defense from clogging the middle.
6. BYU will catch deep balls more frequently than last year.
Last year opponents saw Rod Wilkerson as the only deep threat and keyed on him as the one to stop from going deep. This year BYU can send Wilkerson, Chris Hale, Brett Cooper and a healthier David Christensen on the deep routes. Defensive teams will be surprised at the overall speed of the wide receivers and the deep balls will be thrown and caught with a higher frequency than in recent memory.
7. Aaron Francisco will be the MWC defensive player of the year.
Bronco's new scheme will have a Brian Urlacher-like effect on Francisco. He will be utilized in a way that he will reach his potential. I already predicted that he will lead the team in sacks. He will also lead the team in tackles and hardest hits.
8. Quarterback John Beck will start at least three games this year.
Berry has a very young offensive line in front of him. He will take some big hits from some big-time players during the out of conference schedule while the line gets their feet wet. Berry is also not as elusive as Beck when avoiding the rush. He will have some nagging injuries that will give Beck the opportunity to perform while he's getting back to full strength. However, Berry will have a better touchdown to interception ratio and a quarterback controversy will still ensue for the 2004 season.
9. The tight ends won't catch many balls until conference play.
Daniel Coats, Phil Niu, Justin Jory and Aissac Aiono are all very talented prospects, but they lack game experience. They will be learning and progressing as the season wears on, which will include rapid improvement once conference play begins. Crowton will utilize them more once they have earned it by becoming better blockers.
10. Running back Marcus Whalen will gain more than 1,200 yards rushing this year.
As previously noted the strength of the offensive line is run blocking. A healthy Whalen is due to have a breakout season running behind the big fellas. Whalen has all the tools to be a big-time back. This is the year that he proves it by rushing for more than 1,200 yards, which equates to at least 100 yards per game.
11. Matt Payne will earn All-American post-season honors as a punter and Honorable Mention All-American honors as a kicker.
Last season, Payne was BYU's best and most consistent player. That's not a good sign when he's the team kicker and punter. However, he deserves to be recognized for his skills. I predict that he will continue to improve and lead the nation in punting average and also make more than 80% of his kicks. I also expect to see an occasional fake punt to utilize his extraordinary athletic talents for a kicker.
12. BYU will pass to the running backs at least 33% of the time.
Crowton is notorious for using screens and short passes out of the backfield. He will do it even more this year in order to give his talented running backs open field touches. The young quarterbacks are also likely to check off to them frequently since they will be trying to avoid sacks and make positive plays.
13. BYU will finish the season with a 10-2 record and will win the Liberty Bowl.
BYU's will lose only twice and win the MWC title outright. The experts will start to respect BYU after having a great year defensively and setting the tone for future seasons. Let the season begin!
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