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The Crystal Ball: How will BYU football’s season play out in 2023?

Aug 16, 2023

Jaren Wilkey, BYU Photo

What a difference a year makes.

Heading into the 2022 season, the BYU football team was coming off a 10-win season with a huge amount of experience returning. The Cougars had every reason to be optimistic — until injuries and disappointments resulted in a terrible October.

Fast forward to August of 2023 and BYU is in a very different position.

The Cougars are heading into the Big 12 conference with very low outside expectations.

BYU was picked 11th of 14 teams in the preseason media poll, while ESPN analysts Bill Connelly and Dave Wilson were even more pessimistic on the Cougars in their Big 12 breakdown. They picked BYU to finish last.

They choose to focus on how the Cougars was just 8-5 in 2022 and lost their starting QB and top receiver to the NFL, deciding to ignore the fact that BYU is 26-27 overall against Power Five opponents since 2011 with eight wins and four losses in the past two years.

It means the Cougars can play the “we-get-no-respect” card if they choose to, but they can also play without the pressure of being expected to succeed.

The bottom line, however, is that BYU is playing in a conference that has a history of close games and unpredictability, so it will be shocking if the preseason prognostications are even close to accurate.

But we do them anyone because it’s fun to speculate, then sit back and see how close we are to being right.

So it’s time once again to peer into my crystal ball — hazy though the images may be (last year I was 10-2 with my picks) — and predict what will happen in each of the 12 Cougar regular-season games in 2023:

Sept. 2, LaVell Edwards Stadium

8:15 p.m. MT, FS1

Opponent breakdown

Head coach: KC Keeler (10th year)

2022: 5-4 overall

Players to Watch: Noah Smith (Sr. WR), Kavian Gaither (Jr. LB), Jaylen Phillips (Jr. LB), Markel Perry (Sr. EDGE), David Fisher (So. CB).

Outlook: It’s a big step up for Sam Houston in 2023 as it joins FBS football in Conference USA after enjoying tremendous success at the FCS level. There are a lot of unknowns as the Bearkats redshirted a lot of players in 2022 and have some new schemes to work with.

Crystal Ball

If BYU is an elite team: The Cougars come out fast, putting the visitors on their heels early. The physicality up front opens up holes for the run game and the BYU defense confuses Sam Houston, resulting in a big win.

If BYU takes a step backwards: The Cougars sputter out of the gate, making costly mistakes and allowing the Bearkats to gain confidence. It makes the game close down the stretch with both teams having chances to win.

What will actually happen: It’s Game 1 for both sides and so it won’t always be pretty. Look for some blown assignments and miscommunications, but the Cougar defense will keep Sam Houston in check for most of the game.

Jared says: 30-10 BYU

Sept. 9, LaVell Edwards Stadium

1 p.m. MT, ESPN+

Opponent breakdown

Head coach: DeLane Fitzgerald (2nd year)

2022: 5-6 overall (1-3 in the WAC)

Players to Watch: Justin Miller (Sr. QB), Collin Gardner (So. OL), Isaiah Wooden (Sr. WR), Robert Horsey (Sr. DL), Kohner Cullimore (So. LB)

Outlook: The Thunderbirds made a lot of coaching changes and so will enter 2023 with some new looks. There is quite a bit of experience returning and so SUU has every reason to believe it can improve this fall.

Crystal Ball

If BYU is an elite team: The Cougars simply overpower the Thunderbirds, rolling to a big lead early and playing a lot of reserves in the second half.

If BYU takes a step backwards: The Cougar look lethargic and SUU makes a lot of big plays, putting a lot of pressure on the home team for much of the game.

What will actually happen: BYU won’t look to embarrass the Thunderbirds but will make it clear which team is better. SUU will play hard but the Cougars will simply be too much.

Jared says: 51-7 BYU

Sept. 16, Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium, Fayetteville, Arkansas

5:30 p.m. MT, ESPN2

Opponent breakdown

Head coach: Sam Pittman (4th year)

2022: 7-6 overall (3-5 in the SEC)

Players to Watch: KJ Jefferson (Sr. QB), Raheim Sanders (Jr. RB), Dwight McGlothern (Sr. CB), Hudson Clark (Sr. S), Chris Paul (So. LB).

Outlook: The Razorbacks are looking to build off a solid showing in 2022 that was very close to being truly special. It looks to showcase its impressive run game while improving on the defensive side of the ball.

Crystal Ball

If BYU is an elite team: The Cougars come in angry after the way they let the Razorbacks dominate the second half in Provo in 2022. This time BYU answers when Arkansas makes plays, making for a thriller down the stretch.

If BYU takes a step backwards: Once again the Razorback 1-2 punch of quarterback KJ Jefferson and running back Raheim Sanders are unstoppable as Arkansas piles up the points and the Cougars can’t keep up.

What will actually happen: This will be an early test for both teams with the pressure being on the Razorbacks. BYU will be better defensively, but so will Arkansas. In the end, the home team will close it out with a late score.

Jared says: 33-21 Arkansas

Sept. 2, David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium, Lawrence, Kansas

TBA

Opponent breakdown

Head coach: Lance Leipold (3rd year)

2022: 6-7 overall (3-6 in the Big 12)

Players to Watch: 1. Jalon Daniels (Sr. QB), Cobee Bryant (Jr. CB), Kenny Logan (Sr. S), Devin Neal (Jr. RB), Mike Novitsky (Sr. C).

Outlook: After years of being perennial doormats, the Jayhawks enjoyed a fantastic start before running out of gas in 2022. Now they look to improve on that with a dynamic offense and hope for defensive growth.

Crystal Ball

If BYU is an elite team: The Cougar send a message to the Big 12 by going into Lawrence and handling a Jayhawk team that was supposed to be better.

If BYU takes a step backwards: It’s a rude introduction to the conference as the Cougars can’t stop Kansas’s offense. BYU puts up some points but it’s not nearly enough.

What will actually happen: Don’t expect either team to be able to pull away in what should be another entertaining matchup. In a foreshadowing of what will happen throughout the year, the game comes down to the final minute with the Cougars making the last play.

Jared says: 28-25 BYU

Sept. 29, LaVell Edwards Stadium

8:15 p.m. MT, ESPN

Opponent breakdown

Head coach: Scott Satterfield (1st year)

2022: 9-4 overall (6-2 in the AAC)

Players to Watch: Deshawn Pace (Sr. S/LB), Dontay Corleone (So. DT), Daniel Grzesiak (Sr. LB), Bryon Threats (Jr. S), Emory Jones (Sr. QB).

Outlook: It’s a new era for the Bearcats in 2023 with a new head coach in a Power Five conference. This team has some talent but likely will face some challenges as it gets acclimated to its new status.

Crystal Ball

If BYU is an elite team: The Cougar rushing attack is a machine against an overmatched Bearcat defensive front, with the offensive line opening up big holes. That allows the home team to control the ball and the game.

If BYU takes a step backwards: It’s the Cincinnati defense that stuffs the gaps and disrupts the Cougar backfield. BYU injuries start taking a toll and the Cougars can’t get in rhythm.

What will actually happen: Both teams want to have a great season in their first year in the league but BYU is better prepared. Cincinnati is solid but it will have to rely on its depth by this point and the Cougars will be too good in Provo.

Jared says: 31-17 BYU

Oct. 14, Amon G. Carter Stadium, Fort Worth

TBA

Opponent breakdown

Head coach: Sonny Dykes (2nd season)

2022: 13-2 overall (9-0 in the Big 12)

Players to Watch: Josh Newton (Sr. CB), Johnny Hodges (Sr. LB), Chandler Morris (Sr. QB), Jamoi Hodge (Sr. LB), Trey Sanders (Jr. RB).

Outlook: TCU had a magical run in 2022, but now everyone is wondering what they can do for an encore. While the Horned Frogs will likely take a step back, this is still a team with a lot of excellent players from its run to the national title game.

Crystal Ball

If BYU is an elite team: The game is a flashback to the better battles between the Cougars and the Horned Frogs in 2005 and 2006, with both teams having moments and victory decided at the end.

If BYU takes a step backwards: The difference between where the two programs are at now is clear on the field and TCU’s athleticism and speed results in a lopsided affair.

What will actually happen: The Horned Frogs won’t be phenomenal again but they will be better than many expect. The Cougars will fight hard but in the end TCU will simply be better.

Jared says: 35-19 TCU

Oct. 21, LaVell Edwards Stadium

TBA

Opponent breakdown

Head coach: Joey McGuire (2nd year)

2022: 8-5 overall (5-4 in the Big 12)

Players to Watch: Tyler Shough (Sr. QB), Malik Dunlap (Sr. CB), Dadrion Taylor-Demerson (Sr. S), Jerand Bradley (So. WR), Drae McCray (Sr. WR).

Outlook: The Red Raiders come into the season with some high expectations as they bring back some high-profile pieces from last year. Now they have to show they can put it all together to be a factor in the Big 12 title race.

Crystal Ball

If BYU is an elite team: The Cougar blitz packages pay big dividends as Texas Tech makes some costly mistakes, resulting in short fields and points for the BYU offense.

If BYU takes a step backwards: The Red Raider receiving corps feasts on the Cougar secondary, making big plays and breaking tackles on their way to season highs.

What will actually happen: This will be an exciting game with both offenses leading the way. Points will come in bunches but victory will come down to a big defensive play late. This time it will be the visitors who make that play.

Jared says: 45-43 Texas Tech

Oct. 28, Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, Austin, Texas

TBA

Opponent breakdown

Head coach: Steve Sarkisian (3rd year)

2022: 8-5 overall (6-3 in the Big 12)

Players to Watch: Xavier Worthy (Jr. WR), Ja’Tavion Sanders (Jr. TE), Quinn Ewers (So. QB), Jaylan Ford (Sr. LB), Barryn Sorrell (Jr. DE).

Outlook: Texas is once again getting all the attention with observers gushing about the potential of the Longhorns. But for potential to become reality, Texas needs wins and that’s easier said than done, particularly when everyone in the Big 12 would love to knock off the Longhorns one more time before they leave.

Crystal Ball

If BYU is an elite team: The Cougars once again go to Austin and give a Texas team everything it can handle, coming up with key plays again and again as the game is a back-and-forth battle.

If BYU takes a step backwards: The Longhorns never break stride, stymying the Cougar offense and forcing turnovers while the Texas offense is clicking.

What will actually happen: As has happened so many times in the past, the Longhorns aren’t as good as they are made out to be. But they turn out to good enough at home to drop BYU to 0-3 against league opponents from the Lone Star state.

Jared says: 29-20 Texas

Nov. 4, Milan Puskar Stadium, Morgantown, West Virginia

TBA

Opponent breakdown

Head coach: Neal Brown (5th year)

2022: 5-7 overall (3-6 in the Big 12)

Players to Watch: Zach Frazier (Jr. C), CJ Donaldson (So. RB), Sean Martin (Jr. DE), Lee Kpogba (Sr. LB), Wyatt Milum (Jr. OT).

Outlook: No one likes to be picked last but that was where the Mountaineers ended up in the preseason media poll. Now West Virginia will be using that as motivation to prove everyone wrong and has some good pieces that could do just that.

Crystal Ball

If BYU is an elite team: The Cougars make their first trip to Morgantown a memorable one as they play well in all aspects of the game. The special teams come up big by setting up great field position in an impressive overall performance.

If BYU takes a step backwards: BYU is banged up and simply fails to handle its longest trip of the season well, falling behind and showing little fight in a disappointing showing.

What will actually happen: On paper, this is the easiest road game of the year for the Cougars — but games aren’t played on paper. This will be a physical battle and reserves on both sides will need to step up. BYU barely eeks out the win, thanks to a late West Virginia mistake.

Jared says: 20-17 BYU

Nov. 11, LaVell Edwards Stadium

TBA

Opponent breakdown

Head coach: Matt Campbell (8th year)

2022: 4-8 overall (1-8 in the Big 12)

Players to Watch: TJ Tampa (Sr. CB), Beau Freyler (Jr. S), Jayden Higgins (Jr. WR), Jeremiah Cooper (So. S), Jaylin Noel (Jr. WR).

Outlook: Few teams can play the “what if” game like Iowa State in 2022, which lost a whopping six games by seven points or fewer. After being so close, it’s understandable why the Cyclones aren’t panicking going into 2023 but believe a big turnaround is very possible.

Crystal Ball

If BYU is an elite team: The Cougar depth is on full display as despite some injuries, BYU looks to be as good as it was at the beginning of the year. That results in another fine performance at home.

If BYU takes a step backwards: Iowa State comes into Provo on a mission and the Cougars don’t match the Cyclone intensity, getting pushed around at the point of attack.

What will actually happen: This will be a low-scoring battle — even more so if the weather is poor. Both teams will have to grind things out but BYU’s strength on the offensive line will win out.

Jared says: 16-13 BYU

Nov. 18, LaVell Edwards Stadium

TBA

Opponent breakdown

Head coach: Brent Venables (2nd year)

2022: 6-7 overall (3-6 in the Big 12)

Players to Watch: Danny Stutsman (Jr. LB), Dillon Gabriel (Sr. QB), Ethan Downs (Jr. DE), Rondell Bothroyd (Sr. DE), Billy Bowman (Jr. S).

Outlook: The Sooners certainly didn’t live up to their own standards last fall but was that an aberration due to changes and injuries or a sign of things to come? Oklahoma is determined to show it was the former in its last season in the Big 12, but the rest of the league would love to keep the Sooners down.

Crystal Ball

If BYU is an elite team: The Cougars crush it on the first meaningful Senior Night game since 2016, playing with passion and ferocity against a good Sooner team.

If BYU takes a step backwards: The last home game isn’t one the seniors want to remember as nothing seems to go well and the fans are leaving by the end of the third quarter.

What will actually happen: Neither team will be in the mix for the league title but both will still be pushing hard. BYU takes advantage of being at home with boisterous crowd support but Oklahoma manages to hold on in another close game.

Jared says: 26-24 Oklahoma

Nov. 25, Boone Pickens Stadium, Stillwater, Oklahoma

TBA

Opponent breakdown

Head coach: Mike Gundy (19th year)

2022: 7-6 overall (5-4 in the Big 12)

Players to Watch: Kendal Daniels (So. S), Collin Oliver (Jr. LB), Xavier Benson (Sr. LB), De’Zhaun Stribling (Jr. WR), Brennan Presley (Sr. WR).

Outlook: The 2022 Cowboys certainly weren’t the team that was in the Top 10 after the 2021 season, but don’t expect Mike Gundy (the dean of coaches in the Big 12) to have them be a .500 team for very long.

Crystal Ball

If BYU is an elite team: The Cougars close out a solid first year in the Big 12 with a big road win, with the offense converting in pressure situations to finish off the regular season.

If BYU takes a step backwards: It’s a rough finish for the battered Cougars who take on an Oklahoma State team playing with confidence. The Cowboys seize control and never look back.

What will actually happen: Fittingly it’s another nail-biter in league play as both BYU and OSU have chances down the stretch. The Cowboys refuse to fold, however, and preserve their excellent home record for another season.

Jared says: 24-18 Oklahoma State

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