The Arizona Wildcats’ 2018 football campaign is only days away, and excitement is at a fever pitch thanks to quarterback Khalil Tate and new coach Kevin Sumlin.
Last year was BYU’s worst season in a decade, going 4-9, and it seemed to come out of nowhere. Was that a glitch or a sign of trouble for Kalani Sitake?
This is a hard, multifaceted question, and there are a lot of theories out there about it, for sure. BYU is definitely a unique place with unique limitations, as a private Mormon school, and you could definitely say that contributed. While debates of BYU’s ceiling or systemic issues could be had, I’ll choose to be an optimist and say last season was a glitch. Sitake is a great coach, who the players love, and who I trust to learn from his mistakes. I don’t think we’ll be going undefeated this season, but I’m thinking the ship will get at least somewhat righted.
What are BYU’s strengths and weaknesses this year?
On paper, we look pretty solid. I was excited to see our depth chart released and going through it, I feel pretty good about most positions. I would say my main concern for weakness, and probably a lot of the fan base’s, might be that our quarterback competition just ended last week, and it was between a senior (Tanner Mangum) and a true freshman (Zach Wilson). A little disconcerting.
We’re returning a lot of starters, which could be viewed as both a strength and a weakness, I suppose, but we’re supplementing the roster with a bunch of recruits we’ve been looking forward to for a while here. I’m hoping (Lopini) Katoa will be a strength at running back. For the first time in awhile we have a solid kicker, Skyler Southam, who I’m hoping will be a strength. Matt Bushman (from Tucson’s Sabino High School) is a returner, not new at tight end, but is a monster athlete and will hopefully be a strength, and an easy, reliable target for Mangum.
What is the general consensus about Tanner Mangum as quarterback in Provo?
It’s pretty much the BYU fan base’s norm to never have a consensus about QB. “The grass is always greener” has been our motto for a solid five years, if not longer. Even when we had freak athlete Taysom Hill, who’s doing great for the Saints now, people were calling for Mangum to start. Last year, when Mangum was starting, fans were calling for Beau Hoge or Joe Critchlow.
In the weeks leading up to the announcement of Mangum, I’d honestly say the fan base was probably split down the middle. There are a lot who are ready for new blood, figure it can’t be worse than it was, and want to see what Wilson can do. But there are also many fans who are hoping to see some redemption for Mangum’s career (myself included), and feel that the seniority should be respected. Since the announcement was officially made, I think most are on board with Mangum. But I wouldn’t be surprised if mutiny broke out after the first series of the game on Saturday.
Who else besides Mangum will be a leader for the Cougars this season?
I think we’ve got a lot of good leaders on our squad! I already mentioned Matt Bushman, who is an underclassman, but someone who is definitely looked up to. I think senior RB Squally Canada will be another guy the team looks to. We’ve got Butch Pau’u, a senior linebacker who was a captain last year, who is super vocal on defense. Lastly, I would say Corbin Kaufusi, a quietly confident defensive lineman who gave up playing basketball at BYU to focus on playing football full time. He’s a super friendly guy that I could definitely see the defense rallying around, and he was named a captain Monday (As was Pau’u).
What worries you about Arizona?
When I think about this, my answer is that you guys are probably just accustomed to a higher level of competition. After a tough year, I’d love to be playing a soft team … not a team that’s usually a Pac-12 contender. And despite any late-year struggles last year, Khalil Tate definitely still scares me. It is fun to watch that man play football. But not when it is against your own team.
How badly does BYU need this win to start the season?
We need it REALLY badly. Not just the team, but the whole fan base. Hope is running super, super low, and a win against Arizona would definitely give us something to believe in, while a loss would let us very easily back into our respective pits of despair.
Last but not least, score prediction for the game?
Oh man. I hate to be that person, but I have not yet completely crawled out of my own personal pit of despair from last season. 28-21, Arizona? (I wanted to say 28-14, but I tried really hard to put my homer glasses back on and spotted my team another TD)
We also answered questions about Arizona over at Vanquish The Foe. Check our their site to see those answers.