Wisconsin football schedule: Getting to know BYU

Gene Sweeney Jr.

After nearly a month on the road, the Badgers return to Madison to host the BYU Cougars.

BYU started both the 2006 and 2007 seasons with 1-2 records before rattling off 10 straight victories to finish with records of 11-2. This season, the Cougars started 1-2 and are currently in the midst of a five-game winning streak that has them 6-2 in their third season of independence.

In order to avoid becoming the Cougars' sixth victim in as many games, here are three things the Badgers need to know about their next opponent.

Quarterback U

The mid-1980s through the 1990s saw BYU produce great quarterbacks such as Jim McMahon, Steve Young, Robbie Bosco and Ty Detmer. Sportswriters gave BYU the "Quarterback U" moniker, and by all accounts they might have to bring it back in 2013 for sophomore quarterback Taysom Hill.

September was not a kind month to Hill as the 6-foot-2 Idaho native led his team to a 1-2 record while completing 40 of 114 passes (35.1 percent) for 574 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. There was talk about benching Hill, but his legs, however, kept him atop the depth chart as he ran for 400 yards and four touchdowns on just 48 carries.

Over the past five games, Hill has gone 106-of-162 (65.4 percent) with 1,455 yards, 11 touchdowns and a mere five interceptions. Those numbers have helped Hill become sixth in the nation in terms of total offense, averaging more than 357.5 yards per game.

The dual-threat quarterback is 20th in the country in rushing yards per game (105.1), 21st in points responsible for per game (15.3) and 29th in passing yards per game (252.4). He is the commander of the 12th-ranked offense in the nation, averaging 511.1 yards per game.

In their 37-20 victory over Boise State on October 25 -- the Cougars had a bye last week -- Hill and the BYU offense ran 52 plays for 376 yards... in the first half. Through the first two quarters, Hill was 21-of-28 passing for 253 yards. By the end of the night, Hill had accounted for 408 of BYU's 568 total yards and had touchdown passes of 37 and 40 yards to go with a 20-yard rushing touchdown.

Hill's helpers

Despite the overly-impressive statistics listed above, Hill can't do it all on his own. It comes as a blessing then that he doesn't have to.

Senior wide receiver Cody Hoffman is BYU's all-time leader in touchdown receptions with 31 career touchdown catches. The Crescent City, Calif., resident has scored a touchdown in each of his past three games.

Hoffman also needs just 14 receiving yards to surpass former Cougar Austin Collie (3,255 yards) as the school's all-time leader in receiving yards.

Sophomore running back Jamaal Williams is 21st in the nation (right behind Hill) in rushing yards per game (104.7) and is top-60 nationwide in terms of all-purpose yards per game (115.7).

Together, Williams and Hill have the Cougars as one of only two teams in the nation to have at least two players average more than 100 rushing yards per game. The other? Wisconsin, with James White and Melvin Gordon.

At the end of the day, the Cougars only goes as far as their offense takes them. In six wins this season, BYU has averaged 38 points per game; in two losses, that average drops to 14.5 points per game.

Gary Andersen held BYU to just six points in 2012 in his last season as head coach of Utah State. Hill threw for 235 yards, one touchdown, and one interception while rushing for 80 yards on 19 carries.

BCS-worthy?

With its first victory over Boise State in school history two weeks ago, BYU automatically qualified to fill its previously arranged spot in the Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco -- making BYU the first team to officially go "bowling" this season.

Come season's end, the Cougars could have a legitimate case for why they should be in a BCS bowl, as far-fetched as that might seem from the outside looking in.

A lightning delay that lasted more than two hours interrupted BYU's season-opener against Virginia, and the Cougars ended up losing 19-16 despite out-gaining the Cavaliers, 362-223, and picking up seven more first downs. Against Utah, BYU held the Utes to three-and-outs on their final four drives of the game and had two possessions in the final three minutes themselves to win the game. Instead, BYU fell, 20-13, with its lowest output of the season.

An 8-0 BYU team would undoubtedly be ranked in both the AP Poll and the BCS standings with impressive wins over the then-undefeated Texas Longhorns and the also then-undefeated Houston Cougars. With a strong remaining  schedule -- including at Wisconsin and at Notre Dame -- BYU still has the potential to be a BCS-buster at the end of the season, but one can't help but wonder where the Cougars would be ranked right now if they had pulled out their expected victories at the beginning of the season.

For now, the Cougars received 28 votes in the AP Top 25 Poll and, if the poll extended as far, they would be ranked No. 28 team in the country. A clause in their contract with the Fight Hunger Bowl allows for the Cougars to get out of the game if BYU gets a BCS bid this season only.

For their first meeting since 1980 (a 28-3 BYU win at Camp Randall), both teams are looking at Saturday's matchup as a big piece to their puzzle for the rest of the season. If BYU should win, it could make up for some of the team's early losses and get it back on track to a better bowl game than the Fight Hunger Bowl. If Wisconsin should come out victorious, it would potentially move up a few spots in the BCS standings in its quest to land in the top 14. With not many more accomplished and computer-respected schools remaining on their schedule, the time is now for the Badgers to make the push for the postseason.

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