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Early Wisconsin football 2017 preview: Week 3 at BYU

Vanquish the Foe previews the Cougars’ spring outlook.

NCAA Football: Poinsettia Bowl-Brigham Young vs Wyoming Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The last non-conference game of the Wisconsin Badgers’ 2017 season (outside of a possible bowl berth) takes them to Provo, Utah, for a matchup against the BYU Cougars.

Head coach Kalani Sitake leads his program after registering a 9-4 record last year. That included wins against Power Five programs Arizona, Michigan State, and Mississippi State. The Cougars won eight of their last nine games after a 1-3 start, including a 24-21 win over Wyoming in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl.

With us to preview what BYU will be looking to build off of for this season, we welcome Vanquish the Foe’s Jake Welch.

Its the second year for Kalani Sitake at BYU. Whats the general feeling heading into the 2017 season, and what major changes (if any) could help them this upcoming season?

Even though BYU finished with a record very similar to that of the Bronco Mendenhall era, fans are feeling much more optimistic about the program under Kalani. His high energy and affability make him incredibly likable and you can see how much the players rally behind him. The key for 2017 will be improving the offense, which is going to be a challenge for the defensive-minded head coach. This task will primarily fall to offensive coordinator Ty Detmer, but it’s on the head coach to help his entire staff put a better offensive product on the field. The defense kept BYU in every game in 2016 and with the Cougars facing the menacing defenses of LSU, Utah, and Wisconsin in the first four weeks of the 2017 season, the offense will need to step up their game. Their key flaw last season was in the passing game, which could have been a direct result of installing a new offense and the coaching staff’s decision to start Taysom Hill, who was a better runner than passer.

Who are the key contributors coming back for the Cougars?

On defense, BYU returns all three of their starting linebackers in Butch Pau’u, Fred Warner, and Francis Bernard. Pau’u was limited by a knee injury towards the end of 2016, but he’s a nasty middle linebacker who can stuff the run despite being undersized (think Chris Borland lite). Francis Bernard is a converted running back who had his struggles but found his way towards the end of the year. He also might have some of the best hand on the team. Warner might be the best of the bunch with his consistent all-around play.

On offense, Tanner Mangum will be the most important returning player even if he only started one game last year for the Cougars. After impressing as a freshman in 2015, he sat on the sidelines as Hill finished out his BYU career. He’ll have a very experienced offensive line (led by center Tejan Koroma) and a couple of returning receivers, but he’ll be the most important part in making this offense go.

Poinsettia Bowl - BYU v Wyoming Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Who will they have to replace from last year’s team?

The departure of running back Jamaal Williams is going to be very hard on the offense. The school’s career rushing leader was the most important offensive player and replacing his effort will be a tall order. Squally Canada will be the most likely candidate to get more carries, but expect him to be challenged by redshirt freshman Riley Burt and Ula Tolutau, who was originally committed to Wisconsin but decided to attend BYU after returning home from his mission.

The defense will miss their ball-hawking safety Kai Nacua, who tied BYU’s career interceptions record with 14 picks over his four seasons with the Cougars. Nacua could also deliver punishing blows (some of which got him in trouble) to those who dared to run routes in his direction. The good news for BYU is that they might have found his replacement in their 2017 recruiting class in four-star safety Chaz Ah You. He probably won’t begin the year as a starter, but he’ll definitely see the field.

Which players could be breakout candidates?

Moroni Laulu-Pututau is transitioning from wide receiver to more of a tight end/inside receiver position and I think the change could really serve him well. His large frame and quickness would be better served at an interior position on the offense.

On the other side of the ball, defensive end Corbin Kaufusi could be primed for a breakout season. The two-sport athlete showed a lot of promise toward the end of last year as he tallied 31 tackles and 2.5 sacks. Based on how he performed last year in both football and basketball, Corbin should be dedicating the majority of his offseason to the gridiron. If he continues to show the improvement we saw over the course of the season, he could be a dangerous player on BYU’s defense.

Which position battles are worth watching this spring?

BYU is in desperate need of quality wide receivers and someone will need to step up after they lost of good amount of their receiving core to graduation. Jonah Trinnaman is the only senior with significant playing time under his belt and should be the go-to receiver in the group. He had a quiet season after being touted as a top-rated JuCo transfer in 2016. After Trinnaman, there isn’t a whole lot of experience. Sophomore Aleva Hifo saw some action last year but he struggled with drops and inconsistent route running. The two wild cards of the group are Micah Simon and Akile Davis, both converted defensive backs. They both redshirted last year, so their ability on the field is relatively unknown at this point.

Beyond that, it will be curious to see how the defensive line and running back positions fill out after losing key players to graduation.

2017 Wisconsin Football Schedule

Date Opponent Time (CT) Spring Q&A Preview
Date Opponent Time (CT) Spring Q&A Preview
Sept. 1 Utah State 8 p.m. Mountain West Connection
Sept. 9 Florida Atlantic 11 a.m. Underdog Dynasty
Sept. 16 at BYU 2:30 p.m. Vanquish the Foe
Sept. 30 Northwestern TBA Inside NU
Oct. 7 at Nebraska TBA Corn Nation
Oct. 14 Purdue TBA Hammer and Rails
Oct. 21 Maryland (Homecoming) 11 a.m. Testudo Times
Oct. 28 at Illinois 11 a.m. The Champaign Room
Nov. 4 at Indiana TBA Crimson Quarry
Nov. 11 Iowa TBA BHGP
Nov. 18 Michigan TBA Maize N Brew
Nov. 25 at Minnesota TBA The Daily Gopher