Spring Football in getting underway across the country, and Notre Dame's opening game is less than 180 days away. Blue & Gold Illustrated will be breaking down the 2012 schedule and ranking teams based on difficulty during the next two weeks to get you ready for spring practice.
Senior J.J. Di Luigi finished his four-year career at BYU last fall and will be missed for more than his on-field production.
No. 9: Brigham Young
Oct. 20, 2012 — South Bend, Ind.
Last Meeting: Brady Quinn set a Notre Dame record with six touchdown passes in 2005 the last time BYU visited South Bend. The Irish won 49-23 to give Charlie Weis his first home win as a head coach. John Beck, now of the Washington Redskins, threw two touchdowns for the Cougars.
Spring Practice Dates: March 5 – March 24
The Cougars finished 10-3 in 2011 after beating Tulsa in the Armed Forces Bowl. They won nine of their last 10 games after losing 54-10 to in-state rival Utah forced quarterback Riley Nelson to become a bigger part of the offense. Nelson and a few of his top weapons are back for the 2012 season.
BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall, entering his eighth season as head coach, needs to build depth in the trenches this offseason to give his playmakers a chance. Mendenhall has never had a losing season with the Cougars and 2012 likely won’t be his first. He does face some tough challenges with Boise State, Oregon State and Georgia Tech all on the schedule along with Notre Dame.
Top Returners: QB Riley Nelson, WR Cody Hoffman
Nelson earned his team’s respect last season by fighting through a run of injuries that left him battered heading into bowl season. He threw 19 touchdowns and ran with reckless abandon for nearly 400 yards last season. His emergence made it easier for teammates and fans to move on when five-start prospect Jake Heaps left for Kansas in December. Heaps was the No. 1-ranked quarterback in the country coming out of high school, but as long as Nelson can stay healthy he won’t be missed this year.
Hoffman was Nelson’s favorite target last season as a sophomore. He made 61 catches for 943 yards and 10 touchdowns. He joined Notre Dame’s Michael Floyd as a consensus All-Independent team wide receiver. He also returned a kickoff for a touchdown with breakaway speed. Hoffman has already started making his mark in the BYU record books and is primed for another big year with Nelson.
Top Newcomer: OT Ryker Matthews
Freshman Ryker Matthews made watch lists for potential breakout players last season when he arrived at BYU. Season-ending foot surgery kept him on the sideline for all of 2011. It also allowed him to add about 25 pounds to his 6-foot-6 frame. This season he will have to step in at left tackle for graduated senior Matt Reynolds.
The Cougars also return 12 players from Mormon missions this season, many of whom should have an impact on the field.
Biggest Losses: RB J.J. Di Luigi, QB Jake Heaps
Di Luigi had a modest stat line in his senior season that doesn’t reflect all his contributions to the team. He ran for 584 yards and was also a consistent receiver out of the backfield. Di Luigi played in all but two games in his four-year career at Brigham Young and his experience will be missed more than his impact on the stat sheet.
Calling Heaps a big loss seems like a contradiction after tooting Nelson’s horn. His departure won’t be felt so much this season (as long as Nelson can stay healthy) as it will be in the future. That type of talent doesn’t come through Provo often and watching him leave had to be a tough pill to swallow for Mendenhall and company.
Spring Question? At least four of BYU’s probable starters along the offensive line were sidelined with injuries for the first week of spring practice in Provo, Utah. Their absence is giving a group of youngsters a great opportunity to prove themselves, but it’s also keeping the starting offense from valuable chemistry-building time in the spring. Can the Cougars make the most of a bad opportunity and build some much-needed depth along the offensive line to help them late in the fall?
Why They’re Here: BYU falls between Stanford and Oklahoma on Notre Dame’s schedule next fall and could easily be overlooked. They’re still listed in the bottom half of our difficulty rankings because they don’t have the firepower to win a shootout with the Irish. Despite their success the school’s unique culture keeps them from bringing in top-notch recruiting classes. Sound familiar?