SALT LAKE CITY – The BYU Cougars are currently expected to return 88 percent of their 2021 production, including the nation’s top 97 percent on defense.
ESPN’s Bill Connelly published the report on Monday, May 23.
Connelly lists the Utah Utes as 49th in the country with 67 percent of production returning. The state of Utah ranks 119th on the list, bringing back 49 percent of its production in 2021.
Jaren Hall and Jacob Conover are returning as quarterbacks, but the backfield took a hit when running back Tyler Allgeier was selected by the Atlanta Falcons in the 2022 NFL Draft. Lopini Katoa and Jackson McChesney enter the backfield and are joined by former Cal Bears transfer Christopher Brooks.
Gunnar Romney and Puka Nacua return at the wide receiver position, while the tight end spot is in good hands with the return of Isaac Rex.
The Cougar offensive line expects to return three starters beginning in 2021. Blake Freeland and Clark Barrington remain on the left side of the line, while Connor Pay is expected to switch from right-back to the center, replacing James Empey. Campbell Barrington is listed on the right and is expected to be flanked by Kingsley Suamataia on the right.
Defensively, the Cougars bring back experience at every level. Their top 10 tacklers are expected to all return in 2021, bolstering a unit that was visibly exhausted after injuries dulled its depths late in the year.
Cam Rising returns in QB after taking over for an ineffective Charlie Brewer in the third game of the season. Rising excelled in that role, giving the Utes the luxury of knowing who their quarterback is, something they didn’t experience in the months leading up to last season.
Tavion Thomas and Micah Bernard are each returning to the Utah backfield. Thomas rushed for 1,108 yards and 21 touchdowns in 2021 on his way to a Pac-12 All-Conference first-team call-up.
Leading receiver Britain Covey is now with the Philadelphia Eagles, but Devaughn Vele and Solomon Enis are returning to bolster the position. With the return of Dalton Kincaid and Brant Kuithe, the tight end position has two potential NFL players in the group.
With the loss of Nick Ford and Bamidele Olaseni, the offensive line needs some retooling, but the return of Keaton Bills, Sataoa Laumea and Braeden Daniels should ease the transition.
On defense, the Utes’ primary concern will be to replace production linebackers Devin Lloyd and Nephi Sewell, who were two leading tacklers last season. Clark Phillips III and Cole Bishop will mentor a young secondary while Devin Kaufusi, Van Fillinger and Junior Tafua anchor the defensive line.
Utah State Aggies
The Aggies are bringing Logan Bonner back as quarterback for another season, but he’ll have an almost entirely new supporting cast. Justin McGriff and Kyle Van Leeuwen are the most prolific receivers returning, with 43 catches and 477 yards in 2021.
At running back, Tyler Calvin Jr. returns along with third-best rusher John Gentry.
Along the offensive line, the Aggies bring back two All-Mountain West players with honors in Quazzel White at right and Alfred Edwards III. All in all, the Aggie offensive line has 38 career starts, with Jackson Owens expected to be the only freshman stepping in at left.
On defense, the Aggies return with only safety Hunter Reynolds as their top-five tackler in 2021 and just four of their top-ten tacklers overall. Connelly has the Aggies replacing more than half of their defensive production as of 2021.
Utah State opens its 2022 campaign at home against the Connecticut Huskies on Saturday, August 27; Kick-off is scheduled for 2:00 p.m. (MST). Utah and BYU start their seasons a week later with each team in Florida. The Utes take on the Florida Gators at 5:00 p.m. MST on Saturday, September 3 while the Cougars take on the South Florida Bulls at Raymond James Stadium. Kick-off is scheduled for 2:00 p.m. (MST).