Editor’s note: This is the first of a 12-part series previewing Virginia’s 2013 opponents.
Alabama. Florida State.
In 2012, BYU had all of two teams ranked ahead of it in total defense. They happened to be the national champion and the Orange Bowl champion.
In other words, when the Cougars roll into Scott Stadium for the 2013 opener, they’ll be bringing a certain reputation with them.
Will last year’s stout defensive unit make a repeat this season? Virginia will be the first to find out.
BYU, coming off an 8-5 ’12 that included a 23-6 win over San Diego State in the Poinsettia Bowl, is returning six defensive starters.
There’s safety Daniel Sorensen (team-best three interceptions in ’12) on the backend, linebacker Kyle Van Noy (All-American with 13 sacks) in the middle and nose tackle Eathyn Manumaleuna (a 6-foot-2, 288-pound senior who returns after taking a medical redshirt in ’12) anchoring the line.
Who’s missing? Well, this is where the Cougars could have their biggest challenge.
Defensive end Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah will be trying to crack the Detroit Lions’ first team when his alma mater matches up with UVa. Ansah, a freak athlete who didn’t take up football until his sophomore year of college, was chosen by Detroit with the fifth pick of the ’13 draft.
Ansah, a 6-5, 271-pounder, had the versatility to play three positions at BYU — linebacker, defensive end, defensive tackle. Without him, the Cougars will seek to replace by committee.
It’ll start with Van Noy, a potential first round selection for the 2014 draft. The 6-3, 235-pound senior has 22 career sacks. He scored two touchdowns — one from a fumble, the other from an interception — in a span of six minutes in the fourth quarter to clinch the Cougars’ bowl win last December. He’s a candidate for the Lombardi, Nagurski, Lott and Bednarik awards.
“He’s a fantastic player,” BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall told The Associated Press last season.
Van Noy’s help at linebacker will include returning starter Spencer Hadley (55 tackles, 3.5 sacks). Bronson Kaufusi (23 tackles, 4.5 sacks), also a BYU basketball player, is a nice piece by Manumaleuna up front.
The entire unit should more than support the Cougars’ offense, a side headlined by senior receiver Cody Hoffman, a preseason All-American and Biletnikoff candidate.
Taysom Hill will be the quarterback. The sophomore’s 2012 was cut short after six games because of a knee injury, but he did win both of his starts.
Hill will hand to his classmate, running back Jamaal Williams. Williams started eight games last season and set a school record for most carries, yards and touchdowns by a BYU freshman.
The Cougar offense averaged over 28 points a game last season. The defense gave up just 14 a contest.
Against that kind of national power at D in 2012, Virginia was held to seven points at TCU, the country’s No. 30 scoring defense, on Sept. 22.
Coach: Bronco Mendenhall (74-29 in eight seasons at BYU)
2012 Record: 8-5 (Won Poinsettia Bowl)
Aug. 31 at Virginia
Sept. 7 Texas
Sept. 21 Utah
Sept. 27 Middle Tennessee
Oct. 4 at Utah State
Oct. 12 Georgia Tech
Oct. 19 at Houston
Oct. 26 Boise State
Nov. 9 at Wisconsin
Nov. 16 Idaho State
Nov. 23 at Notre Dame
Nov. 30 at Nevada
Offensive players to watch (2012 stats): WR Cody Hoffman (100 receptions, 1,248 yards); QB Taysom Hill (425 yards, four touchdowns, two interceptions, 59 completion percentage); RB Jamaal Williams (166 carries, 775 yards, 12 TDs)
Defensive players to watch: LB Kyle Van Noy (53 tackles, 13 sacks, two interceptions); DL Bronson Kaufusi (23 tackles, 4.5 sacks, one fumble recovery); S Daniel Sorensen (68 tackles, three interceptions, two forced fumbles)