clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

TCU Football 2023 Opponent Preview: BYU Cougars

A Mountain West rivalry renewed as the Cougars come to Fort Worth on October 14.

Brigham Young v Boise State
Kalani Sitake looks to deliver instant success in the Big 12 for BYU
Photo by Loren Orr/Getty Images

2023 Outlook

(odds per DraftKings Sportsbook)
Season Win Total: 5.5
Odds to win Big 12: +8,000
Odds to win National Championship: +40,000
Overall Preseason SP+ Rank: 60th (Offense: 40; Defense: 80)

After twelve seasons wandering the college football wilderness as an Independent, BYU never emerged as the “Notre Dame of the West,” but a continued commitment to compete at a high level, paired with a large passionate fan base, made the Cougars an attractive addition to the Big 12. BYU previously shared a conference with the Horned Frogs, as heavyweights of the Mountain West, with the two squads often ranked and battling for BCS positioning during those showdowns. BYU reached a peak under Kelani Sitake during the 2020 campaign, with an 11-1 season fueled by No. 2 overall NFL Draft pick Zach Wilson, finishing as No. 11 in the final AP Poll. BYU will look to find even greater success as a member of a power conference, but with a challenging schedule for its first Big 12 season, there are big challenges ahead.

History Vs. TCU

The Horned Frogs lead the all-time series 6-5, including the last four matchups from 2008-2011. The Cougars have won just twice in Fort Worth, in 1996 & 2006 - watch out if BYU is scheduled to visit Amon G. Carter in 2026. BYU’s last trip to Fort Worth was a dominant four-TD Horned Frog victory in October of 2010. The Cougars do have more recent history with many of TCU’s coaches: last season the Kendal Briles-led Arkansas offense dropped 52 points in Provo as QB KJ Jefferson threw for five touchdowns and RB Raheim Sanders stomped to 175 yards and 2 more scores in a rollicking Hogs victory. While BYU will have a new defensive coordinator to attempt to slow the Briles offense, it may not inspire confidence to see the returning starters this defense will rely upon get shredded a season ago

Key Departure

WR Puka Nacua, NFL Draft
The Cougars lose big time star power from its 2022 offense, as QB Jaren Hall and left tackle Blake Freeland joined Nacua in being selected in the 2023 NFL Draft. However, the Cougars brought in Kedon Slovis from Pitt (by way of USC) to fill in behind center and preseason All-Big 12 tackle Kingsley Suamataia returns to anchor the offensive line, but BYU didn’t add anything to the wideout room that matches the impact of Nacua. Transferring to BYU after two forgettable years at Washington, Nacua was an instant impact for the Cougars, with 91 receptions, 1,430 receiving yards, 357 rushing yards, and 16 total TDs during his two seasons in Provo.

Key Newcomer

RB Aidan Robbins, grad transfer from UNLV
With the departure of leading rusher Christopher Brooks, and his 915 scrimmage yards and six touchdowns, the Cougars had a big hole to fill atop its running back depth chart. Enter Aidan Robbins, a plug-and-play instant-impact starter who amassed over 1,000 rushing yards and 9 scores for UNLV in 2022. Robbins was rated by 247Sports as the No. 2 running back in the transfer portal and a top-50 overall transfer target. Measuring 6-feet 3-inches, 240 pounds, Robbins has the strength to be a power back, bowling over defenders, but also flashes contact-evading agility, breakaway long speed, and pass-catching skill out of the backfield. Robbins will be a contender for an All-Big 12 spot by season’s end and will be a danger to defenders throughout the conference

Match Up vs. TCU

With this lone season as the only team from its state in the Big 12, before the Utes move up in 2024, this contest with the Horned Frogs is the biggest conference rivalry match up for the Cougars this season. With that target on TCU’s back, expect BYU to bring out the kitchen sink in Fort Worth in October to attempt to break its losing streak at the hands of the Horned Frogs.

The key question on offense: which version of Kedon Slovis will the Cougars get at QB this season? Will it be the true freshman at USC that wowed the College Football world with 3,500 passing yards and 30 TDs while completing 72% of his throws, or will it be the Pitt edition that couldn’t get to 60% completions and tossed just 10 touchdowns with nine interceptions? He’ll be protected by a strong O-Line featuring top returning starters joined by Power 5 transfers Paul Maile (Utah) and Caleb Etienne (OK State). With WR Kody Epps withdrawing from the transfer portal, joining fellow returning pass catchers Keanu Hill, Chase Roberts, and TE Isaac Rex, Slovis will have plenty of options at his disposal. A year ago, the Cougars did much of its scoring damage through the air; even with returning production and an experienced Power 5 QB, this offense may find difficulty attacking the TCU secondary, perhaps the Horned Frogs’ best unit. BYU may try to lean more on Aidan Robbins to grind out yardage on the ground against an inexperienced 3-man front of TCU’s defense, but the speed and physicality of the Frogs’ linebackers can be expected to prevent those runs from having explosive success. BYU will likely need to push TCU into a low-scoring affair and take advantage of mistakes or special teams plays to emerge from Fort Worth with the win.

Maintaining a low-scoring contest may be quite a challenge for the BYU defense taking on Chandler Morris and the TCU offense. In 2022, BYU ranked sub-100 nationally across the board in defensive Expected Points Added metrics, including 116th overall in EPA per play allowed. While there are multiple returning starters at every level of the defense, it was a unit that was dreadful a season ago against lesser competition. The BYU defense only generated 15 sacks in 13 games last season (130th nationally), recovered just four fumbles (t-120th nationally), and eight interceptions (t-92nd nationally). With new Defensive Coordinator Jay Hill coming in from Weber State, perhaps the Cougars will be able to create more havoc and cause more problems for opposing defenses in 2023. If TCU is simply able to execute the basics, the Horned Frogs should be able to find success on the ground and through the air continue the win streak vs. BYU (and perhaps remain undefeated on the season...) ahead of the marquee matchup the following week in Manhattan, KS for a Big 12 Championship rematch vs. the Kansas State Wildcats.