It is hard to really measure this season for BYU. Another 10-win season would certainly make it a success, considering that would make the Cougars one of just six FBS schools with 10 or more wins in five of the past six seasons. In Year 1 as an independent, everybody at BYU will take that. But a closer look at the schedule reveals the Cougars have one victory over a team with a winning record. In the "big games" against three bowl teams -- Texas, Utah and TCU -- they went 0-3. Granted, Texas and Utah came early in the season, when BYU was struggling with Jake Heaps as the starting quarterback. Not all the blame can be put on his shoulders, though, because everything was going wrong on offense. The offensive line, backs and receivers were not playing well, either.
Once Riley Nelson took over for Heaps, things seemed to stabilize. And just like last year, BYU ended the season on a nice little run to get to nine wins, an improvement over its 7-6 record in 2010. Heaps has decided to transfer because it became clear he was no longer the future at quarterback for the Cougars. He won't play in the bowl game. So now it appears Nelson is the man to lead this team into 2012, with plenty of improvements to be made.
Offensive MVP: Riley Nelson, QB. Nelson came in for Heaps against Utah State and provided the spark needed to get a victory. He went 4-1 as a starter -- 5-1 if you count the Idaho win in which he got hurt and left the game. He finished the year with 1,467 yards passing and 16 touchdowns, and added 376 yards on the ground. The Cougars seemed to rally around Nelson, and that was a big reason for the improved play.
Defensive MVP: Kyle Van Noy, LB. Van Noy had a team-leading 10 tackles for loss, with five sacks, three interceptions, nine quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles. He finished with 58 tackles, and also saved the day in a win over Ole Miss.
Turning point: Beating Utah State. Nelson engineered a comeback in the fourth quarter after the Cougars trailed 24-13, leading them to a 27-24 win. BYU ended up winning six of its final seven games, and Nelson supplanted Heaps as the starter. That game was essentially the beginning of the end for the Heaps era at BYU.
What’s next: BYU is headed to the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl to play Tulsa, then it is on to the second year as an independent after turning down overtures from the Big East to join as a football-only member. There is plenty of young talent on this team returning, but it will be interesting to see how Nelson handles his responsibilities when he goes into 2012 as the starter.