With BYU's season opener a little more than two weeks away, it is indeed the perfect time to look at the Cougars' schedule. While it is never too early to talk football, we have a better idea how these teams are going to do now that fall practices are in swing around the country.
Here's a breakdown of BYU's 2017 opponents:
vs. Portland State, Saturday, Aug. 26
2016 record: 3-8 (2-6 Big Sky)
Last season, the Vikings had one of the more potent offenses in the FCS as they were No. 13 in their division in total offense. The reason why they only won three games last season is they also gave up an average of 478.5 yards per game, and that's good enough for No. 114 in the FCS.
Portland State has focused on forcing turnovers in fall camp. Linebacker Sam Bodine made two picks in the first week of camp, according to the team's camp notes. The Cougars can't afford to get too sloppy in their season opener, but this game should be a nice first game of the season.
vs. No. 12 LSU (at NRG Stadium in Houston), Saturday, Sept. 2
2016 record: 8-4 (5-3 SEC)
LSU's summer has not been without a little drama. Starting guard Maea Teuhema was indefinitely suspended and will now transfer away from the program. He's the latest in a small stream of 10 transfers that has left the Tigers with just 11 offensive linemen on scholarship.
Drama or no drama, LSU is as dangerous an opponent as the Cougars could ask for. Darrius Guice is the most talented and dynamic running back BYU will face in 2017. While he was a backup last year, he still managed to rush for 1,387 yards and 15 touchdowns as he picked up a lot of playing time when Leonard Fournette was out with injury. Who knows what kind of stats he's capable of now that he's the main man in Baton Rouge.
vs. No. 25 Utah, Saturday, Sept. 9
2016 record: 9-4 (5-4 Pac-12)
The Utes are as solid as ever on defense, particularly on the defensive line. Lowell Lotulelei will likely be a first-round draft pick, like his brother Star before him. The linebackers appear to have turned a corner and the secondary, though somewhat inexperienced, is still plenty talented.
It's on offense where the questions lie. The offensive line lost four starters to the NFL, and not many teams can simply replace that kind of talent without missing a beat. Plus you have new offensive coordinator Troy Taylor installing a new offense, but that could be a good thing for Utah if he can help Troy Williams become a more consistent passer.
vs. No. 10 Wisconsin, Saturday, Sept. 16
2016 record: 11-3 (7-2 Big Ten)
BYU's third ranked opponent in a row is the highest ranked and the most bruising on all sides of the ball. This is the most likely team on BYU's schedule to play in a New Year's Six bowl or perhaps even the College Football Playoff.
Chris James appears to have the lead in the race to be Wisconsin's next starting running back, according to reports. But whether James wins the job or it ultimately goes to Bradrick Shaw, the Badgers have a strong history of bruising running backs. That shouldn't change.
But the biggest worry BYU has is Wisconsin's defense. The defense is both talented and deep. Out of the 33 players who lettered last season, 27 are back. That's not good news for the Cougars as they had a Top 10 defense last season.
at Utah State, Friday, Sept. 29
2016 record: 3-9 (1-7 MWC)
The Aggies rode two key things to their best stretch in program history: A stifling defense led by NFL-caliber linebackers and a potent rushing attack involving a star running back and a dual-threat quarterback. The offensive side of this formula isn't in bad shape as both QB Kent Myers and RB Tonny Lindsey return for their senior seasons.
The defense, however, is a different story. Utah State must replace its entire defensive line and two of its four starting linebackers from last season, and it doesn't seem that this group has the same ability as those that led the Aggies to five straight bowl games for the first time in program history.
This is a sink-or-swim season for head coach Matt Wells as he fights a regression to where this program was before Gary Andersen arrived in Logan. At any rate, BYU would be foolish to underestimate Utah State, especially when having to play at Maverik Stadium.
vs. Boise State, Friday, Oct. 6
2016 record: 10-3 (6-2 MWC)
An interesting oddity about Boise State is that since joining the Mountain West back in 2011, the Broncos have won only two conference titles. That's quite a change after Boise State won at least a share of eight out of nine titles between 2002 and 2010 in the WAC. Even the Idaho Statesman is questioning if 2017 will be a turning point for better or for worse.
The Broncos have an awful lot to replace as they return just four starters on each side of the ball. However, BYU will have no trouble respecting QB Brett Rypien, who torched the BYU defense to the tune of 442 yards and three touchdowns. Rypien also has a great target in WR Cedrick Wilson, who made 56 receptions for 1,129 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2016.
at Mississippi State, Saturday, Oct. 14
2016 record: 6-7 (3-5 SEC)
This is the only true road game BYU will play against a Power 5 opponent, and it's against a revenge-minded Bulldog squad that will remember how last year's game went in Provo.
The Bulldogs were on the up-and-up on offense toward the end of last season with Nick Fitzgerald settling into the role of starting quarterback. He's a dangerous dual-threat QB as he passed for 2,423 yards, rushed for 1,375 yards more and scored 37 total touchdowns. What's remarkable is that he didn't score a single rushing touchdown until the BYU game in the middle of October and ended up scoring 16.
That said, the Bulldogs' defense didn't live up to what you expect from a SEC West team, but now they have a new defensive coordinator in Todd Grantham. We'll see if he can get things turned around by the time the Cougars come to Starkville.
at East Carolina, Saturday, Oct. 21
2016 record: 3-9 (1-7 AAC)
East Carolina had one of the least disruptive defenses in the nation last season as it finished dead last in the FBS in both sacks and turnovers while also being No. 126 out of 128 in turnover margin. The Pirates are moving to a 4-2-5 defense to try to shake things up.
The quarterback situation is still up in the air as Duke transfer Thomas Sirk battles with Gardner Minshew in fall camp. So the Pirates have plenty of things to figure out before the season starts.
vs. San Jose State, Saturday, Oct. 28
2016 record: 4-8 (3-5 MWC)
San Jose State is a far cry from the team that won 10 games and beat BYU back in 2012. The Spartans were one of the worst teams against the run last season as they gave up 246.7 yards rushing per game. That's one of many issues that new head coach Brent Brennan has to deal with. The Spartans are still looking for a starting quarterback as Josh Love and Montel Aaron battle it out with the other four QBs on the roster.
The bright spot on the team is the secondary, which includes All-Mountain West cornerback Andre Chachere. Still, this team has plenty to sort out before it can reach the heights of 2012.
at Fresno State, Saturday, Nov. 4
2016 record: 1-11 (0-8 MWC)
It's pretty safe to say that Fresno State hit rock bottom last season after winning just one game. Now, former Cal head coach Jeff Tedford is tasked with picking up the pieces and trying to put together a viable team out of this mess.
First and foremost, the Bulldogs need to figure out how to score again after averaging a pathetic 17.7 points per game last season. At least Fresno State has nine returning starters on this side of the ball, but new offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer has his work cut out for him.
Fresno State should be better, but it's going to take more than one season for Tedford and the new coaching staff to get this program back to the postseason.
at UNLV, Friday, Nov. 10
2016 record: 4-8 (3-5 MWC)
There's been plenty of hype surrounding redshirt freshman quarterback Armani Rogers. There's even been comparisons between him and Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton. Whether Rogers lives up to that kind of hype or not, the Rebels have some serious issues on defense that could render the who thing moot. UNLV returns just two starters on that side of the ball. That may be a blessing in disguise as last year's defense gave up 430.1 yards per game last season and 36.8 points, but it's hard to see an instant turnaround with 10 new starters.
vs. UMass, Saturday, Nov. 18
2016 record: 2-10 (independent)
The Minutemen aren't finding independence easy after winning just one game against an FBS opponent last year. Still, they do have a few solid transfers from P5 programs in former Virginia Tech QB Andrew Ford and former Penn State tight end Adam Breneman. Breneman is one of, if not the best, tight end in the nation.
But UMass needs to find a defense if it wants to start having success. It has a new defensive coordinator in former Western Michigan's Ed Pinkham. But turning around a defense that gave up 452.7 yards per game last season will probably take more than one year.
at Hawaii, Saturday, Nov. 25
2016 record: 7-7 (4-4 MWC)
If there's a trap game in the second half of BYU's season, it's the finale against the Rainbow Warriors. This team appears to be getting its offensive mojo back as returning starter Dru Brown threw for 585 yards and nine touchdowns in his last two games.
The defense, while not stunning, isn't devoid of playmakers. Linebacker Jahlani Tavai made 19.5 tackles for loss last season. If BYU isn't careful, this trip to the Hawaiian Islands could turn into anything but paradise.