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The Cougars have found the going a little tougher in recent seasons as a college football independent. Playing in the Mountain West Conference BYU won 50 games from 2006 through 2010. But as an independent the last two seasons the Cougars are 16-10, following back-to-back eight-win campaigns.

Now, eight wins is nothing to moan about – a lot of teams would like to win eight games. But that's not what BYU is about; BYU is about double-digit wins and bowl victories, and occasionally making a run at a perfect season. This year, with most of the offense back and a little lighter schedule, the Cougars will try to return to the ten-win plateau, and maybe shoot for more.

BYU Odds to Win College Football Championship: 300/1 at Bovada
BYU Regular Season Win Total: 9.5 at Bovada

BYU opened last year with a tough loss at Virginia, then bombed Texas, but then got upset by rival Utah. The Cougars then won five games in a row, with wins at Utah State and at Houston, averaging almost 40 points per game in the process. BYU then lost at Wisconsin, later lost at Notre Dame, and ended the season by losing to Washington in the Fight Hunger Bowl to finish at 8-5 SU, 6-7 ATS.

The Cougars had posted a winning ATS record four seasons in a row, going 32-20 vs. the numbers, until that run was broken last year.

This year the Cougars return 14 starters, three more than last year. Eight starters return on offense, including QB Taysom Hill (2,900 yards passing, 1,300 yards rushing last year), thousand-yard rusher Jamaal Williams and the entire offensive line. And six starters are back on defense, although they'll have to replace three of last year's top five tacklers.

This year's schedule is a little easier than last year's. BYU will play road games at Texas, defending AAC champ Central Florida, Boise State and Cal, but the toughest home game is against Houston. There's no Georgia Tech, no Big Ten team and no Notre Dame; there is Connecticut, Middle Tennessee, UNLV and Savannah State.

The Cougars' fate for this season is already known; if they go undefeated they'll make the new four-team College Football Playoff; and if they're bowl-eligible they'll play in the inaugural Miami Beach Bowl. If BYU can fill a few holes at wide receiver and on defense, it should make another run at 10 wins.

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The BYU Cougars have hit double-digits in the win column in six of the last eight seasons. But last year, with injuries affecting the quarterback position, the Cougars found the going a bit rough playing their Independent schedule. BYU has gone to a bowl game eight years in a row, winning its last four, and stands a good chance of extending that streak this season; getting back to double-digit victories is another story.

Odds to Win BCS Championship: +55000 at 5Dimes
Regular Season Win Total: 8 at Bovada

BYU had 14 starters back last season, and started 2-0. But the Cougars then lost back-to-back tough games against Utah and Boise State, and later lost badly to Oregon State. BYU then gave BCS-bound Notre Dame all it could handle in a three-point loss in South Bend, then trounced Georgia Tech in Atlanta, and later defeated San Diego State in the Poinsettia Bowl to finish at 8-5.

The Cougars also managed to go 8-5 ATS last year, and are now a profitable 32-20 ATS over the last four seasons. This year BYU returns 12 starters; eight are back on offense, including leading rusher Jamaal Williams, WR Cody Hoffman (100 catches last year for 1,200 yards), and three along the offensive line, but just four starters are back on defense, none on the defensive line. The Cougars will also have to replace the two guys who took the most snaps at QB last year, although sophomore Taysom Hill did some good things last season before hurting his knee, completing almost 60 percent of his passes and rushing for almost 400 yards.

This year's schedule is at least as tough as last year's; the Cougars open at Virginia, host Texas and Utah, later play at Utah State, host Georgia Tech, play at Houston, host Boise State, then end the season with three November road games at Wisconsin, Notre Dame (again), and Nevada. From afar it looks like BYU might play as many as 10 or 11 teams that make bowls this season, and might be favored in as few as five games.