In the preseason, the Cougars had many talented prospects come in. No.1 rated QB by rivals.com, Jake Heaps, joined the team, along with three players from The Oakridge School, Ross Apo, Tayo Fabuluje, and Teu Kautai
At the Mountain West media days on July 27, BYU was picked by 31 voters to finish 3rd in the conference behind TCU and Utah. Offensive linemen Matt Reynolds and free safety Andrew Rich were both named to the pre-season all-conference team.
The Cougars weren't directly affected by conference expansion in June, but will lose conference rival (effective Fall 2011) Utah to the newly formed Pac-12. Before Utah was invited to the older Pac-10 conference, Boise State agreed to leave the WAC and join the MWC in 2011. Rumors began circulating afterward about whether the BYU-Utah rivalry would survive the transition. On August 31, the BYU Athletic Department issued a press release that BYU would leave the Mountain West Conference next year, go independent in football beginning with the 2011 season and join the West Coast Conference for all other sports.
Defensive Coordinator, Jaime Hill was fired the day after BYU lost to Utah State, BYU's fourth loss of the season after only playing five games. BYU had not started the season with a 1-4 record since 1973. After the firing of Hill, linebacker coach Nick Howell was moved to coach the secondary and Kelly Poppinga was promoted from graduate assistant to coach the linebackers.
BYU opened the season with Y Quarterback Weekend. During Y Quarterback Weekend all 8 All-American quarterbacks, including Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian, returned and were recognized for their outstanding achievements while at BYU.
It was a back and forth battle mostly through the air between the Cougars and the Huskies. Jake Locker threw for 266 yards. Nelson and Jake Heaps combined to throw for 262 yards, 131 each. In his first start in four years though, Riley Nelson threw for 2 touchdowns while the Cougars defense swarmed Washington State forcing a safety. No turnovers occurred in the game, but BYU managed to come from behind to defeat the Huskies. The win over the Huskies evened up the series between the Cougars and the Huskies at 4-4.
The first quarter played out like most people expected the game would, all offense and very little defense. BYU had 44 yards passing to Air Force's 46. BYU had two touchdowns to Air Force's one. However the Air Force defense would turn it on in the second quarter. Nelson and Heaps would combine to throw for only 44 more yards through the final three quarters while Air Force racked up 409 rushing yards. With the turnovers that BYU had, the game would turn into a blowout in favor of the Falcons. The Falcons had only won 6 of the 30 meetings between the teams going into 2010, but they got the last laugh before BYU left for Independence and cut the series to 24-7.
In a battle where both offenses struggled, the Seminoles defense came up with the last laugh. Florida State had eight sacks, forced six punts, and made BYU turnover the ball twice, both leading to points that helped the Seminoles pull away for the win. The loss wasn't the only bad news for BYU. The following Monday QB Riley Nelson had an MRI. It was revealed that he suffered a shoulder injury during the FSU game, and it would require five to six months of surgery and rehab before he would be able to play again. The NCAA would grant Nelson a medical redshirt, allowing him to be a senior in 2012 instead of 2011.
The Cougars returned home with a new full-time starting QB in Jake Heaps knowing they would face a high powered Nevada team. BYU and Nevada had met 3 times previously, with BYU owning a 2-1 advantage.
Nevada held BYU to 320-yards of total offense in Jake Heaps first start. JJ Di Luigi rushed for 68 yards and scored BYU's lone touchdown. Only 1 turnover was forced the entire game, an Interception that allowed BYU to tie the game up, but Colin Kaepernick threw for 196 yards and effectively allowed the Wolf Pack runners to scramble throughout the game. Despite outpassing the Wolf Pack (229 to 196), BYU would fall to 1-3.
The Battle for the Old Wagon Wheel headed to Logan in 2010 with BYU having won 10 straight, with Bronco Mendenhall having never lost to the Aggies, and with BYU having not scored less than 30-points against the Aggies since 1982. With the start freshman Jake Heaps became the third freshman to have started more than one game as starting QB at BYU. All good things must come to an end though.
A 31-16 thumping at the hands of Utah State completed the Cougars non-conference season. With Utah and TCU still to go on the schedule, people began to wonder if the Cougars had any heart or if they could get bowl eligible. The defense was ranked 102nd in the nation, and the offense wasn't moving the ball past midfield. Jake Heaps was averaging more than 200-yards a game passing, but it wasn't resulting in points. Independence for 2011 seemed to be all forgotten.
BYU came into the series with the Aztecs holding a 26-7-1 record and knowing that San Diego State had never won two in a row against the Cougars. They also knew that if they lost, all chances of a bowl game would be crushed.
A hard fought homecoming game was overshadowed due to an ugly replay incident in the fourth quarter. A relatively obvious fumble that would have given San Diego State the ball and prevented a BYU touchdown was ruled instead to be BYU's ball. Replay officials agreed with the call, despite its obvious incorrectness. Following the game, accusations of partisanship were levelled against the replay officials because one of the men in the booth was a BYU employee. This was standard procedure at the time, and the lead replay official, who was the one who actually decided to uphold the call on the field, was a resident of Reno, Nevada with no connection to BYU. Despite this, the negative reaction to the incident was significant enough that three MWC officials were suspended and a new rule was put into place by the MWC which stated that alumni could no longer officiate games involving their alma mater, even if they were only assigned to the replay booth. BYU would go on to drive for a TD which gave them the 24-21 win.
The Cougars went into Ft. Worth having one main goal- show improvement over their other losses. They knew many people wouldn't pick them to win, and they knew Heaps wasn't producing as well on the road. BYU's defense showed remarkable improvement over early in the year, giving up only 3 points in the first 29 minutes. However offensive turnovers late in the first half put the BYU defense in a bad spot. The offense's ineptitude at moving the ball (only 147 yards for the game) led to BYU's downfall.
Needing to win 4 of the last 5 games to become bowl eligible, BYU began its quest against a Cowboys team that hadn't scored against BYU for the past 9 regulation quarters. Since 2006, BYU had owned the series against Wyoming by a score of 46.5-4.3 per game, and BYU led the overall series 43-30-3.
The Cougars defense dominated the game and held Wyoming to less than 200 yards. Turnovers on the offensive end kept the game close. It would take a last possession stand by the Cougar D to secure their third win of the year.
In what can only be classified as a slaughter, BYU would thoroughly crush UNLV. They outgained the Rebels offensively 516 to 144. 70 of the Rebels yards came against BYU's second and third team players.
With their first 2-game win streak in tow, BYU headed to Ft. Collins to face the Rams for the last time as MWC foes. It was the 69th meeting between the two schools, and BYU owned a 38-27-3 advantage in the series history.
The Cougars suffered 2 turnovers, including one on their opening series, but they were nearly flawless. On third down they went 12-for-13. They racked up 526 yards total offense, including 396 with the starters. Corby Eason forced a fumble that Kyle Van Noy returned for a score. The Cougars dominated the Rams in virtually every fashion as they became one wni away from being bowl eligible with two games to play.
With their first 3-game win streak in tow, BYU returned home for Senior Day and a chance to become bowl eligible. Luke Ashworth came in as the FBS Player of the Week after his 4-TD performance against Colorado State. It was the 60th meeting between the two schools, and BYU owned a 44-14-1 advantage in the series history.
The Cougars managed to have 0 turnovers, but the crowd wasn't pleased. The crowd booed many of the officials calls as the Cougs and Lobos played in the wind with a chance of rain. The Cougars managed to outgain the Lobos 494 to 259. The defense showed they had come a long way since the Utah State game as they entered the game as one of the Top 15 defenses in the nation since late October. Heaps would say the Cougars were peaking at the right time, and the Cougs walked away with another easy win to become bowl eligible.
Going into the final week of the season, the Cougars found themselves with a chance to win second place in the conference. The opponent standing in their way was their hated rival of the Deseret First Duel, the Utah Utes. Both BYU and Utah entered into the game having lost conference games to TCU, but a BYU win would give them the tiebreaker over Utah for second place.
The Cougars dominated the first three quarters, but they were unable to find the endzone consistently. With a 13-0 lead, Las Vegas Bowl representatives were ready to extend an invitation once again to BYU. BYU would cost themselves dearly in the fourth. Two turnovers led to 2 Ute touchdowns to give them a 17-16 lead. The Utes would block a Payne field goal attempt on the final play of the game to conserve the win. It would go down as one of the many great BYU-Utah games solely because of the fourth quarter.
BYU went into the New Mexico Bowl with the sole purpose of building momentum for the 2011 season. UTEP went in hoping they could score and keep up with BYU after their season had changed due to the loss of their star player. The game would turn into a high scoring affair would Freshmen would rule the day. Jake Heaps would throw for four touchdown passes and freshman Cody Hoffman would have 137 yards receiving with 3 touchdown receptions. Heaps would win the Offensive Most Outstanding Player award and would cement his role as the starter for BYU in the 2011 season. It would end up being the highlight of Heaps career at BYU. Defensively BYU senior safety Andrew Rich would earn MOP honors.