Once the whining and gnashing of teeth phase is over, and it will be, the BYU football team and its fan base can look in the mirror and say, “We’re not as good as we are. thought, nor as bad as we think. But one thing is certain, the Cougars aren’t ready for prime time as Power Five competitors. Not yet.
BYU operates as a productive 401(k) plan. The program is regular. Although they are convinced they are building for a better day, the game plan remains conservative as market volatility rages around them.
The reality is that in today’s college football, a 401(k) won’t win in the Big 12. The Cougars need cash in the currency of urgency and a little enthusiasm to take some risks. Granted, most conference teams reside in “red” states, but conservatism in politics doesn’t translate to victories on the football field.
“What do we do?” shouts the subscriber who has invested time and money in a product that does not live up to high and somewhat unreasonable expectations. Fans want to see faster, higher returns and faster in-game adjustments when things don’t work out. They’re anxious and angry, just like the man who covered our BYUtv team “GameDay” with his own objections after Saturday’s 52-35 loss.
He had a point to make, or to make, and he did. And he is not wrong. It’s time to think outside the box and change the forward forecast. Otherwise, the residence at the bottom of the Big 12 awaits you.
If the last two weeks have revealed anything, it’s that midway through a tough schedule, BYU’s size and strength still need to improve and their defensive schemes need to be altered or at least tweaked to better complement available talent.
Above all, and despite everything, BYU’s offense must score more points. Arkansas put 52 on the board Saturday, which meant the Cougars needed to score 53. Given the state of the Big 12, scoring runs will always trump preventing them.
TCU, once known for their strong defense in the Mountain West Conference, joined the Big 12 and realized that winning with defense was a G5 thing. The Horned Frogs changed their entire schedule for the spread attack to try to keep up. They didn’t get there overnight, but they did eventually. The No. 8 Horned Frogs are 6-0 and coming off a 43-40 double-overtime win over No. 11 Oklahoma State.
BYU isn’t ready for that kind of fight and certainly not on a weekly basis, but that’s where the future lies. The shootings are coming.
Notre Dame (3-3) is not the best in the world. The Irish proved it again on Saturday by losing at home to Stanford. After the Irish amassed 496 yards and converted 11 of 16 third downs against BYU in Las Vegas, the Cardinal held them to 301 yards, including three of 12 on third down.
Arkansas (4-3, 1-3) is better than Notre Dame, but the Razorbacks are tied for last in SEC West. Still, they had enough to go wild at BYU, rushing for 644 yards and scoring on eight straight possessions.
If there’s any good news to come from these losses, maybe it’s that BYU has found the blueprint for success as P5.
First, getting bigger and stronger is an obvious prerequisite and the Cougars are in a mad rush to improve recruiting. This will take time and require a little patience.
Keep in mind that when BYU put together this 2022 schedule, the Cougars had no idea a Big 12 invite was coming for 2023. Similar to 2021, they loaded P5s that include Baylor, Oregon, Notre Dame , Arkansas and Stanford because the paying fans and television partner demanded something more than a glorified G5 program.
The problem is, without the depth infrastructure, the Cougars take to the field trying to look and act like a P5, but they’re not. Not yet. These schedules leave them battered, bruised and maligned mid-season – whether they win or lose.
It’s a dilemma that can be solved with time and recruitment, as with all other P5 converts, but with 10 P5 games on the schedule next year, it’s going to get painful before it gets better. This is also where fans are concerned because everything surrounding BYU football already looks like a P5.
Saturday’s pregame festivities at a sold-out LaVell Edwards Stadium, complete with band pageantry, F-35 flyovers and in-house fireworks, screamed Big Time. A Razorbacks fan who visited Provo for the first time told me he was blown away by the atmosphere.
Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark echoed the same when he visited Provo for the Sept. 10 Baylor game. BYU has all the bells and whistles in place, now it needs brawn and brawn to go with it.
The second nugget in BYU’s plan for the future was revealed by Arkansas’ lack of interest in defense. The Cougars scored 35 points and Jaren Hall threw for 356 yards and three touchdowns and the Hogs didn’t seem to care.
An interesting trend is developing among P5 programs. The notion that “defense wins championships” has been replaced with an all-out assault to score points.
In 15 of Saturday’s P5 clashes, the average point total was 79.4, or almost 39 points per side. Alabama and Tennessee combined for 101 while both ranked in the top six of the AP Top 25 and with decorated rosters of four- and five-star players — on defense.
Among Big 12 opponents, Kansas and Oklahoma combined for 94 points, Oklahoma State and TCU totaled 83 — as did Baylor and West Virginia. These are six of BYU’s future opponents. Teams that have scored more than their opponent always celebrate. They don’t care about defense.
Even at the University of Utah, where Kyle Whittingham’s defense has been the norm for three decades, the Utes and his fans stormed Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday night in celebration – after allowing 556 yards of offense and 42 points at USC – because the only stat that matters is that Utah’s offense scored 43.
To Arkansas’ credit, their defense did just enough to offset the even score against BYU. The Hogs trailed 21-14 in the second quarter, but finished the half with 17 unanswered points, fueled by a fumble and an interception.
For a traditionalist, the angst is on the BYU defense and, knowing that, head coach Kalani Sitake promises some changes. But for the futurist, Saturday’s demise could be placed squarely on the offensive. The Cougars had all the tools in the box to score or at least keep pace with Arkansas, but when the offense hit its own brakes, the Hogs raced to victory.
Yes, the defensive scheme must change. I don’t know why the Cougars substitute so many guys on the inside and outside, and the third down defense and overall tackle are as bad as they come. Against Notre Dame and Arkansas, BYU’s defense allowed a stunning 23 of 31 third conversions.
Luckily for the remainder of the 2022 season, most of those issues can be ironed out in practice and on the recruiting track, but BYU’s future success rides with offense, just as its illustrious past has.
Scoring points as P5 and in the Big 12 needs to be the No. 1 priority and the Cougars have six games left to prepare — both physically and emotionally.
Shootings are coming in 2023 and they don’t respect recruiting stars. What matters is the number of guns and ammo in your arsenal and your will to shoot, because for BYU to win as P5, it will take everything.
401(k)s are for retirement when the work is done. For the Cougars, their dream job doesn’t even start until July 1. But with the currency of urgency, they should buy stocks now on the offensive – that’s what the Big 12 market demands.
Dave McCann is a contributor to Deseret News and is the studio host for “BYU Sports Nation Game Day”, “The Post Game Show”, “After Further Review” and play-by-play announcer for BYUtv. He is also co-host of “Y’s Guys” at ysguys.com.