The bottoming out, or so the Cougars hope, of BYU’s football program and Utah coach Kyle Whittingham’s gift of time overshadowed everything else that happened with the state’s college football programs this past weekend.
That’s unfair to Matt Wells, Demario Warren and Jay Hill, who deserve credit for qualifying their teams for postseason play at various levels.
So before I make more observations about Kalani Sitake and Kyle Whittingham, here’s a tribute to the coaches around here with winning records in 2017:
Demario Warren, Southern Utah
With the Thunderbirds earning the Big Sky Conference’s automatic bid to the FCS playoffs (via a tiebreaker over co-champion Weber State) and receiving a first-round bye, Warren is the clear choice for the Big Sky coach of the year award. He should contend for national honors, having gone 9-2 with a team picked to finish in the middle of the 13-school league.
When he took over the program at age 31 after former SUU coach Ed Lamb joined the BYU staff, Warren faced a lot of questions about whether he was capable of sustaining the T-birds’ success. Nobody’s wondering anymore. Warren is 15-7 in two seasons.
Jay Hill, Weber State
Hill would merit as much praise as Warren, if not for the Wildcats’ home loss to SUU. Weber State received a tough playoff draw with Western Illinois coming to Ogden on Saturday, but the Wildcats know they’ll get another shot at SUU if they advance.
Hill’s challenge has been markedly different than Warren’s, as he took over a dispirited program and has steadily built a winner in his four seasons.
Matt Wells, Utah State
In one sense, merely becoming bowl-eligible is not much of an achievement for the Aggies. They haven’t beaten any team with a winning record in 2017; their six wins have come over opponents with an average of 3.1 victories.
Yet coming off a 3-9 season and being a unanimous last-place pick in their division of the Mountain West, the Aggies deserve credit for their four conference wins. USU could provide more validation by winning Saturday at Air Force, but the program’s improvement is already meaningful.
So, on to the downtrodden:
Kalani Sitake, BYU
The shocking aspect of the Cougars’ 16-10 loss to UMass was how the offensive line regressed, allowing seven sacks. Freshman quarterback Joe Critchlow’s drop-off was less surprising; there was too much celebration of his 160-yard effort the previous week at UNLV.
Even if he performs well at Hawaii this week, Critchlow will have to fight to keep the job next season. That’s healthy. What’s unhealthy is BYU’s 3-9 record. If the Cougars lose to a Hawaii team that lost 38-0 at Utah State, this will have to rank as BYU’s worst season since the Cougars went 1-9 in 1955.
Kyle Whittingham, Utah
Whittingham was almost universally praised for ordering a failed 2-point attempt at USC rather than playing for overtime, but his overtime-avoidance strategy at Washington was less embraced. With more time to process what happened and how Whittingham explained his logic for calling a timeout with 23 seconds remaining, the whole thing makes even less sense.
Whittingham said he hoped to give Matt Gay a shot at a winning field goal, so he called his second timeout with Washington facing second down at its 30-yard line. In those 23 seconds, about the only way the Utes could have gotten the ball back and tried a field goal was by intercepting a pass on the very next play. What were the odds of that? Not as good as Washington’s chances of winning in regulation, as coach Chris Petersen suddenly was emboldened to try to do, in response to Whittingham’s timeout.
It took a remarkable convergence for Whittingham’s mistake to result in defeat, without the Utes getting into overtime. But it happened.