In the aftermath of BYU’s 30-12 loss to Utah, evidence of Cougar football’s problems are scattered in pieces on the ground, like a weather balloon crashing on the LES field, taken down by lightning strikes.
A hundred of them.
A delay in the action did not, could not spare the Cougars another loss against a quality opponent.
And that quality-opponent deal is one of BYU’s problems. In its independence, the school’s leadership has scheduled as many top-drawer teams as it can, including the Utes. That leadership has claimed, in so many words, that to be the best, you have to play the best, at least the best you can sign up against. So, the scheduling has gone throttle up, with a few unavoidable stragglers toward the end of the season.
The difficulty with that is BYU football is not ready to beat the best, not with any consistency. The Cougars occasionally knock off a marquee opponent like Wisconsin, as they did last season. But they lose a whole lot more than they win against competition like that.
The result against Utah is the latest example, the Utes’ ninth straight victory over BYU. It was emblematic of what BYU has become — a gutty bunch of diligent workers who try real hard, but who are not talented enough, through no real fault of the players themselves. They cannot be better than they are. They simply are not at the same level.
And, yet, they play in a 60,000-seat stadium in front of a fanbase that wants to believe, on account of some vague memories of a national championship awarded 35 years ago, that the team for which it roots can somehow pull off athletic miracles on whims, wishes and prayers, week after week.
Here’s the truth: It cannot.
The only way BYU football can reach that level is if it commits the sizable resources necessary, with the proper structure and qualified leadership, to make it happen. It might also have to rearrange some of its policies.
That’s complicated, and maybe impossible.
Noted, the Cougars are not part of a P5 league, and they do not have the squadron of Brinks trucks that come with that membership. (They do have other potential sources of funding.) But they are scheduling — and thereby perpetuating a rapidly disintegrating myth — as though they are capable of competing against and beating that kind of competition.
They can, on occasion. But not with any consistency.
They are not the Notre Dame of the West. They might be the third-best college team in Utah.
And still, there the players are, out there on the field against Utah — and teams of that ilk, such as Tennessee, USC and Washington — representing BYU, repping their program’s mythology, all as administrators, athletic directors and coaches continue to pretend that loads of winning will come through hard work and proper preparation and prayer.
But it won’t.
There are no shortcuts in sports, not any divine intervention, at least not any that lasts. You either commit the resources required, provide the right leadership, construct a plan and a process that will draw in the necessary talent, or you lose as much as you win.
Or you back off the expectation. And that’s OK, too.
You punt independence into the ionosphere, you quit scheduling the way BYU does, you kill the myth, you join a league which you might be able to compete in and sometimes, in good years, conquer.
You be what you are.
What you don’t do is build the fans up, stoke their expectations, sell the home schedule, and then trot the kids out and watch them battle as best they can, only to get their heads kicked in, their tongues tasting the bitterness of defeat. Again and again.
Nothing wrong with playing a few good teams. But what objective observer didn’t feel a little sorry for BYU’s players and coaches on Thursday night against the much more talented Utes? In that game, Utah looked like the old cartoon character that, while yawning and looking away, held its arm and hand straight out into the forehead of another character, the one with its legs and feet spinning in a circle but getting nowhere.
It wasn’t the players’ fault they weren’t as good as the Utes.
Whose fault is it, then?
Not sure it was the coaches’ fault, either.
Look a little higher up.
Not that high up. God doesn’t care who wins football games.
Administrators should care. University leadership should care.
If they don’t, then portray and project BYU football for what it really is — a nice little appendage to a religious school that has its standards, has its honor code, has its academic requirements, has its mission, none of which earnestly includes playing big-time college football, not at its lofty levels.
Maybe the Cougars will pull off an upset or two this season. They have some talented players, some talented coaches, just not enough of them to be what they want to be.
Existing in a mirage, then, where the goals and the reality do not match up, must be painful for everyone in the program, and for those on the outside who have a rooting interest. At the current rate, in this strange state of denial and independence, it will be interesting to see how long that widespread rooting interest lasts.
Sooner or later, either way, BYU will have to face what’s real.
It will have to make systemic changes, significant ones, invest in its program, get lucky with a P5 conference, join a G5 league, or lessen its football aspirations.
Anything is better than wallowing in a myth, even if ESPN televises it.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.