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Gordon Monson: BYU owns today, tomorrow belongs to Utah

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Zach Wilson (1) passes, with Utah Utes defensive tackle Leki Fotu (99) defending, as Brigham Young University (BYU) hosts the University of Utah, NCAA football in Provo on Thursday Aug. 29, 2019.

In this market, fans of BYU and Utah have made it clear through the years that they do not prefer essays that blend one program with the other, even though so many of them compare and measure the two quite often. This season, in a year when the teams likely will not play each other, ironically, the mix in it’s wild contrast is darn near impossible to avoid.
Here’s why: Two teams located within 45 miles of each other are playing on different planets.
The Utes pretty much have nothing to lose and the Cougars have everything to prove.
The former lost their first game to the best team they will play this season in their opener, a game that was scheduled on Nov. 21, with, at best, three or four games left to play. That’s it. Nothing more. Since it lost to USC, Utah will not defend its South title and will have no shot at a Pac-12 championship.
What’s that leave for the Utes in those remaining games? It leaves practice. It leaves live scrimmages. It leaves nothing to freak out over. Utah has a young team, as indicated in the woes of its first game, a game in which the majority of its players were freshmen and sophomores. Again, that’s not an excuse, it’s an explanation. And it’s a reason to look at 2020 with the proper perspective, using it for what it’s good for.
Getting better.
Winning doesn’t hurt, and with the Utes’ remaining opponents, there might be some room for that. But in a year where the real title-holder in the Pac-12 is sadly, unfortunately an opponent called COVID, Utah should pick up what’s left of it for its advantage.
Improvement.
That means if the Utes have a player with more eligibility left and a player with less eligibility vying to play the same position, and they are within shouting distance of each other in abilities, the younger player should get the emphasis and the playing time. That runs counter to what the thought here would be normally, but 2020 is unlike any normal year. The single argument against that is the fact that no player is losing a year of eligibility this time around, so they’re all the equivalent of nothing beyond juniors, sophomores and freshmen. How many present-day seniors will exercise that privilege to stick around is yet to be seen.
The message for the Utes is to practice today to play for and to win in the future.
Nurture the talent that is there, but abide the struggles, knowing that the talented pups will grow up, even if the wins at present are herky-jerky and the losses potentially more prevalent.
BYU is the opposite.
The Cougars, featuring the best team they’ve had in a couple of decades, need to conquer everything in their path. They need to take advantage of what they have … now.
They have some talent that could return, but … will it?
That’s the primary argument for them to load in another opponent if at all possible as soon as possible, a quality opponent. It’s been said a thousand times, the weak schedule BYU is playing is not its fault, it’s a pandemic’s fault. And while Tom Holmoe does deserve credit for loading in a bunch of Pop Warner teams, at least the Cougars have played nine games.
In a season like this one, that number should carry more weight than it usually would.
But BYU is still lacking.

With the increase in performance in Provo this year, led by an NFL-caliber quarterback and other gifted guys, too, the Cougars should take whatever chance they can to authentically announce themselves. Not suggesting here that BYU ducked Washington this week, because the stipulations the Pac-12 put on non-league opponents playing league teams were ridiculous, especially the one not just allowing a Pac-12 team to bail on a non-conference foe but requiring it, if a Pac-12 opponent became available.
That’s a freaking joke.
What is BYU supposed to do … plan on traveling to Seattle to play the Huskies, make all the arrangements, spend a week preparing for that game and then get bumped if, say, Utah suddenly is available because ASU can’t play?
That’s dumb.
On the other hand, perception is important and BYU needs to not just give utterance to the notion — or write it on a headband — that if it’s willing to play anyone, anywhere, anytime, any place, it needs to show it.
Who knows? Maybe the Cougars are cooking up some other arrangement in which they can play San Diego State this week and another team, a good P5 or Cincinnati, or some such, later on.
Point is, if they can, they should, they must.
But what if they aren’t successful in pulling it off?
The worst thing that could happen — other than something COVID-related — is for the Cougars not to be able to upgrade their schedule and then not get invited to a NY6 game by the powers that be. And then, they could be funneled into a substandard bowl game against a less-than-stellar team, ending their season without having proved themselves against a polished opponent, leaving room for mere conjecture about what might have been, but never knowing for sure.
That would be even worse than lining up and losing to a great team.
At least that failure would settle something.
Remaining unsettled would be a complete swing and a miss, and a waste.
Now is the time for them to swing away and drive a ball out of the yard, if they can.
Tomorrow, then, belongs to the Utes.
Today is the Cougars’.
Both teams need to do what is necessary to take advantage of what’s theirs.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.
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