Provo • Questions about last year’s disappointing 4-9 football season have generally been brushed aside by the new-look BYU Cougars the past six weeks as they’ve gone about trying to rebuild a once-proud program. They are about as welcome as red-clad Ute fans on campus.
“I don’t really care about last season,” head coach Kalani Sitake said Monday. “We care about this week, right now, the work we are going to get done.”
There’s one query in particular to which players and coaches don’t have a definite response: What happened to BYU’s home-field advantage?
It totally disappeared last year — replaced by thousands of empty seats — as the Cougars went 2-4 at LaVell Edwards Stadium and bottomed out with that utterly embarrassing 16-10 loss to UMass on Nov. 18. The Cougars also lost 19-13 to Utah, 40-6 to Wisconsin and 24-7 to Boise State. They eked out a 20-6 win over an FCS team (Portland State) that didn’t win a game all season and looked decent only once, pounding San Jose State 41-20.
As the home losses mounted in 2017, attendance mostly dwindled. With the Cougars having lost seven straight games for the first time since 1968, announced attendance for the Oct. 28 game against San Jose State was just 46,451 — the smallest crowd in Provo since the stadium was expanded in 1981.
Three weeks later, after the Cougars lost their starting quarterback and the game at Fresno State and defeated UNLV 31-21 in Las Vegas, 51,355 showed up for Senior Day, only to witness arguably the worst home loss in five decades.
What kind of crowd is expected Saturday when the 1-0 Cougars play their home opener against a quality opponent, 1-0 California? BYU associate athletic director for communications Duff Tittle said they’ve sold “several thousand season and/or single game tickets” since last Saturday’s 28-23 win over Arizona and believe attendance will be comparable to last year’s September games.
Tittle said all the data is not in yet to compare 2018 season ticket sales to 2017 and previous years, but acknowledged, “It is likely that [season] ticket sales will be down a little bit" because of the disappointing season. He added that the season ticket sales in 2016, Sitake’s first year, were more than 51,000 including students, the highest they had been since the 2009 season when Max Hall and Dennis Pitta were seniors.
They have promised a better fan experience, too. A new game day app for free download on both Apple and Android phones is available. A new state-of-the-art social media video board has been added above the east stands, and the stadium now boasts “NFL-like” WiFi and DAS systems.
As for the product on the field, all agree that last Saturday’s performance was encouraging.
“I think we will continue to [play] as if this season still depends on it,” said defensive end Corbin Kaufusi. “Everyone wants to go, ‘aw, this is a great win.’ And it was. But it only matters if you keep winning. You can’t let last week d
BYU’S 2017 HOME FOOTBALL ATTENDANCE
Portland State (Aug. 26) • 55,427
Utah (Sept. 9) • 63,470
Wisconsin (Sept. 16) • 61,143
Boise State (Oct. 6) • 59,753
San Jose State (Oct. 28) • 46,451
UMass (Nov. 18) • 51,355
etermine the rest of the season. It is a week-to-week thing. So it will still be huge for us to get a win this week.”
A Bay Area native, running back Squally Canada, said winning will solve everything in BYU’s quest to regain its home-field dominance.
“We gotta protect the house,” he said. “We can’t let Cal come in here and think it is their home field and they can get a ‘W’ on LaVell’s field. That’s not what he would want. We gotta get the whole team ready and make that happen, go in with the same confidence we had against Arizona.”
Linebacker Butch Pau’u is predicting a full house, which is 63,470. That’s what BYU listed as attendance for last year’s game against Utah, but it fell to 61,143 for Wisconsin and to 59,753 for Boise State on Oct. 6, a Friday.
“There is a lot of excitement, a lot of energy, just for 65,000 people there to be cheering us on,” Pau’u said.
“Our goal wasn’t to just win the first game and call it a good year. ... You are not going to let someone walk into your house and take your stuff. So we have to protect that," said Trajan Pili.
CALIFORNIA AT BYU
At LaVell Edwards Stadium
Kickoff • Saturday, 8:15 p.m.
TV • ESPN2
Radio • KSL 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
Records • BYU 1-0, Cal 1-0
Series history • BYU leads 3-1
Last meeting • BYU 42, California 35 (Nov. 29, 2014)
About the Bears • Second-year coach Justin Wilcox has not named a starting quarterback after using three — Ross Bowers, Chase Garbers and Brandon McIlwain — in last week’s 24-17 win over North Carolina. … Patrick Laird led them in rushing in that game with 95 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries. He also caught a touchdown pass. … Their defense came up with four interceptions in the game, including two by defensive back Jaylinn Hawkins. … They are picked to finish fourth in the Pac-12 North division.
About the Cougars • They are 7-3 in home openers over the last 10 seasons, including wins over Power Five opponents Texas, Washington State and Washington. … Running back Squally Canada, who posted a career-high three touchdowns in last week’s 28-23 win over Arizona, is from Milpitas, Calif., about an hour’s drive away from Berkeley. … After posting 392 yards of total offense against the Wildcats, they are 80th in the nation in that category. They are 52nd in total defense after giving up 326 yards.