Now that BYU’s regular season is done, it’s plain to point out that what the Cougars just did, winning 10 of 12 games against a schedule that was indeed respectable, with seven P5 opponents on it, including five teams from the Pac-12 — all of which BYU beat — as well as a couple of quality G5 teams, was worthy of note.
It achieved a significant thing.
It swung a hammer on a longstanding notion that had lasted many years, only because it was true. The Cougars wanted to be like, act like, play like, win like an authentic big-league football program. They had always desired to be in a major conference, not the minors, such as the old WAC and the Mountain West, and that was cool and all. BYU had the stadium, the fan base, the brand, the elements that belonged among legitimate college football associations.
It had the echoes of the past: a national championship, a Heisman Trophy winner, Outland Trophy winners, a bunch of All-Americans, name quarterbacks.
But it also had a shadow hanging over it.
Through the past 15 years, those echoes had grown a bit faint.
Don’t misunderstand. This is no slam on the Bronco Mendenhall years, or even years before that under the Great One whose name is up on the stadium, who coached before Gary Crowton showed up and turned the wrecking ball loose on the entire endeavor.
There were some terrific athletes in that mix and some teams that built BYU football into … well, what it was — an innovative, dangerous team that usually won games it should win and, on any given day or night, could pose a threat to a marquee opponent here and a marquee opponent there.
The Cougars just could rarely sustain it against those teams from power leagues.
Now, they can.
And the reason they can is because they have enough athletes to hang with Arizona and Utah and Arizona State and Washington State and Virginia and USC. In the past, the Cougars may have been able to rise up on occasion for a big win now and again, to take down a couple of those teams, even better ones, but not all of them. Not bam, bam, bam, bam, bam. Not like that.
Skeptics might say some of these opposing teams were having off years or hadn’t settled on the proper quarterback yet, but that wasn’t BYU’s fault. It beat the P5 dudes who lined up against it, supposedly teams with more, better athletes. And Kalani Sitake beat the coaches strategizing against him.
Some of the victories weren’t wipe-outs, but that mattered not one iota. It might have made the achievements even more impressive. A clutch win is a win is a win is a win.
And the Cougars got 10 of them. A couple were gift-wrapped, wins that were wins the day they were scheduled. But there were fewer of those than in seasons of yesterday and yesteryear.
Bottom line is, BYU showed itself to be a fully-grown P5 team, not some cute little outfit on the dusty edge of the Wasatch out yonder somewhere that used all kinds of imagination and trickery to temporarily surprise, befuddle and bushwhack unsuspecting teams.
There were no excuses, no admissions of guilt, no newfangled formations. Instead, the Cougars lined up against the teams they played and Tyler Allgeier-ed them into submission.
There were lapses, at times. BYU had flaws. A defense that showed vulnerabilities. An offense that fell inconsistent. BYU was really good against every opponent with which it didn’t share its first initial — the letter B. Boise State and Baylor. You saw what happened against those two.
But everybody else walked off the field falling short.
In most of the years of their past, the Cougars appeared even in the good times to need a few seasons of renovation to get up to speed, if they ever were invited in.
Not saying BYU looks ready to bound to the top of the Big 12 right away.
Just saying the Cougars look prepared not to get thrashed and thumped on the reg.
And that really is saying something.
If BYU had remained where it was a few seasons back, when it fell to its nadir, a 4-9 season, followed by a couple of 7-6 years, an invitation to the Big 12 would have been an invite to get tenderized, at least for a while.
On account of adjustments Sitake has made to the way he coaches, the way he recruits, the way he motivates and disciplines and organizes and develops players, the upgrades he’s made, the Cougars are in a much better place.
That 11-1 season BYU patched together last year straight into the face of COVID and the competitive challenges that arrived alongside, all against subpar opposition, showed indications of growth, hints, but nobody was completely sure what to make of it, other than a single truth that Sitake had himself a talented quarterback.
A 10-2 season this time around against a legit schedule indicated, indicates, that there was, is, a lot more going on.
BYU has substantiated itself as a program on the rise.
Is it sustainable? Is it definitive? Will Sitake even stick around, if the offers flow in to him?
But speaking as though the recent past tense is the present, BYU is playing real football against real opponents, and it is shaking loose the doubts from good years gone by, even the best years, the national championship year, when the question that so often followed the Cougars was: Who did they play?
Anybody asking that now is reaching for reasons to put BYU down.
The cynicism that haunted them before should haunt them no more.
Let’s say it the way it is: 10-2 was, is, a helluva season for the Cougars.
Bryant Gumbel’s Bo Diddley, at last, has been put to bed.