Gordon Monson: BYU and Utah help tell a college football story we know all too well

When it comes to the game’s elite, it’s a script everyone’s already read, and read again.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) University of Utah hosts USC, NCAA football in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022.

College football is popular.

College football is predictable.

Those two statements are either confounding or comforting.

And they prompt a few questions, starting with this one: What the hell’s the matter with us? All … of … us.

If everybody pretty much knows what’s going to happen — with a few variations — during the CFB season, at least which teams are going to end up on top, then why would that be compelling theater? Don’t fans want suspense, drama, surprise, something new?

Or do we not want those things? Are we more comfortable with routine results?

We’re messed up, man … unless there’s so much clutter and confusion in our lives, on our planet, in our politics, in our day-to-day existence that we crave something to wrap our mitts and minds around, something to be certain of, like who’s going to win or who’s going to have the opportunity to win.

How’s this for a sure thing? Since its current conception, four teams have dominated participation in the CFB playoff — Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Clemson. They’ve taken 21 of the possible 32 playoff spots.

That’s not competitive sport. That’s a script everyone’s already read, and read again, and again, written in the stars.

Maybe that’s one of the reasons why an old John Wayne movie is fun to watch … because you know John, whatever side he’s on, is going to not just tell you what he’s gonna do, pilgrim, he’s gonna win out at the end and that’s what is most desirable.

More on that in a minute.

There is, of course, the flip side to what’s expected, restricted room in the middle for ups and downs, advances and retreats, and that flip has affected two of the teams in Utah, one much more drastically in arrears than the other.

Take BYU football. Please, take it. (Love ya, Henny.)

A lot of people thought the Cougars would have a strong team in 2022. Not a top team, mind you, just a solid one. Those people did not know that BYU’s defense was going to melt down like a Snickers bar left in the hot sun, that opponents like Liberty would run over it like a Buick over an unfortunate possum family.

But there the Cougars are, squished on the county two-lane.

It’s gotten so bad that Kalani Sitake is searching for answers to questions he never imagined he’d have to ask at this point, such as … where can I find a defensive mind more brilliant than any on my current staff to fix the durn thing? Just as desperate, he knows better recruiting is a signifiant response to the question. Too late for that to help now.

When a coach eight-plus weeks into the season is still talking about and hunting down proper execution, you know his players simply aren’t good enough. If the coaches can’t solve the problem and the players aren’t talented enough … um, a 4-4 record is a harbinger of terrifying prospects for what is just up ahead in the Big 12.

But BYU is a college football exception, too bad for the Cougars in the wrong direction.

Drastic disappointments happen, but they are unusual, as are hugely happy surprises.

Typically everyone knows what they’re going to get.

Utah is a notch below what folks thought the Utes might be, having suffered two losses over the season’s first half, but their conference run could yet save them. Their thrilling win over USC pumped energy back into a team that was ranked seventh nationally before getting beat by Florida and UCLA. They can still qualify for the Rose Bowl, and that’s pretty cool for them. They’re currently ranked 14th. Again, really good, not elite.

Elite is spoken for.

At the top tier of college football, what is written — or bet on — is often done. Some movement exists — sing a requiem for the Sooners this year — but in large measure the games don’t even have to be played.

Looking at a chart out of Vegas, the odds for candidates to win the national championship calculated back in January, 2022, bang around a bit, but not much.

Georgia was listed at 7/2. As of Monday, the Bulldogs were at 19/10.

Ohio State was 7/1. Now, the Buckeyes are 2/1.

Alabama was 13/4. Now, the Tide is 15/4.

Michigan was 12/1. Now, the Wolverines are … 12/1.

Oregon was 33/1. Now, the Ducks are 45/1.

Clemson was 12/1. Now, the Tigers are 16/1.

The biggest surprise — and a refreshing outlier — among the best teams is Tennessee, which was 100/1 and now sits at 14/1.

Utah, as mentioned, has dropped, from 33/1 to 200/1.

BYU … don’t ask.

Odds aren’t everything, but they do indicate what was expected then versus what is expected now.

And in a general sense, quick burps and belches aside, what was expected nine months beforehand is in the ballpark of being actualized.

Whichever side John Wayne is on wins.

Perhaps for all the other sides, all the teams — the 99 percenters — who have no shot at winning a national title, the hope of fulfilling much less significant dreams is enough. They’ll take a league championship, or a single upset, or a simple win on Saturday against Southwest Missouri State or whoever drives up in a bus. The hope of one day, some day, being able to shock the world sustains them, even if it’s a couple of decades down the road. Just the thought of it sustains them.

BYU’s mythical national championship in 1984 was either the best thing that ever happened to that program, giving scant fumes to fuel even now, or the worst, setting it up for 38 years of nope-can’t-quite-reach-that-far-again since.

Who wants to bet it won’t be repeated for another 38? Any takers?

Utah, meanwhile, nibbles around the edges, gaining respect inside its realm, a narrow miss in Pasadena 10 months ago lending optimism.

The ultimate goal is nearly impossible — it belongs to the expected few — but hope is a remarkable, powerful thing.

College football is popular.

College football is predictable.

Be confounded by it, or comforted. Your call.