BYU football: could the Cougars go undefeated this year?
BYU got off to a good start this fall. The Cougars, the only team in the country to open with three Power Five schools, are not only unbeaten, but have not even played a game this season. They’ve shown a knack for big moves when it counts, be it Tyler Allgeier knocking the ball out of an opponent’s grip in a groundbreaking game against Arizona State or making important stops on fourth down. For all of this, the Cougars rank 15th in this week’s AP Top 25 poll.
So far, her addition to the surprising 2020 pandemic season has been doing everything all over again, even without quarterback Zach Wilson and other loyal members of that team.
The Athletic’s Stewart Mandel summed it up well: “We thought the BYU moment came and went with Zach Wilson, but lo and behold, the Cougars started 2021 with wins against three Pac-12 enemies; the last two, Utah and Arizona State, were rated at that time. The BYU defense did not allow more than 17 points in any of their matchups. … Do we dare to dream that Kalani Sitake will bring an 11-0 BYU team to the (LA) Coliseum on November 27th (against USC)? “
Even so, the Cougars, 14-1 since the start of last season, are still faced with the same old question: how good are they really? They are 15 in the AP ranking; in the USA Today Coaches survey they are 16. They are in the Massey rankings – a composition of about two dozen surveys – in 20th place. Expect some variance from survey to survey, especially at the beginning of the season, but no school The top 25 has received such a wide range of rankings – from 4th place in Billingsley to 68th place in Sagarin. BYU has always been a problem for pollsters and has been since the 1980s. No other team causes them more dismay.
(Sagarin may want to upgrade the motherboard of his computer leaderboard; it ranks Utah in 35th place ahead of BYU – the same team that beat BYU 26-17. Arizona State ranks 38th – the same team beat BYU 27-17. It’s like say 2 + 2 = 68.)
There was certainly room for some skepticism last year when BYU won 11 of 12 games against a weak schedule – one that had to be rebuilt at the 11th hour due to pandemic cancellations. In the final ranking, the Cougars finished 11th despite a strength-of-schedule ranking of just 106.
They beat three Pac-12 teams this season, and the last time we checked Pac-12 was still a power five conference (whether this is deserved is another question). The results were remarkably similar – in the order of 24-16 across Arizona, 26-17 across Utah, 27-17 across Arizona State. On the other hand, it turns out that Arizona is not a good team – the Wildcats are 0-3 and have just lost to Northern Arizona. And Utah is 1-2, his only win comes against FCS Weber State. Time will tell how good Arizona State is. The strength of BYU’s schedule ranks 53rd.
All the Cougars can do is keep winning, just like last season, and the votes will come. Last season’s sluggish schedule wasn’t as important as their 11-1 record in the final vote.
As many have noted, there isn’t a team on the rest of the schedule that looks unbeatable for BYU. You will next play 1-2 South Florida, in Provo, then travel to Logan to play against Utah State, which is unbeaten and taking street wins against Washington State and Air Force.
Boise State, which has become a rival adversary over the years, has lost close games against UCF and Oklahoma State.
The Cougars then travel to Baylor, which is unbeaten in three games, including a 45-7 game last week in Kansas. The Baylor and Utah State street games seem to be the biggest challenges up until the finals.
The Cougars will also travel to Washington State, which is 2-1 with losses to Utah State and USC and a win over Portland State.
Virginia, trained by former BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall, stands 2-1, with wins over William and Mary and Illinois and one loss to nationally ranked North Carolina. Mendenhall was the BYU head coach when the Cougars played Virginia in 2014. The Cougars won 41-33 in Provo.
Idaho State and Georgia Southern – the former an FCS school and a weak one at that, the latter a former FCS powerhouse that has clinched a win so far this season.
USC, who sacked their head coach after losing to Stanford, are 2-1, beating San Jose State and Washington State.
It looks like the Cougars have set for another memorable run with their strong start.