BYU QB Zach Wilson throws a short pass to RB Lopini Katoa, who finds his way into the end zone for the touchdown (0:26)
BYU football had already started preseason camp in August when the bottom apparently fell for the Cougars
One by one, conferences started canceling their fall seasons or going only to conference games, and BYU, one of the few independents left in college football, was left with only three games on a schedule that was once billed as perhaps the strongest in the program’s rich history, a schedule that included three Pac-12 teams, two Big Ten teams and one SEC team
« It’s been a roller coaster of ups and downs, just praying that we go play football this year, » BYU junior quarterback Zach Wilson said this week
So when Wilson, or anyone else on the BYU team, learns that the undefeated Cougars haven’t really played anyone at this point, he has an answer ready.
“Everyone would say your schedule isn’t as good this year, and I’m like, ‘Hey, we’re playing football We can’t complain,’ Wilson said. ‘It doesn’t matter who we let’s play We’re going to show we’re a good team no matter what «
The 2020 college football landscape has already been quite eerie amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with conferences canceling their seasons and then reconsidering, games postponed, head coaches contracting the virus, once touted defenses giving up yards and points in record numbers and teams playing in front of a handful of masked supporters in stadiums normally packed to the brim
For BYU, however, it’s almost as if the Cougars have played in a vacuum so far despite going 4-0, despite dominating three of their top four opponents, and despite Wilson having entered Heisman Trophy numbers
In fact, Friday’s road game against Houston at TDECU Stadium (9:30 am ET, ESPN and ESPN App) will be the first time in all season that No 14-ranked BYU has played in front of all the La Cougars Navy rout 55-3 in Annapolis was played in an empty stadium under Maryland state regulations and their three home games at LaVell Edwards Stadium were also without fans due to the regulations of the State of Utah, although BYU is hoping to have fans in home games later this season
« It’s weird because you go to games and you feel like no one is watching because the stands are empty, » said Wilson, who has accounted for 14 touchdowns and threw just one interception in his first four games
One of Wilson’s favorite targets, junior wide receiver Gunner Romney, said the Cougars had to « create their own energy on the field » in the games
« It was quite weird and awkward [with no fans in the stands], » said Romney, who is 22 on average 7 yards per take
And yet BYU coach Kalani Sitake saw the kind of spirit, commitment and advantage from his team that should serve the Cougars well in a season like no other.
“We have to have this chip on our shoulder,” Sitake said “It’s kind of how we’re built, and it doesn’t matter what our track record is or what our ranking is or all that. We have a lot to prove It’s just our mindset here Our mindset is based on the fact that we have to prove something to people and prove it to ourselves
If this place at the table is a place in the college football playoff conversation, should the Cougars be undefeated – and only Clemson, Ohio State and Marshall have a better chance of going undefeated this season than BYU, according to ESPN’s FPI – – it’s more fantasy than reality
The Cougars’ lack of schedule would be a deciding factor in the eyes of the PSC selection committee, even though they may have added Boise State and San Diego State in recent weeks to get 10 games But a set of six New Year’s bowls wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility, let alone the kind of national recognition that has eluded BYU for more than a decade.
The last time BYU finished in the top 10 in the last AP poll was in 1996 (No 5), when LaVell Edwards was still coaching The Cougars were 14-1 this season with Steve Sarkisian as senior quarterback. BYU’s last top 25 dates back to 2009 (No 12)
So what has to happen in order for the college football world to take this BYU team seriously with no Power 5 teams on their schedule?
“I think it depends on how we beat teams,” Wilson said. “If we comfortably beat teams and show dominance and show our ability to rack up lots of yards and show our ability to have big explosive games, I think the locals will say, ‘Hey, that’s a good team’ «
That’s what makes the Houston game so important, especially given BYU’s shaky performance last week in a 27-20 win over UTSA.
“We had a lot of mental mistakes and missed homework and were able to learn from a win,” Wilson said “It may help us put that chip back on our shoulder, because we haven’t done anything yet. «
Regardless of what happens the rest of the time, Sitake said he’s proud his team stayed the course, never stopped working and never stopped believing that there would be a season
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« This year has been so different from any other year, obviously, but the level of appreciation is what I admire the most from our players, that they are grateful to be here and to being together to train and play, ”said Sitake, who is in his fifth season as BYU head coach.“ There’s a different mindset, a different perspective on things now because of pandemic I think it has brought out to all of us what matters most
And given all the uncertainty and the winding road just to get to this point, Sitake has no interest in looking ahead and playing the « what if » game. At least, as he points out. if so, not when your mere participation in a game depends on the next set of test results
« Right now, if we’ve learned anything through this pandemic, it’s to focus on the here and now, on this day because you don’t know if you’re going to get out of it tomorrow, » a declared Sitake
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