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DICKSON: Contenders or pretenders? College football is watching BYU closely

By Darnell Dickson - | Sep 26, 2021

I much prefer watching college football over the NFL, but the No-Fun League did get something right: A win counts as a win. You win the game, it goes on the left side of the ledger. You win enough games, you go to the playoffs. You win all the playoff games, you’re the champion.

Simple. Elegant.

College football and its alleged playoff system is a mess and has been for years. Not only must you win, you must beat your opponent by the proper amount of points. You must belong to the right conference for the win to matter. The computer rankings were supposed to remove the bias but it still obviously exists. BYU will take a step in the right direction in 2023 when it joins the Big 12.

It was important on Saturday to beat a lesser opponent by a significant amount of points. In the world of college football, that legitimizes the Cougars’ first three wins (against Pac-12 teams, two of which are not longer in the Top 25) and keeps the train rolling in 2021.

Instead, after taking a 21-0 first quarter lead against a 1-2 South Florida team without a win against a Division I foe in its past 15 outings, BYU was outscored 27-14 the rest of the way.

Yes, the Cougars still won. But style points matter much more then they should if you are BYU. Anyone who thinks differently is naive.

Saturday provided no style points.

If you are satisfied with winning eight or nine games and going to a mid-level bowl game – and I heard from a few Cougar fans after the game that seemed perfectly happy just winning – hey, relish the victory.

But the BYU program should be shooting higher. The goal should be to get to a New Year’s Six bowl game.

In that sense, Saturday’s win wasn’t remotely good enough.

College football is a unforgiving game. It doesn’t take very long to fall from the lofty perch of a Top 25 ranking and a 3-0 start against the Pac-12. The margin for error is very thin. It’s so easy to lose most of the momentum you’ve built in the first part of the season.

BYU must constantly answer the question “Are you a contender or a pretender?”

In the first three weeks, the Cougars looked like a contender. On Saturday, barely holding on for an eight-point win against South Florida, they looked like a pretender.

To be fair, BYU held out some key players and the game was stopped on just about every other play for another Cougar to limp off the field. For most of the second half, BYU was playing third and fourth-stringers on defense. Now, most of those guys have had reps this year, but the final numbers are pretty dismal.

At one point, the Bulls had a 71-42 advantage in offensive plays and finished with nearly an 11-minute time of possession lead. The Cougars surrendered points on five of USF’s final six possessions and had no idea how to slow down freshman Timmy McClain, a mobile quarterback who danced his way around BYU defenders as easily as an 14 year old playing with fourth graders at recess.

Baylor Romney’s numbers were really good in his first start of the season (20 of 25, 305 yards, 3 TDs) and the offense piled up 443 yards on just 50 plays. Those long drives by USF kept the BYU offense from scoring another two or three touchdowns and providing a satisfactory margin of victory.

Coaches like to say that winning any game in college football is hard. I’m not disagreeing. Look, I get it. You have to win the game first. College coaches keep their job if they win (usually) and winning is always better than losing.

But you can’t ignore that perception is reality in college football. Again, style points matter for BYU. There are no numbers, no set of requirements that put them automatically into a New Year’s Six bowl game, which should be the program’s goal since they’ve never been to one. The Cougars could go undefeated and there are no guarantees they would be rewarded accordingly. On Sunday BYU moved up two spots in the AP poll to No. 13. Based on who lost in front of them, they would have moved up at least that much no matter the margin of victory against South Florida.

I believe this team has enormous potential.

Coaches have to play the long game. It makes sense for Kalani Sitake to rest some of his banged up starters because more difficult games are coming up.

But Saturday was ugly.

The hard fact is that this might be where everything comes unraveled for BYU in 2021.

Or maybe the Cougars learn from this game and run the table the rest of the way.

Who knows?

The 4-0 Cougars will have other opportunities to make a better impression on college football. They will be tested at Utah State, against Boise State, at Baylor, etc. Perhaps this disappointing game against South Florida will be forgotten with big wins against the rest of the schedule.

Defensive end Pepe Tanuvasa said in the post-game interviews that the Cougars haven’t played their best game yet.

They’d better hope that’s true.

College football is watching.

Evan Cobb, Daily HeraldDarnell Dickson

 

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