DICKSON: Media day reminds BYU football of past, present and future
Those attending BYU football media day at the school’s broadcast center on Wednesday were greeted with a large banner proclaiming, “Welcome to the future home of Big XII football.”
None of the Cougar players or coaches wore gear with the Big 12 logo, though a large portion of the questions asked were about next season’s move to the new league.
Two of the best days of Cougars fandom will always be Friday, Sept. 10, 2021, (BYU announces it will join the Big 12 in 2023) and Saturday Sept. 11, 2021, (Cougars knock off Utah to end a painful nine-game losing streak against the Utes).
With all the pats on the back for earning a Big 12 invite, BYU must maintain real focus on the season ahead of them. Formidable Power Five opponents such as Baylor, Oregon, Notre Dame, Arkansas and Stanford are on the slate, as well as regional opponents Boise State, Utah State and Utah Tech along with the opener at South Florida and games against Wyoming, Liberty and East Carolina.
Though, I gotta say, seems like BYU gave up a lot to play the Irish in Las Vegas this year, where Cougar fans are going to find tickets very hard to come by in what will be considered a Notre Dame home game.
I guess it’s better than not playing them at all, but still.
The BYU football program exists in a very unique place this spring. The Cougars know they will bid farewell to a 12-year stint in independence sometime this winter but must still play a very challenging independent schedule this season. Fortunately, this is a veteran, mature roster that looks like it can handle the mental and emotional challenge.
The players and coaches are well aware that a successful 2022 can be an important launching pad into Big 12 air space.
Typically, confidence is high in June and it certainly is in Provo. The offense is loaded and the defense, which was pretty good early on before injuries decimated its depth, is healthy.
The Cougar coaches were pretty optimistic about recruiting, noting that the biggest impact of the impending Big 12 move is that other teams can’t play the “They aren’t a P5 program” card anymore.
Like the rest of college football, BYU is learning how to deal with the name, image and likeness (NIL) mess — director of athletics Tom Holmoe said too many rules are being broken and the whole thing is out of hand. Last August the school released information about Built Bar funding scholarships for walk-ons, a deal that looks quaint compared to the millions of dollars some P5 programs are flashing at prospective recruits.
BYU coaches say huge NIL deals aren’t part of their recruiting pitch. Associate head coach Ed Lamb said he’s betting his professional life on the fact that you build programs through finding the right fit, not NIL money.
It’s hard not to like what BYU will put on the field in 2022. The offense has playmakers at the skill positions, including NFL prospect Jaren Hall at quarterback and newcomer Christopher Brooks earning his spot at RB1 (according to offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick, anyway), a large group of talented receivers and tight ends and perhaps one of the all-time great offensive lines to wear blue.
The Cougars were No. 3 in the country in red zone offense in 2021, converting at 73%.
“We want to be No. 1,” Roderick said.
Defensively, BYU has a lot of experience and a chip on their shoulder after allowing a ton of yards and points in the latter half of last season. Defensive end Tyler Batty said the Cougar defense will be much, much better at getting off the field and not allowing 12, 13 or 14-play drives like it did too often in 2021.
BYU was 6-1 last year against Power Five opponents, though those six wins were by an average of just 8.3 points per game. Roderick said one of the big lessons learned from last year was simply finding ways to win.
“That’s all that matters,” he said.
Getting into the Big 12 will allow BYU to focus more on just winning, not how pretty that win is.
Head coach Kalani Sitake is heading into his seventh season in Provo and his “love and learning” culture has a lot of momentum.
“What I really like about our culture is that with love and learning, there’s no limit,” he said. “We have the growth mindset and you can always find new ways to love and learn.”