Just what does Friday’s BYU football game at Houston mean to the No. 13/14-ranked Cougars?

On the surface, this isn’t as big as other games in past years since Houston is coming off a 4-8 season last year and is currently in the “Others receiving votes” category of the national polls (No. 42 in the AP poll, tied for No. 47 in the coaches poll).

But in a pandemic-ravaged season, BYU has to take advantage of every moment to shine that it gets.

“Obviously Houston presents a great opportunity for us,” BYU senior safety Troy Warner said earlier this week. “They showed a lot of upside in their game that they played last week. I think it’s a great opportunity for us to show everyone that we are capable of accomplishing great things this year. Houston is a great team and we are excited for the opportunity.”

After completely dominating in the first three games, the team from Provo didn’t impress as much in last week’s 27-20 win over UTSA at LaVell Edwards Stadium.

That means facing Houston is a chance for BYU to prove it deserves its lofty ranking.

“We had a little hiccup in this last game but this is a chance to show that we are able to clean those things up and still execute at a very high level,” Warner said.

BYU has plenty of respect for the Houston program, even though the red-uniformed Cougars weren’t a national power in 2019.

“This is a really quality opponent,” BYU head coach Kalani Sitake said. “You could see from their roster that there is a lot of experience returning and a lot of veteran guys on their team. What sticks out is their athleticism and speed. They have a lot of playmakers.”

While the blue-uniformed Cougar players may be hungry for national recognition and to earn a spot as a great team, Sitake is more about the process.

“I don’t care anything about hype,” Sitake said. “I just want to play our best. The rankings, the criticism or the praise, it doesn’t matter. Those are all distractions. We have to work and work really hard. We want to get back on track to play how we know we can play. If we can play at our best and minimize the mistakes, then we’ll be a lot more comfortable with our performance. We’ll have to see how that matches up against Houston.”

BYU junior offensive lineman Brady Christensen said this is “a huge game for us” but immediately qualified it by adding that the next game is always the biggest game on the schedule.

“This is the biggest game of the season so far and we know that, so we’ve got a lot of urgency,” Christensen said. “We’re excited and need to be ready to go. We’re excited for the challenge.”

The game will mark the first time BYU has been on the road since facing Navy in the first week of the season back on Sept. 6.

“We love road games,” Warner said. “It’s cool to travel around the world but especially to Texas. I think it’s going to be fun.”

It will also be the first time in 2020 that BYU will play a game with fans in the stadium. Approximately 25% capacity is expected to be allowed to be in attendance at TDECU Stadium.

“That’s something we’ve been wanting all along,” Warner said. “We’re excited to have that different experience this year and we’ll take advantage of it.”

The reality is that (as anticipated) 2020 has been a unique year and that means the BYU players and coaches are making the most of everything they have.

“It’s unfortunate and we’ve played through it,” senior defensive lineman Bracken El-Bakri said. “Life isn’t going to always give you what you want. But there are silver lining too. We’ve had a lot of fun and played opponents we wouldn’t have played before. For me, when we go into the games just facing the next opponent. We do what we do. I love it and I hope to continue to play.”

Daily Herald sports reporter Jared Lloyd can be reached at 801-344-2555 or jlloyd@heraldextra.com. Twitter: @JaredrLloyd. Instagram: @JaredrLloyd.

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