COMMENTARY — What a roller coaster of a season the BYU Cougars have been on. From the 4-0 start to the four straight losses to now four straight wins in which BYU averaged 42 points a game, it’s been a crazy year to watch all the way around.
With all of the injuries and young new talent gaining experience this season, maybe this year was truly a growth year for this program. There are many problems that need to be addressed with the whole football program from top to the bottom, but BYU ended its regular season on a high note Saturday on the road, beating the Cal Golden Bears, 42-35.
Ending the regular season with eight wins was another step in the right direction for this program. Most did not think, after watching BYU fall four weeks in a row, that the Cougars could win out — but they did. It was what they needed to do moving forward and showing some progression in the right direction.
I knew deep down BYU had a chance at Cal, but wasn’t sure what team was going to show up. Fortunately, BYU put the right team on the plane and they all showed up to compete. From Christian Stewart throwing five touchdowns off 433 yards passing, to the entire defense doing what it needed to do to keep the lead, it was a very balanced game for the Cougars. BYU showed some true toughness and grit with solid running out of Algernon Brown and Paul Lasike. The Cougs played like the team they should play like week in and week out. If BYU could set the mark high and get back to a tradition of playing like it did last Saturday every week, things would fall into place for the program.
There still are a lot of changes that Bronco Mendenhall will have to make between now and the beginning of 2015, but fans are enjoying a win over this solid Pac-12 opponent. This win is big for BYU as the Cougars are now able to focus more on recruiting and pulling in the best talent they can to help where immediately needed.
This year BYU was exposed with having no depth. When many of the main starting player got hurt, the back-ups were just not ready or good enough to compete at the high level in which the team started its season off with. BYU will need to hit the junior college scene harder than ever if it wants to add depth to the roster. Beating teams like Texas, Virginia, Cal, Houston and Connecticut will help, but may not be enough to convince young ball players to come to Provo. A ton of ESPN games scheduled next year vs. BIG time teams should help. The lack of depth can be solved fast, but only wining games on ESPN will give them that hope moving into the future of this program.
Regardless of what some might think and say around the state and entire country, beating another team from a power-5 conference is a big deal. Now that the off-season is approaching, beating a bowl eligible AAC program in the Miami Beach Bowl would be another big step in the right direction to next season. If BYU can pull of this final win of the season, it could sway some recruits to move to Provo. Hopefully the coaching staff will be able to plead its case while sitting in the living rooms of both JC and high school recruits over the next couple of months. BYU did end on the right note this regular season and made many people who doubted them believers.
Was this the season that all BYU fans wanted and had hoped for? No, of course not. I personally looked at the 2014 schedule and thought that BYU would win 9 or 10 regular-season games with a chance to win a bowl game. If the Cougars could have done that with a decent level of competition, some walls would have been knocked down for BYU. Unfortunately, being Independent and having some weaker opponents scheduled hurts more than it helps in today’s college football. Years ago, BCS buster teams like TCU, Boise State and even Utah played really weak regular season schedules and still were able to make big time bowl games. Now there is no real chance of that happening. Everything is about strength of schedule and there are too many bowl games nationally to separate out the differences between the best qualified teams to play in the biggest bowl games.
Coming up for the Cougars is a Miami Beach Bowl game showdown with a team from the American Athletic Conference. The official announcement will be given this Sunday and the opponent could be one of a variety of solid programs. Some of the teams in the running when you look at the AAC would be East Carolina, Cincinnati or Memphis.
BYU has already beaten two teams from the AAC this season (Houston and Central Florida) and both are bowl eligible, too. That would not be the ideal match-up, but maybe another shot at UCF would not be so bad? This should be another good opportunity for Mendenhall to show his program off nationally, as long as the Cougars show up to be competitive and walk away with a win. I don’t care who they play, but I do want to see BYU continue making steps in the right direction and competing like it should.
The door is open for national respect. BYU just has to walk through it.
Blue Blood is a weekly column written by former BYU captain Scott Young. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. George News.
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