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New Year’s Resolutions For BYU Athletics In 2021

BYU football coach Kalani Sitake on the sideline during the Cougars 22-17 loss against Coastal Carolina. (BYU Photo/Jaren Wilkey)

PROVO, Utah – The 2020 calendar year was difficult in so many ways, but BYU athletics thrived the past year. If 2021 replicated the Cougars’ success the previous 12 months in their athletic department, nobody would complain.

But with a new year comes a new set of challenges for BYU athletics. If I was in charge of creating resolutions for BYU teams, here are some recommendations I would give.

BYU Football

  • Salary raises for the coaching staff

An 11-win season doesn’t happen all the time. When it does happen, it deserves to be rewarded. This year’s BYU football coaching staff deserves the love for their efforts with increased salaries. It would be something done behind the scenes as BYU doesn’t disclose salaries, but it would be a nice tip of the cap for a rewarding season.

The challenging part is the financial shortfall BYU is facing this year of around $20 million. Fans and donors have donated more than $10 million to make up for the losses caused by COVID-19. Maybe the pay increase is tabled to 2022, but a commitment to BYU’s staff is deserved and would go a long way towards showing Kalani Sitake’s program the commitment that it earned in 2020 as they continue to build into the future.

  • Establish who the quarterback is out of spring

Maybe this is a tall order, but it would go a long way for BYU football in 2021 if they could identify their starting quarterback coming out of spring practices. Baylor Romney was the backup quarterback to Zach Wilson throughout the entire 2020 season, and he has experience under his belt.

Jaren Hall might be the most athletic QB BYU has now that Wilson is gone. He missed the entire 2020 season due to an injury.

Then there’s a pair of freshmen in Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters and Jacob Conover. Conover was the scout team quarterback this season and learned the offense in short order after not enrolling until September.

There’s no shortage of talent in Aaron Roderick’s QB room. Who will it be? He has the time to decide, but it wouldn’t hurt to have someone establish themselves as the clear-cut number one coming out of spring ball.

  • Beat Utah

Utah will be going for a record 10th consecutive win in the rivalry. If BYU can’t pull off a victory in Provo this year, the Cougars won’t get another crack at the Utes until 2024. BYU hasn’t won a game in this series since 2009.

  • Leverage 2020’s success into a great 2022 recruiting class

The importance of winning games tends to get overblown by people who don’t follow recruiting closely. You’ll rarely -if ever- see a prospect commit to a school because of a win in a certain game. What does get prospects to a particular school is relationships, a style of play, and getting players to the NFL.

BYU is well on their way to having their biggest year in the NFL Draft in more than a decade, and it’s happening with players who were not highly recruited. Zach Wilson? He was a three-star prospect who didn’t pick up many Power 5 offers until he de-committed from Boise State. Dax Milne? A preferred walk-on. Brady Christensen? An undersized two-star prospect who became a first-team AP All-American.

If BYU can get those guys to the league, the pitch to land four-star prospects who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should become a lot stronger on the recruiting trail. Parlay the success from 2020 into a deep and talented 2022 class that will likely be smaller than usual due to limited scholarships available.

BYU Men’s Basketball

  • Win the WCC Tournament

It’s been 20 years since a BYU basketball team won a men’s conference tournament championship. BYU has a player on its roster this year that wasn’t born when the Cougars last won a conference tournament title. To say the least, it’s been a while.

This year is going to be tricky getting an NCAA Tournament bid with uneven schedules. BYU’s non-conference schedule was challenging, and the Cougars navigated it with a 9-2 record. But as we’ve seen in football, selection committees won’t forgive teams outside the power conferences with the strength of schedule, even in a pandemic. The only way for BYU to guarantee they’ll be in the Big Dance this year is by winning the conference tournament.

Gonzaga might be the best college basketball team assembled in decades, but on one night in an empty gym, anything could happen.

  • Win a game in the NCAA Tournament

If BYU lands a spot in the NCAA Tournament, win a game. They’ve got one of the best guards in the country this year in senior Alex Barcello, and Matt Haarms is starting to hit his stride at BYU. If BYU gets a bid, they have the personnel to cause some damage in the dance.

  • Continue to land big-time grad transfers

When it comes to pursuing graduate transfers in college basketball, you have to take a page out of The Mandalorian, “This is the way.” BYU under Mark Pope has done a great job of tapping into the best of both worlds with heralded in-state high school players and then casting a wide net with heralded transfer portal players.

Matt Haarms and Brandon Averette have found success this season and will be key pieces for the run BYU could make in March. The success of those two players and undergrad transfer Barcello should make BYU an attractive landing spot for anyone hitting the portal this year.

BYU Athletics

Women’s Basketball: Shaylee Gonzales leads Jeff Judkins’ team to a Sweet 16 and becomes the next big star nationally in women’s hoops.

Men’s Volleyball: Gabi Garcia Fernandez and Will Stanley get the chance to finish the job and win BYU’s first men’s volleyball national title since 2004.

Women’s Volleyball: Make 2019 an outlier by making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.

Women’s Soccer: Put together another WCC championship season as the follow-up to an undefeated 2019 regular season.

Baseball: Find the pitching rotation that will lift Mike Littlewood’s program back to the regionals.

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12–3 p.m., KSL Newsradio). Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper and the KSL Sports app

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