COUGAR TRACKS

BYU Football Missing The Bowl Season Provides New Reality In Big 12

Nov 25, 2023, 8:00 PM | Updated: Nov 26, 2023, 7:43 pm

STILLWATER, Okla. – BYU football closed out the regular season on Saturday with a 40-34 loss to Oklahoma State in double-overtime.

The gutwrenching setback sends BYU into the offseason on a five-game losing streak.

It’s the first time since 1955 that BYU has wrapped up a regular season on that long of a skid.

That’s nearly two decades before LaVell Edwards became the head coach.

The Western Athletic Conference wasn’t created the last time BYU capped off a year on a five-game losing streak.

First-year in the Big 12 sent BYU football into a five-game losing streak

It’s BYU’s hard reality in a Power Five conference. No one will mistake the Big 12 as the toughest league in America on the gridiron in most seasons. But in this league, everyone has depth, size, and talent.

“Talking to the guys, they now know what to expect in the Big 12,” said BYU head coach Kalani Sitake after his team lost to Oklahoma State.

Sitake added, “It’s hard to tell the guys to get bigger and stronger when they haven’t been through the fight. Now they’ve been through it. It will be much easier to tell our guys to get more meat on their bones when you have to tackle these big backs. It seems like every back in this conference is one of the best in the country. And this (Ollie Gordon) was the best.”

For years, BYU was a big fish in a small pond. They dominated the WAC after Arizona and Arizona State left for the PAC-8.

During the Mountain West era, they were the most prominent brand, and the whole existence of that startup league in the late 90s centered around BYU.

In the Big 12, BYU is just a team. A team that is looking to find its footing and identity.

During Saturday’s loss to Oklahoma State, BYU had the bounces go their way in the first half. They went into the halftime locker room with a 24-6 lead and all the momentum.

But as with Power Five football, things can change quickly, especially against a team that had a trip to the Big 12 Championship Game on the line.

Oklahoma State attacked BYU with quick slants from quarterback Alan Bowman to receivers Leon Johnson III and Brennan Presley. Plus, they handed the ball off to Ollie Gordon 34 times, who racked up five touchdowns.

It’s the conference stage BYU always wanted for decades. But the margins for error are razor thin. They aren’t used to operating in that world.

BYU won’t quit

One thing that BYU showed is that they never gave up on the season. Simply effort or BYU’s way of doing things might not be enough annually in the Big 12.

But it’s something to build on that helps add to the culture of Kalani Sitake’s program.

“The guys didn’t quit,” said Sitake. “West Virginia and Iowa State were big losses on the scoreboard. But the guys didn’t quit and respond the way that they did–especially the last two weeks with Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.

“Obviously, we’d like to win those games, but I can build off of guys that want to be here and want to work hard and want to fight. So as long as we have that, we’re going to be just fine.”

Oklahoma and Texas are leaving the league, so that’s two bell-cow brands BYU won’t have to worry about.

But the Four Corner Pac-12 schools have been operating in a power conference space for decades.

The schedule isn’t going to get any easier for BYU in the 16-team Big 12. Next year, BYU has two road games out of conference play.

Squandered first impression in the Big 12

They squandered their first impression opportunity to go bowling, as did fellow newcomers Cincinnati and Houston. UCF was the lone newcomer to reach the postseason and they did it with a 6-6 record. It has to serve BYU as a motivation and a good barometer for the program’s current status.

“I think when they go into the offseason conditioning, they’ll have something to look back on and they’ll have a little bit more urgency when they get their workouts in,” said Kalani Sitake.

Young Core has to develop

Along with the urgency, BYU needs more depth. There were flashes of young personnel stepping up on Saturday. Ace Kaufusi at the MACK linebacker spot.

The young core might have to carry BYU football next season into year two.

“I think the biggest thing from my perspective is just me as, you know, kind of a leader because I’ve been here for a minute; just seeing what the younger guys on the football team need moving forward is to make sure everybody feels comfortable and know that we’re apart of this and that we can win games,” said BYU wide receiver Kody Epps.

“We’ve had a lot of close games with a lot of highly-touted ranked teams in college football. So I think just using that as motivation to make everybody feel comfortable that we don’t have to fill our way out.”

If BYU doesn’t find its way, bowl-less seasons could become the norm rather than an exception for the program.

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.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow Mitch’s coverage of BYU in the Big 12 Conference on X and Threads: @Mitch_Harper.

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BYU Football Missing The Bowl Season Provides New Reality In Big 12