COUGAR TRACKS

Three Things BYU Football Needs To One Day Reach 12-Team Playoff

Jan 9, 2024, 3:52 PM

BYU Football, 12-Team Playoff, LJ Martin...

What will it take for BYU football to one day reach the 12-team playoff? Maybe RB LJ Martin can help the cause. (Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

(Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

The 12-team playoff era is here for college football. What a glorious thing it is.

Sure, there will be more SEC and Big Ten teams thrown in everyone’s faces. We all understand that. But for the first time in the history of BYU football, they go into a season with a direct path to reach the National Championship.

Can you imagine a playoff game at LaVell Edwards Stadium in December? It would take on a bigger life than when BYU faced No. 1 Miami in 1990.

Yes, I know BYU won a National Championship in 1984. But that was a different era when pollsters decided a champion.

The 12-team playoff settles it all on the field.

For the new Big 12, the 12-team College Football Playoff model is one of the big reasons there remains so much optimism about the league despite losing bell-cow brands Texas and Oklahoma.

The 12-team playoff begins in the 2024-25 season, and everybody around college football should be excited.

For BYU football, reaching a playoff is likely a distant thought. It should be, as they sit seven months out from their second season in the Big 12.

 

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BYU is still trying to forge its identity as a power conference program. But things can change quickly, and no league provides quicker turnarounds in college football than the Big 12.

So if BYU is to one day reach the 12-team playoff, what do they need? Here are three things.

#1 Big 12 Championship

It will be interesting to see how the 16-team Big 12 fares in Playoff representation. Will they have strong enough strength of schedule metrics to get a 10-3 Big 12 runner-up into the playoff? We know the SEC and Big Ten are going to be littered with teams in the field of 12, but for leagues like the Big 12 and ACC it’s more murky to determine.

The one aspect of the 12-team playoff that is guaranteed for the first time in the history of the sport is conference champions have a seat at the table.

To guarantee your place in the 12-team Playoff out of the Big 12, you need to win the league.

The Way-Too-Early KSL Sports power rankings for the Big 12 in 2024 feature Arizona at No. 1, Oklahoma State at No. 2, rival Utah at No. 3, and Kansas at No. 4.

All four of those teams are on BYU’s 2024 schedule.

So, to expect this in 2024 is probably not likely, especially with uncertainty at quarterback. But if you win the Big 12, you’re going to be in the field of 12.

#2 Elite Ground Attack

This past fall, the Big 12 Conference and National Champion Michigan showed that you don’t need superstars at quarterback. You need an elite offensive line with stars at running back.

It’s a throwback way of thinking, especially in the Big 12. But the production doesn’t lie in 2023.

Look at Oklahoma State. The Pokes were dead in the water last season after a devastating loss to South Alabama. Then Ollie Gordon took the nation by storm on his way to becoming the Doak Walker Award winner and turning around Oklahoma State’s season to earn an appearance in the Big 12 Championship Game.

 

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Tahj Brooks at Texas Tech, Abu Sama at Iowa State, Devin Neal at Kansas, etc.

Then look at Michigan. They’ve had the best offensive line in college football for the past three years, and Blake Corum was toting the rock.

Quarterbacks will always define BYU. But there’s a shift happening in college football, with a focus on elite ball carriers paired up with physical offensive lines.

BYU had talented personnel at the running back and offensive lines last season. It didn’t work at running back due to injuries. The offensive line was chalked up to a lack of toughness and coaching.

BYU offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick brought former Georgia Southern offensive line coach TJ Woods to lead the unit. There’s one thing for sure about Woods: he will bring toughness to BYU’s offensive line. They desperately need it.

Woods inherits an offensive line that returns Connor Pay at center, Weylin Lapuaho at guard, and Brayden Keim at tackle. That’s a nice foundation. Caleb Etienne is returning, and he’s motivated for a bounce-back season as he’s training with former BYU offensive lineman Tuni Kanuch in the offseason.

The rest of the offensive line is young and it’s a unit that’s a top priority to add from the transfer portal.

At running back, BYU has a potential star in sophomore LJ Martin.

The El Paso, Texas native was a bright spot as a freshman last year. But is he ready to be RB1 for a Big 12 team? After losing Aidan Robbins to the NFL draft, Martin needs to be.

BYU would be well served going into the portal to add another ball carrier for 2024.

#3 Depth in the trenches

Games are won and lost in the trenches. Many of BYU’s seven losses last season were due to struggles in the trenches.

BYU has always had talent at the top of its position groups. Defensive end Tyler Batty earned second-team All-Big 12 last season and he is returning for the 2024 season.

But it’s the second and third units.

Texas had a three-deep that they felt confident could contribute in games along the offensive line.

The 12-team playoff might not require that much depth, but to win a power league that will ultimately punch your ticket to the playoff, you need the bodies and talent along the offensive and defensive lines.

BYU’s recruiting efforts to close out the early Signing Day in December recognize the importance of depth along the defensive front.

Jay Hill’s defensive staff signed nine players who will compete along the defensive line. That’s where Playoff teams are developed and BYU is looking to build up those units as they head into the next era of the sport.

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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Three Things BYU Football Needs To One Day Reach 12-Team Playoff