Cougar Sports Roundtable: BYU Football Newcomers, Is Hoops Team Elite?

Feb 5, 2024, 11:27 AM

The Cougar Sports Roundtable is a weekly BYU football, basketball, and athletics feature on KSL Sports with KSL NewsRadio’s Cougar Sports Saturday team of BYU Insider Mitch HarperMatt Baiamonte, and Nate Slack. You can listen to them on Saturdays from Noon to 3 p.m. on 102.7 FM, 1160 AM, or On-Demand on the Cougar Sports Saturday podcast.

PROVO, Utah – It’s time for another week of the Cougar Sports Roundtable. This week’s three questions center around BYU basketball being elite, games we’re excited about on the 2024 football schedule, and newcomers to watch this fall.

Have the KenPom and NET ratings been right all along that BYU is among the elite teams in college basketball?

Matt Baiamonte: I’m not quite ready to call them elite, but they are certainly worthy of a top 25 ranking. The good news is that games are coming up this month that will provide opportunities to become elite.

Road trips to Oklahoma and Kansas provide opportunities to pick up huge road wins. That’s something that has been lacking.

The Jimmer Fredette team in 2011 was elite. He won national player of the year and the supporting cast was outstanding. That team beat some really good Mountain West teams on the road. I need to see this current team win a couple of big road games against ranked opponents before I’m ready to call them elite.

Nate Slack: That sure seems to be the case. I tend to be more of an optimist regarding BYU, but even I was having a hard time seeing how they would be competitive this year in hoops.

The transfer portal has completely changed college sports. But maybe this year’s squad shows you don’t need to try to overhaul your roster each year. There’s value in continuity and homegrown players.

I think BYU’s returning production was a big reason for KenPom ranking the Cougars so high in the preseason. As long as the metrics see BYU as a Top 10 team, there’s no reason we shouldn’t either.

Mitch Harper: I think it’s hard for people to say BYU is among the best teams nationally because there isn’t a star player. But the thing is, I don’t see anyone in college basketball being “elite” this year.

North Carolina has been excellent in ACC play. Kentucky has a bunch of young guys that could win it all. I’m still leery of buying into Purdue. Then there’s Houston and Kansas in the Big 12. Why can’t BYU be among the best teams? They know who they are: an uptempo three-point shooting team that suddenly has a post presence with Fousseyni Traore being healthy.

I’d still say BYU is probably in the 11-15 range right now. But what gives me hope that they could be elite this year is the defense. They are 23rd in adjusted defensive ratings on KenPom. BYU can lock down teams.

The defensive effort at West Virginia was impressive, as the Mountaineers rarely drop home games.

The BYU football schedule is out. Aside from the Utah game, what matchup are you circling?

Slack: For me, this one’s easy. It’s Oklahoma State. Kalani-led teams have a good track record in revenge games.

Wisconsin in 2018, the 2022 Baylor game, and last year at Arkansas. Even 2021 Utah to a lesser degree after falling to the Utes two years prior in the season opener.

Oklahoma State checks all the boxes for me this October.

A win in Stillwater last year would have sent the Cougs to a bowl game, essentially making the season a success.

Instead, BYU blew a three-score lead and had an incredible drive that ended with a 48-yard FG by Ferrin to send it to overtime, but they lost the game on a fumble by Isaac Rex in double overtime.

I imagine how that game ended played a big role in Tyler Batty’s decision to return for one more year. I get the vibe that the team is looking forward to getting another crack at the Cowboys.

Harper: I love the Oklahoma State pick. This schedule is going to be so much fun for BYU. I’ll go with another game in October, Arizona, on October 12 in Provo.

BYU-Arizona has the potential to be a rivalry in the Big 12. For people who attended the 2006 game in Tucson, that was one of the rowdiest crowds BYU fans have probably interacted with.

The Wildcats are now coached by Brent Brennan, coming over from San Jose State. There is going to be a transition with a new staff. But there’s no reason to think this Wildcats team isn’t going to the postseason next year.

It could serve as an excellent midseason barometer for BYU.

Baiamonte: The opening conference game against Kansas State on September 21 is going to be a huge matchup. Although they didn’t make the championship game last season, the Wildcats are becoming one of the more consistent teams in the conference under Coach Klieman.

BYU has a manageable nonconference schedule. Trips to SMU and Wyoming aren’t guaranteed wins, but let’s not pretend those are extremely difficult road games. It wouldn’t shock me to see this team start 3-0 before hosting the Wildcats.

Will Howard, the previous Wildcat quarterback, transferred to Ohio State. This paves the way for dual-threat Avery Johnson to be the new leader.

We will learn a lot about the Cougars after that first conference game against Kansas State. It should be a wild environment against a team that could contend for a berth in the Big 12 championship game.

Signing Day is on Wednesday. Which BYU football newcomer do you feel could have an impact in 2024?

Harper: Buy stock now in Weber State linebacker/edge rusher transfer Jack Kelly. The four-star transfer was a playmaker for the Wildcats. He’s going to provide an immediate impact to BYU’s lackluster pass rush.

Jay Hill’s Weber State guys, who have transferred to BYU, have been impact players. I expect Kelly to be the same.

A linebacker unit with Kelly, returning veteran Ben Bywater, and possibly Ace Kaufusi as your top three has the potential to be the best unit on the BYU football roster in 2024.

Slack: Bountiful High School safety/linebacker Faletau Satuala.

The safety room might be one of BYU’s sneaky best position groups on the team. Micah Harper returns from injury, and though Crew Wakley, Tanner Wall, Ethan Slade, Raider Damuni, Talan Alfrey, and Preston Rex all saw significant time last year, I could see Satuala battling for playing time right away.

247Sports has him listed as a linebacker, and with the departures of AJ Vongphachanh and Max Tooley, maybe he’s better suited in that role. Either way, I think Satuala is a guy we see contributing early in his BYU career.

Baiamonte: Last I checked, the quarterback position is still the most impactful position in football. I liked seeing BYU add two quarterbacks in this class.

It will be a few years before we see Enoch Watson suit up for the Cougars, but his skill set is worth the wait.

His stats as a senior were impressive with the American Leadership Academy. He completed 63 percent of passes while throwing for 29 touchdowns and only three interceptions.

Most importantly, he proved he could throw the football accurately. He’s an athletic kid who is a true dual-threat athlete.

He could become one of the great finds in this 2024 recruiting cycle.

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for and hosts the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (12–3 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow Mitch’s’ coverage of BYU in the Big 12 Conference on X: @Mitch_Harper.

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Cougar Sports Roundtable: BYU Football Newcomers, Is Hoops Team Elite?