PROVO – Right on cue, given the most bizarre year in the history of sports, BYU’s perpetual dream of making a New Year’s Six bowl game died in a small town in South Carolina.
Sounds about right, huh? Never in a million years.
In retrospect, it was a difficult ask for BYU to travel 2,200 miles on 48 hours’ notice to play a good football team in Coastal Carolina. The tough task became insurmountable when the lackluster Cougars lost to the upstart Chanticleers, thus spoiling the spotless record apparently required to land a New Year’s Six bowl berth.
Without another game of at least some note, the Cougars probably weren’t getting the coveted bowl game even with a 10-0 record. Following up a win over Coastal Carolina with more success this week against San Diego State likely would have been enough to get in.
But now is back to another second-tier bowl arranged by ESPN in what will probably be a no-win situation for BYU. No wonder its legions of fans across the country are still in mourning days after receiver Dax Milne fell 1-yard short of scoring the winning touchdown as time expired.
In a strong sense, even with a 9-1 record and No.14 national ranking, BYU’s present situation is torture. And the Cougars have nobody to blame but themselves.
Simply put, they picked the wrong time to play their worst game of the season. Coach Kalani Sitake was careful to take nothing away from Coastal Carolina in his postgame remarks, but the Cougars blew it.
Although it scored only 22 points, credit Coastal Carolina’s offense for dominating the line of scrimmage against BYU’s defense. Despite a size advantage, the Cougars never could get a handle on the hybrid option attack out of the shotgun formation. Maybe here’s where the little preparation time played a factor.
But there’s no excuse for BYU’s offense putting up a meager 17 points. Ultimately, too many mistakes and questionable decisions ruined the shot at the glory that may not come around any time soon.
In scheduling the game, BYU received widespread national praise for risking the chance to suffer the team’s first loss of the season. But the truth is, after the playoff committee ranked the team no higher than 13th in two polls, athletic director Tom Holmoe and Sitake had no choice but to play the game.
Once COVID issues forced Liberty to bow out of its game with Coastal Carolina, ESPN needed a fill-in, especially with College GameDay already scheduled to broadcast from the campus in Conway. BYU’s fortuitous bye and prior debacle with Washington one week earlier necessitated Holmoe and Sitake say yes, even if it was an unprecedented gamble.
The hastily arranged game made absolute sense for BYU, considering it had little chance of being canceled once both sides agreed to play. Game on meant get on a plane and fly across the country.
Two weeks ago, BYU took a ton of heat nationally for the perception it ducked the chance to play Washington, which had an open date after Washington State was not able to play. BYU passed on the opportunity, knowing the Pac-12 would pit Washington against Utah once as expected COVID concerns forced Arizona State to cancel its game with the Utes.
While all the criticism directed at BYU was silly, looking back Holmoe could have handled the situation differently. On heels of BYU almost boasting it would play any team in any situation, it looked awkward for the Cougars to reject the Pac-12’s flimsy invitation
Even though the game had little chance of actually occurring, Sitake should have publicly insisted Holmoe agree to play Washington in Seattle on short notice. At minimum, the public relations ploy would have played well nationally and silenced all the critics calling BS at BYU’s claim of playing anybody without reservation.