Momentum is a fragile thing in college football. Two weeks ago, BYU fans were celebrating a 5-0 start following a breakout 2020 campaign, a top-10 ranking, an invitation to the Big 12, and wins over both in-state rivals. For some BYU fans, life as a Cougar fan had never been better. BYU was gaining so much momentum, in fact, that some fans were worrying about head coach Kalani Sitake leaving for a vacant job like USC.
Following a head-scratching loss to Boise State and a beatdown at the hands of the Baylor Bears, however, the sentiment among some (emphasis on some) BYU fans has changed.
Instead of predicting how high the Cougs could climb in the rankings, BYU fans are in different stages of mourning. For some, that means counting down the days until BYU has a chance to reverse the losing streak. For others, they emotionally hedge their feelings by taking a step back and paying less attention to BYU football throughout the week. The most extreme mourners have sounded the alarm and started the universal venting process of football fans. If you’ve been on social media or fan boards, you know what that looks like. The venting process starts with a call for the backup quarterback, and it ends by demanding for a new head coach. There are many steps in between the first and the last, and BYU fans are not at the final stage. In fact, most aren’t even close, but some (again, strong emphasis on some) will get there quickly if the Cougars fall to 0-4 in the month of October.
Because nobody can go from hero to zero faster than a college football coach.
Take LSU coach Ed Orgeron, for examples. LSU fans were celebrating the hiring of Orgeron after the Tigers dominated the 2019 national championship game. Those same LSU fans, however, were growing increasingly frustrated with Orgeron following a lackluster 2020 season and a disappointing start to the 2021 season. And it wasn’t only the fans that were fed up – so was the LSU administration. Ed Orgeron, who is less than two years(!) removed from a national championship, was fired by LSU over the weekend. Welcome to college football.
The upcoming swing games
But let’s take a step back – BYU is not LSU. If you asked BYU fans in July whether they would be happy with a 5-2 start including a win over Utah, most fans would have responded with a resounding yes. On one hand, the last two games don’t take away from what BYU accomplished in the first five games.
On the other hand, lose the next two games and the 5-0 start will start to feel like a distant memory. That is why the next two games could determine how the 2021 season is measured for years to come. Over the next two weeks, BYU takes on a much-improved Washington State team that has won its last three conference games and will be without half its coaching staff. Then the Cougars conclude the month with a home game against the fighting Bronco Mendhall’s of Virginia – a school that has swooped in to take multiple in-state targets over the last few recruiting cycles.
If BYU goes 2-0 against Wazzu and Virginia, the Cougars will probably be 9-2 when they travel to USC for the season finale. If that happens, this season will be remembered as the season that validated the 2020 campaign, the year BYU snapped the streak against its archrival, and the year BYU proved an ability to reload rather than rebuild.
Lose the next two and the Cougars will be 5-4 on the season. If that scenario, the calls for change like new coordinators will become louder than white noise. The season will be remembered as the year where BYU’s depth was tested and ultimately failed.
If the Cougars go 1-1, the sentiment will fall somewhere in between.
The impact on recruiting
BYU has already benefitted on the recruiting trail from its program-wide momentum. Over the last few weeks, BYU has received a pair of four-star commitments in WR Cody Hagen and DL Aisea Moa. Regardless of outcome, BYU will go into the offseason with recruiting momentum thanks to its new Big 12 affiliation. BYU-to-the-Big-12 will help the Cougars rise in the recruiting rankings more than any single victory or season ever could. However, winning is still really important in the minds of highly-touted recruits. If BYU can regain the momentum heading into the offseason, there is a lot of potential to put together a superb 2023 recruiting class.
The Cougars of BYU take on the Cougars of Washington State at 1:30 PM (MDT) on FS1.