SALT LAKE CITY — Nine consecutive losses to hated rival Utah probably is not enough to do it. Neither is the multiple blowouts to powerhouse Washington.
The problem for the BYU Cougars are the repeated disappointments against programs that are perceived historically below them in stature and reputation. Frustration among the fan base boils over each time BYU loses, as it’s done in recent seasons, to the likes of Northern Illinois, Toledo, Massachusetts and East Carolina.
Therein lies the reason Kalani Sitake’s job status as the head coach remains in question going into the final season of a five-year contract. To stay employed in his current position, Sitake no longer can afford to lose to lesser opponents even if those teams in any given year are better than their reputations.
Everybody can see it.
Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports wrote: “Life as an independent isn’t easy, but it probably shouldn’t be as hard as Sitake has made it look the past two-plus seasons. He’s hit some high points — a stunning win at Wisconsin last year, plus victories over USC, Tennessee and Arizona. But there have been losses to East Carolina, UMass, Northern Illinois, and now Toledo last Saturday. BYU’s two wins this season have both come in overtime, and the victory at Tennessee was a certified miracle. The Cougars aren’t too far from being 0-5 at this point.”
Gone are the seasons in which BYU racks up 10 wins and captured conference championships. But somewhere in there, the Cougars have got to find a way to produce more regular seasons with eight or nine wins.
Obviously, not beating Utah since 2009 is a serious point of contention for BYU. But five of those losses belonged to former coach Bronco Mendenhall, who doubled his salary by taking the Virginia job in 2015.
Criticizing Sitake for the four losses, three of which have been by 7 points or fewer, to Utah is a futile endeavor. At this point, through no fault of the coach, the gap between Utah and BYU has never been wider since the LaVell Edwards era started in 1972.
Compared to Utah, the Cougars have no recruiting advantages over their rivals. Utah can match or exceed any recruiting benefit BYU can pitch, including the religious angle.
Outside of an occasional win, as it was much of the 1970s and 1908s for Utah, BYU cannot be expected to consistently beat the Utes anymore. Same goes for beating Washington, which coach Chris Petersen has built into a national contender.
But all the reasons — or excuses, if you prefer — come to a screeching halt with regard to some of the horrendous losses BYU has endured in recent seasons. Eliminating them will go a long way toward pacifying — although not necessarily satisfying — the increasingly apathetic crowd.
Even setting aside the once-in-an-generation awful season in 2017, during which BYU went 4-9, the program has floundered in embarrassing losses to Group of Five teams. Losing in consecutive seasons to Mid-American Conference teams — in this case, Northern Illinois and Toledo — is simply unacceptable.
The one-step forward, two-steps back nature of the program is preventing it from gaining any momentum. The lowly defeats have repeatedly undercut the impressive wins of Power Five programs Arizona, Wisconsin and USC.
And actually, all those emotionally charged wins over big-time programs work against the Cougars. Frustration among the fans grows with the thinking that BYU beats name teams only to lose to lesser competition, leading to more angst and widespread calls to overhaul the entire coaching staff.
In addition to the wide talent gap between BYU and most Power Five programs, as an independent, the football team also falls far behind financially. The difference, which is increasing yearly, puts BYU at a distinct disadvantage.
Truth be told, only those with tunnel vision can reasonably expect BYU to escape the Power Five portion of the schedule unscathed. One or two wins against the better competition is good enough, even if players and coaches say otherwise.
But there are few, if any, financial disparities between BYU and the G-5 teams on the schedule each year. The level playing field with regard to money directly makes the losses hard to accept.
In the end, BYU gets its money’s worth. Unwilling — or unable — to pay the going rate in college football, BYU almost always is forced to hire inexperienced coaches compared to their counterparts in similar positions.