PROVO — BYU did all it could on the football field in blasting both Navy and Troy, and the Cougars were rewarded with a spot in both major college football polls, even after ever Power Five team became immediately eligible.
BYU fell to No. 22 in both in the Associated Press Top 25 and USA Today/Amway Coaches' Poll released Sunday, a drop of as much as four points after a dominating 48-7 victory over the Trojans played out in front of an empty stadium in the Cougars' home opener.
For the first time in the college football season, all five teams from the Power Five leagues — as well as late-arriving conferences like the Mountain West and Mid-American — were eligible for AP voters. Five schools from the Big Ten and Pac-12, which haven't begun to play yet but have announced their intentions to do so were ranked in the AP Top 25 — beginning with No. 6 Ohio State. The Buckeyes received four first-place votes in their inaugural regular-season entry in the poll, the second-most such votes behind No. 1 Clemson (55).
Clemson, Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Notre Dame were the top-five teams in both polls.
With the emergence of other programs around the country — all but three FBS teams have played or announced plans to play in the 2020 fall season — BYU’s schedule and spot in the Top 25 is likely to be heavily scrutinized for the remainder of the season. The Cougars will be heavily favored to win the rest of its games — ESPN’s FPI gives the Cougars a significant edge in every remaining game on the current schedule except for the Oct. 16 trip to Houston — and may need “style points” to impress voters enough to stay in the Top 25.
BYU head coach Kalani Sitake isn’t concerned with style points, though; he just wants to win games. Rather than pouring on more points when games are well out of reach, the Cougars have elected to take a knee when available. That included Saturday night, when after two unsuccessful-but-feverish attempts for freshman Miles Davis to score his first career touchdown in LaVell Edwards Stadium, BYU set up the victory formation on the inside the 5-yard line as the clock expired.
“I just feel like this is the right thing to do,” Sitake said. “We did some great things. The other 59 minutes were full of our team doing the right thing.
“I know people look at the scoreboard, and that’s OK. I think we did some good things, and we won the right way.”
The Cougars’ play has offered plenty of style, too.
Through two games in 2020, BYU has outscored Troy and Navy 103-10. The Cougars rank No. 4 in total offense with 622.0 yards per game and averaging 8.08 yards per play, a rating highlighted by its No. 8 passing offense with 375.5 yards per game, and No. 9 in rushing offense with 246.5 yards per game.
They also could have added to it in both games but took a knee in the red zone to finish out a pair of big wins over Navy and Troy.
“I like scoring,” BYU nose tackle Khyiris Tonga said after Saturday night’s game. “But Kalani’s a classy guy, and he has a lot of respect for (Troy offensive coordinator and former BYU offensive line coach Ryan) Pugh. That’s something I love about Kalani; he’ll always show respect and sportsmanship. We don’t see it the moment it happens, but we respect it after it’s done.”
Perhaps more impressive, though, is the Cougars’ defense. Led by Tonga at nose tackle and a backfield of buoyed experience like Zayne Anderson and Troy Warner, BYU has the No. 1 team in the nation in total defense, allowing just 165.0 yards per game and 3.27 yards per play.
They’ve allowed only one touchdown — a 2-yard spurt by B.J. Smith that finished a seven-play, 44-second drive by the Trojans in the second quarter Saturday night, after the visiting Sun Belt squad had fallen behind 21-0.
“It’s amazing,” BYU running back Lopini Katoa said of the team’s defense. “We knew it was going to happen; the competition all fall camp and how good they are, I was just like, ‘Good luck scoring on them.’ They’ve got talent all across the board.”
BYU hosts Louisiana Tech next Friday, Oct. 2, in a game currently scheduled to be played without fans as a result of COVID-19 restrictions in the Provo-Orem area. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. MDT on ESPN2.