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Patrick Kinahan: More than one game at stake for BYU this week

By Patrick Kinahan, Contributor | Posted - Oct. 13, 2020 at 10:13 a.m.

SALT LAKE CITY — Excuse Kalani Sitake for growing a little weary over having to respond to frequent questions that focus on his team's high national ranking.

Phrased in assorted different ways, the essence remains the same: How will BYU handle all the love and attention brought on by the 4-0 start?

"I don’t care about hype," the coach said leading into Friday's game against Houston. "I just want to play our best. It doesn’t matter about the rankings. Either the criticism or the praise, it doesn’t really matter. Those are distractions."

Well said. But too bad.

This week's game is the biggest of the season for the 14th-ranked Cougars, who have risen up the rankings by beating outmanned teams. Although not a Power Five program, Houston traditionally has been considered among the best of the Group of Five.

To bolster credibility and the ranking's justification, this is a must-win game for BYU. Anything less is unacceptable, especially coming off a perceived lackluster win last week over the University of Texas-San Antonio.

"It is definitely a huge game for us," said offensive lineman Brady Christensen. "We always say each game is the biggest game of the season, but this is the biggest game of our season so far."

Granted, beating Houston sets up another showdown at Boise State in early November followed by a home date with San Diego State in December. But a loss takes the luster off the remaining schedule and calls into doubt the quality of the four wins.

Fair or not, there's no other acceptable way to look at it. In some ways, as big as this individual game is, it might loom larger for the state of the program.

Over the last several years, dating back to when Bronco Mendenhall was coaching BYU to Mountain West championships, the program has been nothing special. Since going independent starting with the 2011 season, the Cougars have rarely generated much of a buzz beyond their own community.

For sure, BYU has enjoyed a few decent wins along the way, but for every success against the likes of Wisconsin, USC and Tennessee, there were inexplicable losses to much lesser programs. And the matter of a nine-year losing streak to rival Utah irritates all those associated with BYU.

"We still have a lot of things to prove," Sitake said.

As does he as a head coach. Producing a stellar season would do wonders for the image of Sitake and his program.

It's all set up, starting this week. While the glory days of the 1980s may be hard to re-create, the program's status has plenty of room for improvement.

"When I was getting recruited, BYU still had that aura," former BYU linebacker great Bryan Kehl said during his weekly appearance on The Zone Sports Network. "Coming off the '80s and '90s, they had that because of the track record, which was a recent track record. And now the track record is old. Unfortunately, the last 12 years they haven’t produced the same and they haven't had the same on-field success."

Kehl acknowledged the difficulty of recruiting to BYU, which has an Honor Code and academic standard that reduces the pool of prospects, but he still expects more out of the program. He believes a great season could provide dividends for the coming years.

In the end, nobody will remember the entire schedule if BYU recaptures its past magic.

"This season is huge for that," he said. "Lesser opponents or not, you go out there and win every game on our schedule, that’s an accomplishment. I don’t care who you're playing, that's still hard to do.

"Especially when you have a spotlight this year because not a lot of college football teams are playing, especially in the west. You’re attracting eyes. That attention is huge."

More from Patrick Kinahan:

Patrick Kinahan

About the Author: Patrick Kinahan

Patrick is a radio host for 97.5/1280 The Zone and the Zone Sports Network. He, along with David James, are on the air Monday-Friday from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m.

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