Sports / BYU / 
Brigham Young Cougars running back Sione Finau runs the ball against the Boise State Broncos during an NCAA football game in Provo on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019.

Ravell Call, KSL, File

Patrick Kinahan: BYU football faces biggest game as independent

By Patrick Kinahan, Contributor | Posted - Nov. 4, 2020 at 10:32 a.m.

SALT LAKE CITY — Suffice to say, considering all the strong opinions that drive talking points, media hyperbole often is angled toward the sensational.

In this case, relating to BYU football, guilty as charged, your honor. As outrageous as it seems, this week's game with Boise State goes down as the program's most significant since becoming an independent before the 2011 season. At the same time, it also is the most important game Kalani Sitake has coached since getting the job in time for the 2016 season.

The stakes are enormous. Finally, after seven games, the Cougars have a legitimate test to prove worthy of the program's first top 10 ranking since 2009.

In going 7-0, the knock against BYU has been the slate of games athletic director Tom Holmoe pieced together on the fly after the coronavirus gutted the original schedule. To date, BYU has not played a marquee opponent having a good season.

Beating three Group of Five teams from Texas won't cut it. Even the opener against normally respectable Navy lost much of its luster given the Midshipmen's mediocre 3-4 record.

But Boise State is a different beast. Albeit not coming against the best competition, the Broncos currently have the winningest program by percentage in college football season.

The program's all-time record is 462-170-2 for a winning percentage of .7303, barely edging out Ohio State and Notre Dame. Even beyond the numbers, Boise State has surpassed BYU has the sport's upstart darling out west.

On a national level, Boise State has done what BYU used to do during the glory years that commenced in the 1970s and lasted through the next decade. For sure, BYU has its national championship in 1984 along with a slew of other noteworthy games and individual awards but has not made what is now known as a prestigious New Year's Day bowl.

Since 2006, starting with the dramatic overtime win against Oklahoma, Boise State has gone 3-0 in Fiesta Bowl appearances. Since 2005, after not making the postseason in three consecutive seasons, BYU has been relegated to second-tier bowls, including playing in the Las Vegas Bowl six times.

Boise State is clearly the better program, which is exactly the requirement BYU needs at this point. Much like Gonzaga in West Coast Conference basketball, the Broncos have dominated their conference since going 12-1 in the WAC in 2002.

By bolting the Mountain West, the conference Boise State now calls home, BYU football has increased its exposure significantly with the ESPN contract that televises home games. But aside from a few nice wins scattered over the last nine seasons, the program has not consistently registered nationally.

The chance comes this Friday night before another national television audience. By any measure, beating Boise State on the blue turf (where they are 0-5) gives the Cougars the credibility they have been seeking all season, if not longer.

With North Alabama and San Diego State remaining on the schedule, assuming Holmoe doesn't add another game in the three open dates through the first week of December, a BYU win over Boise State strengthens the possibility of making a New Year's Day bowl game. The naysayers criticizing the soft schedule go silent with the outcome BYU wants in Idaho.

Success this week also turns the narrative in Sitake's favor. After three consecutive largely disappointing years, he needs a breakout season to solidify his position as the head coach of a program moving in the right direction.

An undefeated regular season, even if it is built on beating several softies, provides Sitake and his staff plenty of ammunition to hit the recruiting trail. Until now, without the ability to compete for a conference championship, BYU coaches hasn't had enough to sell beyond the religious connection and a few other things.

But it can all change this week. How's that for overstating it?

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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