Sports / BYU / 
Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Zach Wilson (1) takes a snap during the Boca Raton Bowl in Boca Raton, Fla., on Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Patrick Kinahan: The eternal question: Was BYU a great football team?

By Patrick Kinahan, Contributor | Posted - Dec. 29, 2020 at 10:22 a.m.

SALT LAKE CITY — BYU destroyed nine of its opponents, aside from a one-score margin of victory against the University of Texas-San Antonio and a loss at Coastal Carolina. Even in that game, which was played on short notice and required them to travel 2,200 miles, the Cougars came up 1-yard short of winning on the last play.

Naysayers, of whom there are plenty, point to the soft schedule as the only reason for the team's first 11-win season since 2009. Playing only Group of Five teams, BYU had the 100th most-difficult schedule according to the Sagarin Ratings.

Obviously, as the scores indicated, the slew of Sun Belt, Conference USA and American Athletic Conference teams were no match for the Cougars. But automatically assuming they would have lost to some or all of the Power Five teams on the original schedule isn't necessarily correct.

A cursory review of those P5 teams shows none were unbeatable this season. Conversely, there's no conclusive evidence BYU would have won any of those games, either.

But most of the P5 teams slated to play BYU this season were good in name only. For example, the two Big Ten teams – Minnesota and Michigan State – each had losing records in a mediocre conference.

Missouri went 5-5 in the powerful Southeastern Conference but lost all four games against ranked opponents. And then there's the three opponents against the Pac-12, which has lacked competent leadership nearly every step of the way. It's impossible to gauge BYU's chances against teams that played only four games.

Given their talent this season, it's easy to argue the Cougars would have been competitive and had a good chance to beat any team on the original schedule. This much also is true: BYU would have had the better quarterback against any of the competition.

In putting together the best season for a BYU quarterback since John Beck was a senior in 2006, Zach Wilson simply was brilliant most of the time. All the critics of the team's easy schedule have no comeback when it comes to Wilson's rising NFL stock.

2020 in Review

Wilson's talent will get him drafted in the first round this spring even though BYU played a soft slate of games. Turns out, NFL executives won't evaluate him solely based on the competition he faced in his junior season.

Also factoring in BYU's favor are the lopsided wins against Boise State and Central Florida, historically considered the top two G5 programs. Both teams routinely dominate the competition in their respective conferences and also have beaten several P5 programs in recent seasons.

BYU beat both teams by a combined score of 100-40 this season, removing any doubt about its ability. In both games, Wilson threw for a collective 780 yards and six touchdowns.

The positive aspect about the lingering doubt that will remain is its relevance to BYU's success. If the Cougars had lost more than one game this season, the question of the team's greatness would be moot.

As it is, all of us will wonder. Forever.

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