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SALT LAKE CITY — Palatable disappointment marks the first half of BYU's football season even as the team is on a pace to win 10 games this season.
At 5-1, with three consecutive wins over Pac-12 South division teams to start the season, the 19th-ranked Cougars are in a great position to enjoy an excellent season. At the same time, the dream of an undefeated season died last week in a turnover-plagued loss to Boise State.
As an independent without a realistic pathway to the four-team playoff, BYU always was a long shot to make the tournament, even without a blemish on its record. But the dream of making a New Year's Day bowl likely died last Saturday at LaVell Edwards Stadium, meaning the Cougars appear destined to play in the previously contracted Independence Bowl against a Conference USA team in Shreveport, Louisiana.
Talk about a comedown.
BYU knows all about playing in lower-level bowl games, having participated in the Famous Idaho Potato, Poinsettia and Fight Hunger bowls, among others. It's become life as an independent, which has removed big-time possibilities once the team is saddled with a loss.
Fortunately for BYU, the forthcoming membership in the Big 12 starting in 2023 will create another level for the postseason. Until then, the program can't do much about the bowl situation.
But the bowl game doesn't demean the potential accomplishment awaiting BYU during the second half of the season. Putting aside the self-inflicted wounds against Boise State, the Cougars can achieve double-digit wins for the second consecutive season, which hasn't happened since Bronco Mendenhall's teams did it four straight seasons starting in 2006.
At the halfway point, BYU has done well in attempting to follow up last season's 11-1 record. To date, the Cougars have two notable wins coming against Utah and 18th-ranked Arizona State, both of whom are the only two teams without a loss in Pac-12 play.
"I'm really pleased with the talent that we have on our team and the development of our players," said BYU head coach Kalani Sitake. "We've been really tested with our depth because of injury. It happens. This season it's more than we want to be comfortable with, but we knew this was a possibility."
The obvious example of depth comes at quarterback, where multiple injuries have forced BYU to use three signal-callers. Given Jaren Hall's injury history, which has caused him to miss multiple games during the two seasons he has started, offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick is fortunate to have Baylor Romney available.
Romney has proven effective in limited duty over the last three years, but he went down to an apparent concussion two weeks ago in the win against Utah State. Freshman Jacob Conover did enough during the second half to keep BYU in front of the Aggies.
Looking forward, the strength of schedule over the second half might be a draw compared to the first six games. Aside from two near-guaranteed wins against Idaho State and Georgia Southern, BYU has to play four Power Five teams — Baylor, Washington State, Virginia and USC.
Playing the prediction game, for what that's worth, the Cougars should be able to muster a total of nine wins provided they at least split the four games against the Power Five competition. But there's also no reason why they can't go 3-1, either.
The key to a great second half begins immediately this week on the road against Baylor. The Bears, who hired offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes and offensive line coach Eric Mateos away from BYU during the offseason, are also 5-1 with the loss coming against nationally ranked Oklahoma State.
Virginia is 4-2, with the last two wins coming after Miami and Louisville missed potential game-winning field goals on the game's last play. The bigger story against the Cavaliers is the return of Mendenhall, who was BYU's head coach for a decade before taking several assistants with him to Virginia six years ago.
Washington State and USC are sputtering along at 3-3, with each alternating between playing well and struggling.