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Patrick Kinahan: Utah FBS football teams met or exceeded expectations

Utah Utes wide receiver Britain Covey (18) scores a touchdown during the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022. Utah leads 35-21 at half.

Utah Utes wide receiver Britain Covey (18) scores a touchdown during the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022. Utah leads 35-21 at half. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)



Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — Now that the college football season has ended, much to the dismay of many, it's time to review predictions for the local teams.

Forecasts for BYU and Utah were close to accurate, although both were underestimated to a degree. Utah State blew away all expectations by achieving stunning success.

Individually, here's a look back of each team excluding postseason forecasts:

BYU Cougars

After rolling through the 2020 season at 11-1, the Cougars needed a strong encore to prove the glossy record was not solely based on inferior competition. Consider it done.

Going conservative, the expectation of an 8-4 season would have been good enough to show the prior year was not a fluke. BYU finished at 10-3 this year, exceeding most forecasts even if it included some disappointment sprinkled with all the success.

The 5-0 record against the Pac-12, which included four wins against the South division, will go down in BYU lore as the best ever against the conference that has no interest in a formal relationship with the school. With impending membership into the Big 12 to begin in 2023, BYU will never again play five games against the Pac-12 in the same season.

The highlight of the season, obviously, came in the dominating win over Utah, ultimately the Pac-12 champion. Breaking the nine-game losing streak against the dreaded Utes was enough to make coach Kalani Sitake go crazy on the sidelines in the final seconds and empty much of the LaVell Edwards Stadium crowd onto the field after the game.

The turnover-plagued loss to Boise State and getting roughed up at Baylor were downers, but nothing compared to the inexcusable loss to Alabama-Birmingham in the Independence Bowl.

Utah Utes

The pick of 9-3 was exactly the way the Utes finished the regular season, but the details were way off.

Nobody anticipated Utah losing both nonconference games against FBS teams and then to go on to lose only one Pac-12 game. After enduring their worst nonconference record since beginning Pac-12 play in 2011, the Utes then produced their best conference record.

As good as coach Kyle Whittingham's teams have been in recent seasons, they have had a history of falling short in November or December. The Utes buried any such line of thinking this season by destroying nationally ranked Oregon to clinch the South division and then enjoyed a repeat performance two weeks later in the Pac-12 championship game.

The program's first appearance in the Rose Bowl will never be forgotten even if it ended with a disappointing loss to Ohio State, which shredded a traditionally tough Utah defense.

Utah State Aggies

Speaking of shredded, this is exactly what the Aggies did to virtually all predictions. Under first-year coach Blake Anderson, Utah State had a season for the ages by winning the Mountain West championship.

Not happy just to be there, the Aggies also rolled over Oregon State in the Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl. The last-second win over Washington State to open the season means they had bookend success against Pac-12 teams, marking the first time since 2014 the program had beaten a Power Five opponent.

Under the circumstances, notably the fresh memory of the miserable COVID-shortened results of last season, picking the Aggies to go 5-7 was considered generous and a bit of wishful thinking. Little did anyone know the impact all the transfers would have on the team.

Credit Anderson and his staff with injecting a level of toughness and the ability to overcome excuses on the way to the 11-3 season. Not even embarrassing losses to Boise State and Wyoming derailed the team's focus.

The bowl game was perhaps the best example of Utah State's resilience. Injuries forced the Aggies to rely on seldom-used Cooper Legas, who threw two touchdown passes.

The trick for Anderson, who was rewarded with a contract extension, is to follow up his amazing first season.

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