Patrick Kinahan: Outside expectations define success for BYU, Utah State basketball

Save Story
Leer en español

Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — Preseason polls are meaningless, college coaches annually insist, with one overriding exception in all sports.

Any time — check that, make it every time — a team is thought to overachieve preseason predictions then suddenly those educated guesses are transformed into cold, hard undisputed facts. Along with it, count on the superseders and fans of the teams to proclaim their seasons a success based on the polls released months before.

Look no further than the BYU and Utah State basketball teams. Based on preseasons rankings, both programs enjoyed incredibly surprising campaigns that saw each blow away the low expectations.

In its first season in the Big 12, which is almost always rated as the toughest basketball conference, BYU was picked to finish next to last out of 14 teams. The Cougars gave the prognosticators plenty of reasons to lack faith after ending last season in fifth place in the generally weak West Coast Conference.

"I was super excited about the 13th pick," BYU coach Mark Pope said during the Big 12 media days in Kansas City in October. "I have four daughters, and we managed to make it to a couple of Taylor Swift concerts this year. Her favorite number is 13, and I think that bodes well for BYU basketball this season. We're really excited about that."

Pope broke out the reference to the famed musical artist several times during the season, playing off her apparent connection to a random number. The line worked well after the Cougars shattered the preseason predictions by going 10-8 in the Big 12, which was good enough for fifth place.

Exceeding the outside expectations helped soften the blow to an extent after BYU inexplicably significantly underachieved in last week's NCAA Tournament. As a No. 6 seed, the Cougars lost to No. 11 Duquesne, which was making its first appearance in the tournament in nearly 50 years.

For all the Swift lovers, the bitter loss — which Pope called "devastating" — brings to mind one of her songs. The upset will stay with the Cougars and their fans and lead, no doubt, to a "Cruel Summer."

To a degree, the Aggies and their fans can relate. Under first-year coach Danny Sprinkle, Utah State was picked to finish ninth in the 11-team Mountain West Conference.

But the low expectation is about the only connection to BYU. The Aggies proceeded to win the conference championship and then beat TCU last week to record their first tournament win in 23 years.

The dream then crashed hard on Sunday when No. 1 seed Purdue crushed the eighth-seeded Aggies by 39 points. Like BYU, the Aggies can cite the outside preseason expectations as a measure to label the season a success.

"Super proud of my team," said Sprinkle, who has since become the coach at Washington. "I mean, the season we had, it was historic for Utah State to win 28 games and an outright Mountain West championship. To win a game in the NCAA Tournament against a tough Big 12 team, (I) couldn't be more proud of our guys."

Extending the expectation game even further, football coaches love to cite recruiting and preseason polls as long as it works to their advantage. The thesis is this: Low placements provide ammunition, and the reverse equates to nothing.

After consecutive Pac-12 championships, Utah was picked to finish third in July's poll. Coach Kyle Whittingham admitted the perceived disrespect would fuel the team during the season.

Going into the 2019 season, the Utes were the overwhelming favorite to win the Pac-12 and started No. 14 in the preseason Associated Press Top 25. As expected, Whittingham practically ignored the hype.

"It doesn't mean anything to this season," he said at the time. "It doesn't help us at all."

In the end, none of it matters when it comes to the actual games, but it can help define the assessment of the season.

Most recent College stories

Related topics

BYU CougarsUtah State AggiesSportsCollege
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.


From first downs to buzzer beaters, get’s top sports stories delivered to your inbox weekly.
By subscribing, you acknowledge and agree to's Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

KSL Weather Forecast