BYU football: In grand scheme of things, did bowl win really matter?

News Sports

BYU head coach Kalani Sitake, right, holds the trophy during celebrations after the team’s victory in the New Mexico Bowl against SMU in Albuquerque, N.M., Saturday, Dec. 17, 2022.

Chancey Bush/The Albuquerque Journal via AP

BYU defeated SMU 24-23 on a defensive stop with seconds left in the New Mexico Bowl in Albuquerque last Saturday to give the Cougars a four-game win streak to finish the 2022 season. That win involved myriad big stories, including huge defensive plays like a 75-yard interception return by defensive MVP Ben Bywater and offensive MVP honors by third-year freshman Sol Jay Maiava-Peters in his first career start. Here’s a sample of our bowl coverage:

How BYU got an unlikely bowl win (Jay Drew)
Meet 4th string QB who led BYU (Jay Drew)
BYU creates gritty defensive win (Jay Drew)
Why bowl win gives Sitake momentum (Dick Harmon)

Cougar insiders predictions

Question of the week: What impact, if any, did the bowl win have on Kalani Sitaki’s program that finished 8-5 in 2022?

Jay Drew: To be honest, I don’t see BYU’s 24-23 win over SMU impacting Kalani Sitake’s program moving forward. I believe this roster will change so much over the next few months that a lot of the players who were on the field in the New Mexico Bowl won’t necessarily be on the field next September when the Cougars host Sam Houston.

Sure, spirits will be higher through the holidays and winter workouts than they were last year after the Cougars lost to UAB in the bowl game, but those feelings can only carry a team so far. It is probably too late for the win to do much for BYU’s recruiting efforts, with the early signing period starting Wednesday. It could help a bit in the transfer portal. That remains to be seen.

It should be mentioned that the four-game winning streak the Cougars ended the season on will be more impactful, as Sitake showed BYU’s administration that he has the guts to change things up when they aren’t going well, particularly when lifelong friends are involved. Without those changes that began midseason, I don’t think BYU wins out.

Dick Harmon: First of all, I certainly looked optimistic last week in this newsletter when I predicted BYU would win the New Mexico Bowl 34-31. But one could see that there was some momentum in the program with the hire of Jay Hill, Sitake shaking things up and a lot of players wanting to prove themselves by finishing with a win. That BYU pulled this off minus about 26 players who had played during the season was even more impressive.

The Cougars went to Albuquerque with a chip on their shoulder. I predict that same attitude — because of the win — will continue into the offseason with the mindset that there is tons to prove in the Big 12. There is so much work to be done in recruiting, rebuilding the offensive line, injecting talent into the defense and finding a starting QB, perhaps from the transfer portal. But I think the win, coupled with Hill’s leadership and style, will be a productive marriage with Sitake’s personality and the 8-5 finish will push BYU into a much-needed hungry mindset from January through August. If BYU had lost and finished 7-6, the negativity of a zero for October would have added one more layer, making it harder to close recruiting pitches and motivate the team in the offseason. BYU had every excuse to lose the bowl, but instead it became a rally point in the program.

Cougar tales

After losing to crosstown foe Utah Valley and lowly ranked South Dakota, Mark Pope saw his basketball squad defeat No. 21 Creighton and a Utah team that knocked off No. 4 Arizona. In both wins, senior transfer Rudi Williams scored a career-high 26 coming off the bench. Here is how BYU’s freshmen set the stage for the win over Utah with career-high performances against Western Oregon and my story on the win over Utah.

From the archives

From the Twitterverse

When Aidan was coming out of HS, @Mitch_Harper and I interviewed him on the radio. As soon as we hung up the phone, both of us looked at each other and said, “Oh that dude is a BYU guy for sure.”

The road came with some twists and turns, but we were right. Boom!

— Jeff Hansen (@rakoto10) December 19, 2022

Rudi ALLLL day🔥🔥

— BYU Men’s Basketball (@BYUMBB) December 17, 2022

Sound clip from the @KSLSportsZone on @BYUfootball’s bowl game win last night.

Told ya’ll I’m gonna be insufferable… at least ‘til the New Year then I’ll be done. #MakeFullbacksGreatAgain 🏴‍☠️

— Hemā Heimuli Jr. (@x_hems) December 18, 2022

Extra points

BYU gains 1,000-yard rusher from UNLV (Deseret News)
Reaction on BYU’s bowl win (Fan Insider)
BYU, Utah transfer portal news (Deseret News)


Comments from Deseret News readers:

“It was great fun to watch the defense show up and play the best football since the Baylor game. Kudos to all the backup players and coaches for stepping up doing a great job. And how about that kid at quarterback. Great game plan by the offense. Well done BYU.”

— DaveWY

“I was at the game. … BYU outhustled, played harder and wanted this game more than Utah. Big congrats to BYU and Pope. Craig Smith got outcoached by Pope again and is now 0-4 vs. Pope. BYU is truly the king of in-state hoops. My favorite part of the game: BYU fans actually were civil and I didn’t see any chest pounding and saying they are national champs. So refreshing to simply win the game and act like adults. Again big congrats to BYU, Pope, players and especially fans.”

— Dryfly22

Up next

Dec. 22 | 7 p.m. | Men’s basketball | vs. Weber State | @Provo

Dec. 29 | 6 p.m. | Men’s basketball | vs. Pacific | @Stockton, California

Dec. 29 | 7 p.m. | Women’s basketball | vs. Pacific | @Provo

Dec. 31 | 2 p.m. | Women’s basketball | vs. St. Mary’s | @Provo

Dec. 31 | 7 p.m. | Men’s basketball | vs. Portland | @Provo

BYU’s students try to disrupt Utah Utes guard Marco Anthony during a free throw as BYU and Utah play at the Marriott Center in Provo on Saturday, Dec. 17, 2022. BYU won 75-66.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

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