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BYU athletics enjoying an energized uptick — and for a variety of reasons

Cougars are soaking in the national rankings and recruiting successes big time

BYU football coach Kalani Sitake celebrates the Cougars’ win over Utah with fans at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo.
BYU football coach Kalani Sitake celebrates the Cougars’ win over Utah with fans at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. BYU won 26-17, ending a nine-game losing streak to the Utes.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

This article was first published as the Cougar Insiders newsletter. Sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox each Tuesday night.

With BYU football taking a deserved break and climbing in the rankings (No. 14 in AP poll), other school programs are receiving national attention with women’s soccer, cross-country, women’s volleyball and women’s golf all ranked nationally. The soccer team is the No. 1 scoring team in the nation heading into the NCAA regionals and both basketball and football are on a recruiting tear.

Before the last home game, Kalani Sitake announced a huge recruit signing with five-star Oregon offensive tackle Kingsley Suamataia deciding to transfer. At that game, BYU hosted four players from Florida, including one of the top cornerbacks in the country, Cormani McClain. According to 247Sports, McClain is the 10th ranked player in the Class of 2023.

BYU football is enjoying a significant stretch of national attention and success.

Riding the back of the Big 12 invitation and huge NIL deals for players, basketball and football recruiting have made big inroads with recruits, including the commitment of Utah’s No. 1 high school player Collin Chandler (Farmington High). Chandler, whose family are die-hard Utes fans, announced Wednesday that he would be signing with BYU.

Cougar Insider prediction

Here is the question of the week: Of all those upperclassmen and sophomores honored on senior day at the Idaho State game, how many do you predict will return? Who files for the NFL draft and who actually should stay and play next year?

Jay Drew: Although offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick said Monday that a “good number” of the BYU players honored on senior day will come back for another year, I don’t think more than a couple will take advantage of the opportunity.

Just spitballing here, but I think only linebacker Drew Jensen, offensive lineman Joe Tukuafu and receiver Gunner Romney will return. Romney said in the summer that this would be his final year, but that was before injuries wrecked his fourth season in Provo. Coming back would enable him to play not only with quarterback Baylor Romney but Tate Romney, the third brother, who is returning home from a mission next year.

I am almost certain that running back Tyler Allgeier will declare for the NFL draft. Of the 11 players in question, Allgeier and offensive lineman James Empey are the only ones who could possibly be drafted.

Because he served a two-year mission, Empey is older than the average fourth-year player and probably needs to strike this year before he’s seen as too old to get drafted. Matthew Criddle, Lopini Katoa, Neil Pau’u, and Earl Tuioti-Mariner have already said they are moving on.

Tukuafu is an interesting case. He’s older, too, but he doesn’t have as many starts under his belt as Empey, and could probably benefit from returning for another year. I found it interesting that big Joe didn’t do the “Senior Walk” after the game with the others. Perhaps that’s a sign.

Roderick said that coaches should know which players are leaving or staying before the bowl game. It should make for an interesting December.

Dick Harmon: Generally speaking, from an agency standpoint, I think any player who believes he can earn money at the next level should go do so. I think this is where Tyler Allgeier falls. He is the MVP of BYU’s football team this season and he should take advantage of his health and make money while he can. Having said that, I think he, James Empey, Neil Pau’u, Gunner Romney would be best served to have an evaluation done to see where they would go in the draft. Once they find out, it will give them a more clear picture if it is worth it.

On the other hand, Allgeier has an opportunity to return and become the school’s all-time leading rusher and that will be a temptation. I think it would be beneficial for Romney and Pau’u to return, and Empey should probably put in for the draft and leave because of his age. Pau’u injured his foot and the word I’ve received is he will not be back playing football until the bowl game in late December. This would be a good situation to return and play more games — ditto for Romney because of his injuries this past year, I get it that fans want players to return and keep playing for their enjoyment, but the window to play and make money is extremely tiny. If any of them receive a positive review to really make some money, is a no-brainer while they have their health. Payton Wilgar could benefit from another year.

Cougar tales

BYU football took its first break after 10 straight weeks after beating Idaho State in LaVell Edwards Stadium last Saturday. Here is a list of stories surrounding that last game and the bye week that followed heading into a game at Georgia Southern:

  • Should BYU have been more dominant in win? (Jay Drew)
  • BYU, Kalani more than answered “Prove it” season (Dick Harmon)
  • Report card on BYU win over Idaho State (Brandon Judd)
  • Pau’u injury serious, won’t play at Georgia Southern (Jay Drew)
  • 14 players honored on Senior Day (Jay Drew)

From the archives

From the Twitterverse

Extra points

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Comments from Deseret News readers

“It seems to me that the mighty Cougars have everything for a successful season ... except free throw shooting. My freshman team in HS shot better free throws than the Cougs did in their exhibition game. If that is not fixed, they will be mediocre at best this year losing 11-13 games. Opposing teams that watch film studiously will simply drive hard, and defend with more physicality than any team would expect and force the players to the free-throw line knowing they can’t make them, rather than give up shots. Shooting 43% from the 3 point line or 54% from the field won’t matter if they can’t get the shot off. If I was coaching against them I would play 10 guys and tell each that if they didn’t commit 4 fouls they wouldn’t play the next game. 30% times 40 fouls equals 12 points for BYU. 50% shooting times 40 shots equals 40-60 points. It’s a no brainer. I sure hope Pope has got that fixed before Saturday against SDSU.”

— owesly

“Recruitment will get much stronger over the next 2 years. Look for more 5 stars and 4 stars that aren’t LDS. Already, in just 2 months, BYU’s recruitment ranking has gone from the mid 70s to the mid 50s. BYU has so much to offer that guys like him that can go anywhere are considering BYU. This has never happened before in my recollection. Something to be said for sticking with the plan. So many said independence wasn’t sustainable and that BYU needed to join a G5, but Holmoe held it all together all those years until the right opportunity can along. He will be remembered fondly.”

— periloustimes

Up next

Nov. 9 | 8 a.m. | Men’s golf | St. Mary’s Invitational | @Pebble Beach, California

Nov. 9 | 4 p.m. | Women’s basketball | vs. Lipscomb | @Provo

Nov. 9 | 7 p.m. | Men’s basketball | vs. Cleveland State | @Provo

Nov. 10 | 8 a.m. | Men’s golf | St. Mary’s Invitational | @Pebble Beach, California

Nov. 11 | 7 p.m. | Women’s volleyball | vs. Pepperdine | @Provo

Nov. 12 | 11 a.m. | Cross-country | NCAA Regional | @Provo

Nov. 12 | 7 p.m. | Men’s basketball | vs. San Diego State | @Provo

Nov. 13 | TBA | Women’s tennis | CSUN Invitational | @Riverside, California

Nov. 13 | 1 p.m. | Women’s volleyball | vs. Loyola Marymount | @Provo