Anderson has USU streaking toward an MWC title, Whittingham should have the Utes in the Rose Bowl, and Sitake is 19-3 in two seasons with two top-10 rankings in that span.
How hard is this to do these days?
Ask first-year Texas coach Steve Sarkisian, who is being paid a gazillion dollars to work in the nation’s richest athletic department. He starts 4-1 then goes on a five-game losing streak, the latest loss a 57-56 loss to Kansas at home.
Building a winning culture is hard.
Just ask Sarkisian’s predecessor Tom Herman, fired at Texas after a 7-3 season and the university paid him $15.4 million to abdicate. Ask Washington coach Jimmy Lake, fired over the weekend, or USC coach Clay Helton, fired early in the season after a 46-24 record in Los Angeles.
Utah’s FBS coaches have created remarkable seasons in 2021. All are headed to bowl games and Utah and USU are in title hunts.
Here is a top-10 list of the most significant and surprising storylines with USU, Utah and BYU heading into the final home stretch of the 2021 season. Ranking these is extremely tough and so subjective that it is conceded there is no consensus as to what should be the order.
10. Next man up
BYU’s defense that lost a bunch of key contributors then lost its best player Keenan Pili in Week 3, has held its own against every Power Five opponent not named Baylor, and held a Utah State offense that is proving to be quite good to fewer than 35 rushing yards.
9. Bombs away
USU receiver Deven Thompkins’ consistent delivery of huge yardage plays for Utah State, elevating as the nation’s top receiver (1,441 yards) as he cements remarkable chemistry with Arkansas State transfer QB Logan Bonner.
8. Utes stampede
The creation of a Utah run game with transfers after a shaky start by the offensive line. Tavion Thomas (742 yards), T.J. Pledger (502), and Micah Bernard (428), have created a force for the Utes that could play a big part in a possible Pac-12 title run.
7. Dealing with tragedy
The resiliency of Utah’s program, coaches, staff and players in the wake of losing freshman Ty Jordan to a 2020 Christmas night gunshot wound then enduring and dealing with a violent murder of defensive back Aaron Lowe in September at a house party in Salt Lake City. The subsequent somber honors, reflection amid playing a season has had an immeasurable but indelible impact. Off the field action that blankets a program.
6. Blockers ’R Us
The multiple dimensional performances of BYU’s offensive line to overcome injuries to key starters such as Harris LaChance and James Empey and not miss a beat, protecting the QBs and opening big holes for Tyler Allgeier, a 1,162-yard rusher to date.
5. Early upset
Utah State’s upset of Washington State in Pullman in the season opener, then going 5-0 in road games, the first time that’s happened to the Aggies program since 1973.
4. Getting physical
BYU not only beat Utah in ending a nine-game streak in September but beat Utah in the trenches, prompting Utah’s Whittingham — who usually doesn’t concede an inch in the rivalry game — to say even he was surprised that the Utes were manhandled physically.
3. The Rising
The dramatic turnaround of Utah’s offense after replacing Charlie Brewer with Cam Rising at quarterback. The move triggered a 6-1 run to take a commanding lead in the Pac-12 South. Rising’s gritty presence, run threat and ability to stretch the field proved critical to Utah’s offense.
2. Aggie Phoenix
Anderson’s impact on USU football is simply remarkable. Transplanting his system in Logan to a program that was 1-5 and had fired Gary Andersen after an 0-3 start to the current 8-2 win status fresh off demolishment of defending conference champion San Jose State is a huge accomplishment for the Aggies and Anderson.
1. The Trend
Add up No. 14 BYU’s list. An invitation to the Big 12, which redefined the school’s athletic program amid independence; ending a nine-game losing streak to Utah; going 4-0 against the Pac-12 and 5-1 against Power Five teams; recent recruiting wins; the emergence of Allgeier; the acquisition of the Nacua brothers, the trajectory created within the past 75 days of the season for Sitake is extraordinary if not stunning.