No. 13 BYU can claim something on the Pac-12, although the Cougars will never get a title, a division recognition medal, trophy, or pennant.
The Cougars took on five teams from that league this season and won all five, a perfect slate after a win over USC on Saturday.
“We live for these moments,” head coach Kalani Sitake said after the game.
“I’m just grateful for the opportunity to play Pac 12 teams.”
USC and its freshman quarterback, Utah native Jaxon Dart, played an emotional, face-saving, league protecting game against BYU late Saturday night but fell short of protecting the coastal pride of that Power 5 conference.
BYU gave the Trojans a taste, then took the sugar spoon away.
The Cougars finished a 5-0 run against the Pac-12 with a 35-31 win over USC in a game in which both teams finished the regular season looking like stumbling prizefighters waiting for the final bell.
Sitake, who showed his own fiery emotion fighting for some Pac-12 officiating to make some holding calls, left the field wearing a massive radiator grill grin.
“There was a lot of frustration going on out there and I had a bad day and I’ll do better. I hope to improve on that,” Sitake told BYUtv of his unsportsmanlike penalty in the second half.
But that was just a sideshow at the end when dramatic defensive and offensive plays by his team ultimately beat the Trojans.
His team left the Coliseum with a 10-2 record, beating the Trojans with a BYU defense missing six starters.
And it looked that way until the final two USC possessions.
That’s when BYU found some emotion of its own.
Just in time.
USC scored on four consecutive possessions to take a 31-28 lead in the fourth quarter after BYU raced to what looked like a comfortable 28-13 lead in the first half.
But this game ended on a desperation USC 13-play drive deep in BYU territory with defensive back Kaleb Hayes making a game-saving stop of on a Dart pass just two yards short of the first down marker on fourth down inside BYU’s 10.
Seldom-used Jackson McChesney scored BYU’s winning touchdown on a 7-yard run after BYU offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick called his number to replace a battered, tired star Tyler Allgeier.
The Cougars outscored their five Pac 12 opponents 133-90, beating the league’s South division favorites Utah and Arizona State and the North division runner-up Washington State.
While USC and BYU ended the regular season limping, hurt, beaten up and playing second and third-string players, the Cougars had enough in the tank to draw nearly half the fans at the Coliseum. It was another impressive Cougar fan showing on the road.
If there is a theme of BYU’s run through the Pac-12, it is that the Cougars outplayed squads that 247 Sports and other recruiting services rated with more talent.
For instance, USC’s 10-year average recruiting score by 247 Sports is an average of 18th nationally — BYU’s 10-year average recruiting ranking is 66th.
If you take the past five years, USC’s average ranking remains 18th with two classes ranked No. 4 and another 8th.
BYU’s last five classes averaged a ranking of 75, including last year’s 72nd and 78th the year before.
Folks, if the stars count, that’s as lopsided as a talent scout can make it.
Yet, Sitake, his staff, and his players went 5-freaking-0 against that Power 5 league.
The Cougars started out beating a struggling Arizona team in Las Vegas 24-16. The rest of the Pac-12 that faced the Cougars must have felt like their collective helmets were caught in a BYU table vise.
Up came Utah. Another half turn on the vise. Next came ASU, another half turn. Then Washington State and another half turn.
Finally USC, the vise stopped completely closed, both sides touching and USC simply flattened in the closing minute.
Allgeier rushed 21 times for 111 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but the season’s mileage wore on him late in this game. His
fumble on the final BYU scoring drive showed how fatigued this bull of a runner was.
Fortunately for him and the offense, tight end Dallin Holker picked up that fumble Allgeier set loose after a 7-yard run.
Holker then ran 22 more yards down the sideline. From there, McChesney stepped up and polished off the drive with several big-time runs.
“It’s such a crazy game with a lot of ups and downs, but everyone came together and we knew we would win the game,” Allgeier told BYUtv after the game.
“The offense trusted the defense and the defense trusted the offense.”
The night capped a unique weekend for BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe when his key sports teams finished the month of November undefeated.
Women’s soccer advance to the NCAA Final Four with a win over South Carolina on Saturday right before the men’s basketball team defeated rival Utah in Salt Lake City.
And that came after the women’s basketball team defeated ranked West Virginia to win a tournament in Florida.
But on the football field, the 10-2 finish gave Sitake a 21-3 record over the past two seasons. That is a big deal.
This 10-2, however, feels much more of achievement than last year’s 11-1 finish.
Going 5-0 against the Pac 12 is a big part of that.
“That’s something every child dreams of,” said linebacker Max Tooley.
Holker, who made that huge fumble pick-up and run in the fourth, said the feeling was unique and special.
“it’s awesome. It’s crazy. I mean, this is a crazy environment. Such a cool stadium to play in,” he said.
“And, you know, really, I thought we really came together as a team, especially at the end when our defense made great stuff and there’s a bunch of different dudes making different plays to help us eventually win. So it was awesome,” said Holker.