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It’s OK for fans to be salty about bowl game, but they mustn’t forget sweetness of the season

And lest fans forget, the Big 12 is coming, the Big 12 is coming

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BYU coach Kalani Sitake, walks off the field after a timeout as BYU and USF play in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021.

BYU coach Kalani Sitake during game against USF at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021. The Cougars learned Sunday they will play UAB in the Independence Bowl on Dec. 18, 2021.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

“The Big 12 is coming! The Big 12 is coming!” If there was ever a time when Cougar Nation needed a Paul Revere-like message this is it. “The Big 12 is coming!”

Instead of by horseback during the middle of the night, this message should be shouted through all forms of mass communication, 24 hours a day.

Revere’s message was to warn colonialists about a British attack. The “Big 12” declaration is to prepare Cougar athletics for prosperity — larger television revenues, better scheduling and access, without prejudice, to the biggest bowl games in the land.

Ironically, all it will cost BYU is their independence. Freedom in the world of high-stakes college football comes with a price and the Cougars are paying it by playing UAB in the Independence Bowl on Dec. 18.

While coaches and administrators are careful to say the right things, the reality is BYU’s No. 13 ranking (down one spot from last week) and 10-2 record means very little to the power conferences. This is a scenario that has played itself out over and over for 11 years.     

This is why BYU’s biggest win of the 2021 season, and possibly ever — except for the 1984 national championship — came on Sept. 10. And yes, it is much bigger than the win over Utah the following day.

Big 12 announcement

BYU President Kevin J. Worthen announced the Cougars had accepted an invitation to join the Big 12 Conference in the fall of 2023 in all sports. Athletic director Tom Holmoe pulled a Big 12 hat down over his eyes and declared, “Cougar Nation, welcome to the Big 12!”

While fans are weeping and wailing over Sunday’s selection snub, the true prize of P5 membership trumps any 2021 bowl game against any opponent. This is the holy grail. This is the game-changer for a program that has been preparing for such a day since LaVell Edwards first asked his quarterback to throw a pass.

No matter the social media scrutiny or salty one-liners, nothing should sour 2021. Every argument about how BYU, as an independent, has been treated unfairly, unjustly and inexcusably poor is now irrelevant.

Let it go.

Elsa is right. Being “Frozen” out of the big time is about to thaw.

BYU has been playing with house money since Sept. 10. They have played loose and on the attack. Even the widespread injuries have had little impact on their success. In fact, no matter who is playing quarterback or center, for that matter, the Cougars are 21-3 in their last 24 games.

21-3.

LaVell Edwards Stadium is full. Television ratings are high. Recruiting is surging and most of the 2021 team returns for next year and could still be intact when Big 12 competition begins in 2023.

There is no question that unfairness often seems unbearable. Sunday’s rollout of the College Football Playoff rankings showed once again that if you are not a member of the club, with the absolute rare exception of undefeated Cincinnati, you are not getting invited to the party.

Even mighty Notre Dame, another football independent, tied its wagon to the ACC as a back-up plan for the postseason through 2037. The Irish fear thin ice when skating alone.

The low blow

Even as BYU was already down on one knee from Sunday’s gut punch by the CFP committee, a second kick to the head came when they ranked Utah ahead of them and then defended the move with statements reflecting more hyperbole than logic.    

 “Utah did lose head-to-head early in the season to BYU,” said Gary Barta, the chair of the selection committee. “But Utah went through a quarterback change when (Cam) Rising came in, and since him being added to their lineup, Utah has gone on to win nine of 10.”

All true. The Utes are playing as good as any team in the country.

What Barta failed to mention is while BYU went 5-0 against the Pac-12, they did so in games where teams played their starting quarterbacks. At no fault of their own, Utah earned victories over Washington State, Stanford, USC and UCLA while facing their backups — no Jayden de Laura, Tanner McKee, Jaxson Dart or Dorian Thompson.

Would it have made a difference in the outcome? I imagine those four teams would say “Yes!” It’s certainly debatable and shouldn’t be so excusable when using the same flawed logic to defend Utah not defeating BYU because of Kyle Whittingham’s quarterback selection.       

The Cougars rushed for 234 yards and sophomore quarterback Jaren Hall, in just his third career start, threw three touchdown passes in a game where BYU dominated the line of scrimmage and never trailed.

If BYU and Utah played this weekend, would BYU win again? Possibly? But the chore would be much harder. Of the 24 Cougar starters that opened the season against Arizona, only 13 of them started the regular-season finale at USC.

In all honesty, and considering BYU’s health, a Fiesta Bowl date with Oklahoma State might not be in their best interest, whereas Utah may very well go toe-to-toe with Ohio State in the Rose Bowl.

The true judgement between the (10-2) Cougars and (10-3) Utes is on the field, against each other, just like every year, and in 2021, that debate goes to BYU 26-17.

Better days ahead

Did the CFP committee deliver an injustice to BYU? When it comes to respecting the coaches, players and fans — absolutely. But what’s new? Should it skew what may be the Cougars’ best season in school history (considering the schedule)? Not if you are a visionary.

The year 2021 delivered the best news BYU football could ever receive — an invitation that will end the malarky that has pestered the Cougars since the moment they declared their independence.

Winning still matters, but if the last 11 years has taught us anything, it’s when you win and the kind of conference you win in — that is the standard moving forward.     

So, enjoy the Independence Bowl knowing that BYU’s dependence on independence is just about over — “The Big 12 is coming! The Big 12 is coming!”

Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is the studio host for “After Further Review,” co-host for “Countdown to Kickoff” and the “Postgame Show” and play-by-play announcer for BYUtv.