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After falling short of an NY6 bowl, Cougars hunkering down for UAB

Also, how will BYU basketball team deal with loss of Richard Harwood and Gavin Baxter?

BYU quarterback Jaren Hall delivers a pass to receiver Neil Pau’u for a touchdown against Virginia in Provo.
BYU quarterback Jaren Hall delivers a pass to receiver Neil Pau’u for a touchdown against Virginia at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021. The Cougars will face UAB in the Independence Bowl on Dec. 18, 2021, in Shreveport, Louisiana.
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.

If you are an independent, which BYU is, you have no conference cover and you lose the political game, which is college football as evidenced by the Cougars’ drop in the College Football Playoff rankings despite beating conference champions Utah and Utah State and going 5-0 vs the Pac-12.

BYU is contractually obligated to go to Shreveport, Louisiana, and play the University of Alabama-Birmingham in the Independence Bowl on Dec. 18 on ESPN. BYU’s only out would be if an NY6 bowl came with a proper ranking. The CFP folks took care of themselves and their own while holding their noses and allowing Cincinnati in because the Bearcats beat Notre Dame.

BYU is riding a crest of outstanding sports programs this fall with a perfect 29-0 record in November for football, both men and women’s basketball, two individual champions in cross-country, the women’s volleyball team in the Sweet 16 and the soccer team coming up a kick short in the NCAA title game.

This is pretty good stuff. Don’t let a political bowl situation rob you from what’s happened this fall.

Cougar Insider prediction

Here is the question of the week: Will BYU be able to survive the losses of big men Richard Harward and Gavin Baxter and still have a standout season?

Jay Drew: I can’t claim to having watched every BYU basketball game this season, but I am going to say that BYU will struggle the remainder of the season while so shorthanded inside. The Cougars still have some outstanding big men, but losing the snake-bit Gavin Baxter really, really hurt. I feel especially sorry for Baxter, whose BYU career was short-circuited by injuries.

Gonzaga looks a bit vulnerable this season, but I question whether the Cougars now have the horses down low to knock off the Zags — in Provo or Spokane. Here’s hoping Harward can make it back soon.

Guards Te’Jon Lucas and Alex Barcello will have to carry this team. Gideon George will help them when he returns from the illness that has sidelined him the past few games.

How good is coach Mark Pope? We are about to find out. Adversity has really hit the Cougars hard this season, and we haven’t even gotten to January yet.

Dick Harmon: I think BYU can still have success and do some damage in the West Coast Conference because they are experienced in the backcourt and very physical on the boards — even with the loss of Richard Harward and Gavin Baxter. That isn’t to say those two losses are not huge and transformative.

When you lose size, you need to make up for it with 3-point shooting. Alex Barcello can do that and so can Te’Jon Lucas and Spencer Johnson. What this team needs is for Gideon George, Trevin Knell and Seneca Knight to start earning their investment by knocking down outside shots which the offense has provided them so far this season. Caleb Lohner needs to shake off his slump and develop a back-to-the basket offensive game. He can hit 3s and quite frankly, he has to. Shooters need to shoot. If you’ve got that, the loss of the big men remains a void, but is workable. If you miss 3-pointers like they have, then it will be a long WCC season.

Cougar tales

It took an entire game, two 10-minute overtime periods, and a shootout kick extravaganza for No. 1 ranked Florida State to beat BYU’s women in the NCAA soccer championship in Santa Clara, California, on Monday. The women were that good.

Here is Jay Drew’s recap of the title match and how close this dramatic game was on the West Coast.

In women’s volleyball, BYU advanced to the Sweet 16 with a win over rival Utah in the Smith Fieldhouse over the weekend, Here is a recap of that emotional, hard-fought game.

Jeff Judkins’ women made history this past week by climbing in the national rankings. Read about it here and the account of where Mark Pope’s team tumbled in the polls after losing to Utah Valley.

From the archives

From the Twitterverse

Extra points

BYU’s AD says Sitake is long-term coach in Provo (KSL Sports)

Sitake’s name keeps popping up (Sportsline)

BYU players focused on UAB after CFP politics (Daily Herald)

Can BYU keep Sitake? (Deseret News)

Fanalyst

Comments from Deseret News readers:

Both BYU and Utah got hit by quacks!

Oregon basketball made BYU look better than they are, and Oregon football did the same for Utah.

— Worf

After all the static and chatter, particularly from the Utah fans, I want to say how proud I am of my school. Going 10-2, despite losing players to injury (like other teams), winning all its games against the Pac-12, beating Bronco’s team, and doing so in highly entertaining fashion, with class, is a remarkable achievement. Tyler Allgeier, Jalen Hall, Puka and Samson Nacua, Gunner Romney and others, especially the relatively unheralded big guys who did heavy lifting on O- and D-lines, made me not just watch but hold my head high.

And congratulations to Utah for righting the ship and winning its first Pac-12 championship. Tremendous accomplishment! And now the Rose Bowl. Good on ya, Utes.

My Cougs will continue to practice and players refine their skills in preparation for the Indy Bowl. I don’t know much about UAB, except to say it will they face a talented, physical and tough Cougars team.

The future looks promising. The invitation to the Big 12 is awesome and the timing leverages an advantage for recruiting. We’ll be ready for life in the ’12.

— Mowgli

Up next

Dec. 10 | 5 p.m. | Women’s basketball | vs. Oklahoma | @Oklahoma City

Dec. 11 | 10 a.m. | Men’s basketball | vs. Creighton | @Omaha, Nebraska