Kalani Sitake will open his sixth BYU camp, a half dozen years of lesson-learning as a young head coach in his back pocket, and he’s resting on an 11-win season and national ranking during a 2020 year that was out of the ordinary.
“Put an asterisk on it,” some say.
“They didn’t deserve the ranking,“ say others.
“Who did they play?,” add more.
“This year, they’ll play some real teams, and they’ll generally get their butts kicked,” some predict.
But all you can do is play who’s in front of you.
That’s what Sitake’s team did a year ago while others bowed out, canceled and shortened their seasons in a COVID-19 campaign that begged for caution and protocols.
Sitake won’t buy into the mindset that any milestone got passed by his team in 2020. Come Thursday, he will preach work, earning respect and fighting for positions and playing time. There’s a ton to prove. This is the psychological game a veteran coach sells in hot August leading up to Game 1.
In truth, there is a lot to prove for this team.
Take the QB spot for instance.
In Provo, if you do not have a chain-moving, play-making, TD-producing quarterback leading the way, not a lot really works. Not on offense, not on defense.
That guy sets the tone.
By all accounts, Jaren Hall will take the first snaps in practice, where he’ll be pushed hard by an experienced Baylor Romney and anxious freshman Jacob Conover.
That first guy will have to prove a ton. He’ll have to move the offense, take charge, have a lot of 9 of 10 and 11 for 11 passing days in skeleton drills. He’ll need to be efficient in yards per completion, TDs per possession. He’ll have to look and act the part and simply be productive and feared by defenders.
That’s what Zach Wilson did when he first stepped on the practice field for the Cougars. That’s what others have done who went before. You erase all doubt. If you don’t the next guy is the most popular.
Like Wilson before him, Hall decided to invest in working out with former BYU and NFL quarterback throwing guru John Beck at 3DQB in Southern California this summer.
Wilson made the most of it and it showed.
Hall has to hope some of that has rubbed off on him. He’s a competitor and a great athlete. He has a cannon for an arm. He can throw a 65-yard rocket running to his right and he can leave the pocket and scramble very effectively.
But is he a playmaking passer?
That remains to be seen.
Hall worked with Beck in a handful of visits and got in three sessions per trip to California.
“I know Jaren has worked extremely hard this summer,” Beck said on Saturday. “He made this most of every opportunity he had to come out there and train in California. On each of his visits, we talked about the preparation he was putting in back in Provo with his teammates and coaches.
“I know this opportunity means a lot to him and he’s doing all he can to make the most of it. I’m excited to see what he can do after this whole offseason of taking reps during spring ball and summer workouts with the team.”
What’s the standard?
Hall doesn’t have to be Wilson, but he has to be productive. Good numbers with this kind of schedule would be 225 yards passing, 50 running, 57 percent completions and a couple of TDs by run or pass. He does that, he’ll be on his way to a productive showing.
If not, there are others anxious to push, prod and show that they can, and offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick is not going to hold a month-long experiment to find his Wilson replacement should Hall be inconsistent in camp.
This is the QB spot in Provo. All eyes and certainly most of the pressure will be upon that position.
Fortunately, Hall or whoever emerges will have a lot of help with a solid, experienced running back room, one of the deepest receiving corps in memory and a tight end group that has great size, some speed and hops.
Aside from the QB, the big storylines will be BYU’s front seven on defense, the safety position and how the offensive line reacts with the loss of Brady Christensen and Tristen Hoge.
Fall football camp. You can sense it coming right around the corner this week.
And yes, this Sitake team has a lot to prove.
That should be the theme the next four weeks heading to Las Vegas to battle Arizona. That pretty new locker room? Bronco Mendenhall would probably make players earn the right to dress in it.