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Capital gains: BYU football must trade in its 401(k) for a growth stock

Either way, BYU is not ready for Power Five trading floor just yet. And despite the defense’s poor showing, Cougars’ offense must learn to cash in more when it joins the Big 12 in 2023.

SHARE Capital gains: BYU football must trade in its 401(k) for a growth stock
BYU’s Chase Roberts is unable to bring in this pass during a game against Arkansas on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022.

BYU’s Chase Roberts is unable to bring in this pass during a game against Arkansas on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022. While BYU’s defense struggled mightily against the Razorbacks, equally concerning is BYU’s offense, which must become more explosive if it wants to be competitive next year in the Big 12.

Ben B. Braun, Deseret News

Once the wailing and gnashing of teeth phase passes, and it will, BYU’s football team and its fan base can look in the mirror and tell themselves, “We are not as good as we thought, nor as bad as we think.” But one thing is for certain, the Cougars are not ready for prime time as a Power Five competitor. Not yet.

BYU is operating like a productive 401(k) plan. The program is steady. While convinced that they are building for a better day, the game plan remains conservative as the volatility of the market rages around them.

The reality is in today’s game of college football, a 401(k) won’t win in the Big 12. The Cougars need cash on hand in the currency of urgency and some gusto to take a few chances. Granted, most of the conference teams reside in “red” states, but conservatism in politics does not translate to wins on the football field.

“What are we doing?” screams the season ticket holder who has invested time and money in a product that is not measuring up to lofty and somewhat unreasonable expectations. Fans want to see faster and higher returns and quicker in-game adjustments when things aren’t working. They are anxious and angry, as was the man who showered our BYUtv “GameDay” crew with his own objections after Saturday’s 52-35 defeat.

He had a point to make, or vent, and he did it. And he isn’t wrong. It is time to get out of the box and change the futures forecast. If not, residency at the bottom of the Big 12 awaits.

If the last two weeks have revealed anything, it’s that at the midseason mark of a challenging schedule, BYU’s size and strength still needs to improve and its defensive schemes have to be changed or at least tweaked to better complement the available talent.

Most of all, and despite everything else, BYU’s offense must score more points. Arkansas put 52 on the board Saturday, which meant the Cougars needed to score 53. Considering the state of the Big 12, scoring points will always outweigh preventing them.

TCU, once known for its stout defense in the Mountain West Conference, joined the Big 12 and realized that winning with defense was a G5 thing. The Horned Frogs altered their entire program to the spread offense to try and keep up. They didn’t get there overnight, but eventually they arrived. The No. 8 Horned Frogs are 6-0 and fresh off a 43-40 double-overtime win against No. 11 Oklahoma State.

BYU isn’t ready for that kind of fight and certainly not on a week-in and week-out basis, but that’s where the future is. The shootouts are coming.

Notre Dame (3-3) is no world beater. The Irish proved that again Saturday by losing at home to Stanford. After the Irish amassed 496 yards of offense and converted 11 of 16 third downs against BYU in Las Vegas, the Cardinal held them to 301 yards, including three of 12 on third down.

Arkansas (4-3, 1-3) is better than Notre Dame, but the Razorbacks sit tied for last place in the SEC West. Still, they had enough to go hog wild at BYU, running up 644 yards of offense and scoring on eight consecutive possessions.

If there is any good news to come from those defeats, it may be that BYU has found the blueprint for success as a P5.

First, getting bigger and stronger is an obvious prerequisite and the Cougars are in a mad scramble to upgrade recruiting. It’s going to take a while and require some patience.

Keep in mind, when BYU put this 2022 schedule together, the Cougars had no idea a Big 12 invitation was coming for 2023. Similar to 2021, they loaded up P5s that include Baylor, Oregon, Notre Dame, Arkansas and Stanford because the paying fans and television partner demanded something more than a glorified G5 schedule.

The problem is, without the infrastructure of depth, the Cougars take the field trying to look and act like a P5, but they aren’t one. Not yet. These schedules leave them battered, bruised and maligned by midseason — whether they are winning or losing.

This is a dilemma that can be resolved through time and recruiting, just as it has for all of the other P5 converts, but with 10 P5 games on next year’s schedule, it’s gonna get painful before it gets better. This is also where fans get anxious because everything surrounding BYU football already looks like a P5.

Saturday’s pregame festivities in a sold-out LaVell Edwards Stadium, with the pageantry of the band, the F-35 flyover and in-house fireworks, screamed Big Time. One Razorbacks fan who traveled to Provo for the first time told me he was stunned by the atmosphere.

Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark echoed the same thing during his visit to Provo for the Baylor game on Sept. 10. BYU has all of the bells and whistles in place, now it needs the muscle and brawn to go with it.

The second nugget in BYU’s blueprint for the future was revealed by Arkansas’ lack of interest in playing defense. The Cougars scored 35 points and Jaren Hall threw for 356 yards and three touchdowns and the Hogs looked as though they couldn't care less.

An interesting trend is developing among P5 programs. The notion that “defense wins championships” has been replaced by an all-out assault to score points. 

During 15 of Saturday’s P5 matchups, the average point total was 79.4 — nearly 39 points per team. Alabama and Tennessee combined for 101 while both being ranked among the top six in the AP Top 25 and with rosters decorated with four- and-five-star players — on defense.

Among Big 12 foes, Kansas and Oklahoma combined for 94 points, Oklahoma State and TCU totaled 83 — as did Baylor and West Virginia. Those are six of BYU’s future opponents. Those teams that scored more than their opponent are still celebrating. They couldn’t care less about the defense.

Even at the University of Utah, where Kyle Whittingham’s defense has been the standard for three decades, the Utes and its fans stormed Rice-Eccles Stadium Saturday night in celebration — after allowing 556 yards of offense and 42 points to USC — because the only stat that mattered is that the Utah offense scored 43.

To Arkansas’ credit, its defense did just enough to offset the balance of scoring against BYU. The Hogs trailed 21-14 in the second quarter, but finished the half with 17 unanswered points, fueled by a fumble and an interception.

To a traditionalist, the angst is on the BYU defense and, knowing that, head coach Kalani Sitake promises some changes. But to the futurist, Saturday’s demise could be placed squarely on the offense. The Cougars had every tool in the box to outscore or at least keep pace with Arkansas, but when the offense slammed on its own brakes, the Hogs raced off to victory.

Yes, the defensive scheme needs to change. I don’t know why the Cougars substitute so many guys in and out, and the third-down defense and overall tackling is as bad as it seems. Against Notre Dame and Arkansas, the BYU defense allowed a stunning 23 of 31 third-down conversions.

Fortunately for the rest of the 2022 season, most of that can be addressed in practice and on the recruiting trail, but the future success for BYU rides with the offense, just as its illustrious past has done.

Scoring points as a P5 and in the Big 12 must be priority No. 1 and the Cougars have six more games to get ready for it — both physically and emotionally.

The shootouts are coming in 2023 and they are no respecter of recruiting stars. What matters is how many guns and how much ammo is in your arsenal and how willing you are to take a shot because for BYU to win as a P5, it’s gonna take all of it.

401(k)s are for retirement when the work is done. For the Cougars, their dream job doesn’t even start until July 1. But with the currency of urgency, they should be buying stock right now in the offense — that’s what the Big 12 market demands.

Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is the studio host for “BYU Sports Nation Game Day,” “The Post Game Show,” “After Further Review” and play-by-play announcer for BYUtv. He is also co-host of “Y’s Guys” at ysguys.com. 

Keanu Hill (wearing white), a wide receiver for the BYU Cougars, drops a pass during a tackle from Drew Sanders

BYU’s Keanu Hill drops a pass during game against Arkansas in Provo on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022. While BYU’s defense struggled mightily against the Razorbacks, equally concerning is BYU’s offense, which must become more explosive if it wants to be competitive next year in the Big 12.

Ben B. Braun, Deseret News