Years ago, as a young boy visiting my grandparents in Peru, Indiana, I quietly slipped out of the house to go to the candy store by myself. I was convinced I knew the way, but with just one wrong turn, I became lost. Not recognizing anything, I did what any 5-year-old would do, I just kept walking — passing through neighborhoods I had never seen before.

To make matters worse, an angry dog rushed over to torment me on the sidewalk. I knew I was in trouble. Some nice people heard me crying. They took me inside their home and called the police. A short time later I was sitting in the front seat of the patrol car as we drove up and down the streets of Peru looking for my grandparents’ house.

The officer peppered me with questions as he searched for clues. He knew the area. Unlike me, he had spent years canvassing the city and eventually, we found the Schmidt residence with our brown station wagon parked out front. I would have never made it back without him.

The old saying “you can’t go back to where you have never been” rang true back then and rings true today as BYU sets course to its own candy store — Power Five status and membership in the Big 12 Conference. The Cougars can’t lean on experience because they have never been a member of a P5 conference, and they have never played 10 consecutive P5 opponents like they will next fall.

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It will be easy to take a wrong turn and get lost. Wandering through strange neighborhoods can be a perilous challenge and without someone who knows their way around the journey could turn into a nightmare — and even attract an angry dog or two.

This is where Kedon Slovis comes in.

The 6-foot-3 grad-transfer quarterback from Pittsburgh doesn’t have a locker yet at BYU, but he is already the biggest asset in the locker room as the Cougars prepare to join the ranks of P5 football.

Slovis isn’t perfect. He’s thrown a lot of interceptions (33) and BYU is his third school in three years. But if timing is truly everything, then his timing to come to Provo couldn’t come at a better time for the Cougars.

The 9,973 career passing yards and 68 touchdowns are impressive, but what Slovis really brings to the table is not terribly different from what that Indiana police officer brought to me — experience. Slovis has been there. He knows the neighborhood. He also knows the turns to take, and how to recover after making a wrong one.

In other words, he knows where the candy store is and he believes Aaron Roderick’s offense can not only get the Cougars off to a sweet start in the Big 12, but it can also prepare him for the NFL, just as Roderick has done for Zach Wilson and Jaren Hall.

Slovis has been schooled in winning and losing. He knows what it’s like to play through an injury, and what it’s like to be sidelined by one. He knows the thrill of winning a starting job and the agony of losing it. He knows the joy of playing for the coach (Clay Helton) who recruited him and the anxiety of watching him get fired two games into his junior season.

When it comes to the politics of the game, Slovis is no slouch. He watched the Trojans hire head coach Lincoln Riley away from Oklahoma on Nov. 28, 2021 and learned that Riley was bringing his prized quarterback (Caleb Williams) with him. After transferring to Pittsburgh, Slovis saw additional coaching changes that altered the Panthers’ approach on offense.

BYU defensive lineman Khyiris Tonga (95) blocks a pass by USC quarterback Kedon Slovis in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019.
BYU defensive lineman Khyiris Tonga knocks down a pass by USC quarterback Kedon Slovis (9) in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

What matters most to BYU is that Slovis knows P5 football. It’s all he has ever played. Hall’s resume of 11 P5 opponents is the most any Cougars quarterback has ever faced. Slovis has played against 34 of them (35 if you prematurely include BYU’s 30-27 overtime win in 2019).

While the Cougars were fighting through premium dates this season against No. 9 Baylor, No. 25 Oregon, Notre Dame, Arkansas and Stanford, Slovis was slinging the ball around against West Virginia, No. 22 Tennessee, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Louisville, No. 21 North Carolina, No. 20 Syracuse, Virginia, Duke and Miami.

BYU came out of the grind with an injured quarterback and an 8-5 season. Slovis surfaced at 8-4 and opted out of Pittsburgh’s Friday bowl game against UCLA to transfer to Provo.

There will be growing pains as the Cougars transition into a neighborhood where they have never been before. The notion of a 10-game P5 schedule is ominous, even overwhelming. The idea of getting lost in it all would be understandable.

Slovis is not Superman, but with his arm strength and experience at quarterback, BYU has a chance to debut in the Big 12 as a contender to compete in the upper half of the conference. Such an accomplishment would land the Cougars their biggest bowl game since taking down Big 12 foe Kansas State in the 1997 Cotton Bowl.

To put it in terms that even an adventurous, sugar-deficient 5-year-old will understand, Slovis can lead the Cougars to the candy store and back — without getting lost.

Pittsburgh quarterback Kedon Slovis (9) celebrates with running back Israel Abanikanda after he made a two-point conversion against Duke, Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022, in Pittsburgh. | Keith Srakocic, Associated Press

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.