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Turnovers will determine BYU’s destiny in the Big 12, just like everybody else

Ball security almost always plays a hand in the outcome of college football games. Saturday in the Big 12 was Exhibit A.

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BYU safeties Marcus McKenzie (32) and Crew Wakley celebrate an interception during game against Southern Utah.

BYU safeties Marcus McKenzie (32) and Crew Wakley celebrate an interception during game against Southern Utah at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023. BYU won the game 41-16.

Megan Nielsen, Deseret News

With their bye week behind them, the BYU Cougars initial journey in the Big 12 is ready to continue, but with an altered landscape. Turns out, while the Cougars (4-1, 1-1) sat still over the weekend, the rest of the conference shook itself up and now that the dust has settled, opportunities are everywhere — even for the underdogs.

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Cougars on the air


BYU (1-1, 4-1)
at TCU (1-2, 3-3)
Oct. 14, 1:30 p.m. MDT
Amon G. Carter Stadium
(Capacity: 50,000)
TV: ESPN
Radio: 102.7 FM/1160 AM


Dominating the dysfunction are turnovers. The five Big 12 teams that lost last week combined for 12, while the winners had only two. In the last two weeks combined, the winners had five turnovers compared to 19 for the losers.

Could it really be that simple? Yes.

BYU is 4-0 when winning the turnover margin and 0-1 when it doesn’t. Against Cincinnati, the Bearcats had more rushing yards, more passing yards and dominated the time of possession, but the Cougars won the turnover margin 2-0 and won the game 35-27.

Even among the bigger boys, the numbers don’t lie. No. 11 Texas went on the road and defeated No. 3 Alabama 34-24 on Sept. 9. The Longhorns won the turnover battle 2-0. No. 12 Oklahoma beat those same No. 3 Longhorns on Saturday in Dallas 34-30. The Sooners won the turnover battle 3-0.

Take care of the football. Win the game.

There are no easy battles remaining for BYU. The Cougars could go 7-0 or 0-7 over the next seven weeks, with 4-3 or 3-4 more likely. However, after what we just saw between Friday and Saturday, a world of possibilities for an underdog is on the table.

In addition to the Texas-Oklahoma showdown, a struggling Oklahoma State team won the turnover battle 3-0 and upset defending Big 12 champion Kansas State 29-21. Iowa State won the turnover battle against TCU 4-0 and beat the Horned Frogs 27-14.

BYU may very well be an underdog in every game the rest of the way, but the point spreads are shrinking as their opportunities to upset the apple cart increase. Despite TCU’s defeat at Iowa State, and the loss of quarterback Chandler Morris to a leg injury, the Horned Frogs (3-3, 1-2) are currently a five-point favorite against BYU.

Nothing can offset five points faster than a timely turnover.

The Cougars defense will likely face redshirt freshman quarterback Josh Hoover, who is expected to make his first start. There is a glaring opportunity on offense, too. The struggling BYU ground game will see a TCU defense that has allowed 416 rushing yards combined in their back-to-back defeats.

When Texas Tech (3-3, 2-1) comes to Provo on Oct. 21, senior quarterback Tyler Shough will be on the sideline with a broken leg. Sophomore Behren Morton completed 19 of 26 passes for 180 yards with four total touchdowns and an interception in the Red Raiders’ 39-14 beatdown of Baylor.

Instead of their traditional “Air Raid” offense, Texas Tech turned to running back Tahj Brooks in Shough’s absence. Brooks rushed 31 times for 170 yards and a touchdown against the maligned Bears defense.

Opportunities for upsets abound for those who take care of the football.

No. 9 Texas and No. 5 Oklahoma are also ahead on the BYU schedule. It’s quite possible the Sooners will bring College Football Playoff opportunities with them to Provo on Nov. 18. Conditions will likely be cold, maybe even snowy — an environment ripe for out-of-towner mistakes.

Football is a game that favors the bigger, stronger and faster athletes. There are mismatches every Saturday. When upsets occur, and they frequently do, the glaring statistic in the box score is which team committed the most turnovers.

If BYU is to continue its impressive start, even as an underdog, it must take care of the football. Anyone who does can beat anyone who doesn’t. Biblical underdog David became a hero, and later, a modern-day sports metaphor when he slayed Goliath. To pull it off, he executed an improbable plan. Just think how the story might have ended had he fumbled away his stones.

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An Oklahoma fan holds up a sign during game against Texas at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023. Thanks to winning the turnover battle 3-0 against the Longhorns, the Sooners were indeed a dangerous foe and prevailed, 34-30.

LM Otero, 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.