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Kalani Sitake is preparing to start spring practice in the coming days as the men’s basketball team slid into a dismal four-game losing streak on the road at Saint Mary’s. Coach Mark Pope has a home game with San Francisco to finish the regular WCC season and Sitake has set dates for three scrimmages on March 25, March 31 and April 14. The March 31 scrimmage is open to the public. In this piece, Dave McCann calls for Pope to make changes.

Sitake will take a hard look at the skills and athleticism of a lot of preferred walk-ons during spring as he welcomes in transfer talent from Boise State, Pittsburgh and junior colleges. A huge key is how transfer QB Kedon Slovis will adjust to Aaron Roderick’s offense.

Cougar Insiders predictions

Question of the week: There are some Big 12 preseason football rankings out that have BYU anywhere from 11th to 12th in the league, a way-too-early look but a project many in the media take on during the winter. How do you see the Cougars fitting into the league during season one of league play?

Jay Drew: Let’s just say I was not surprised when I saw that several early Big 12 projections for the 2023 season have BYU at the bottom of the pack. That’s where I would have put the Cougars, too.

I wrote a few weeks ago about BYU’s low ranking for returning production, particularly on defense. Couple that with the fact that BYU struggled last year — going 8-5 — and it is fairly easy to argue that the Cougars will struggle mightily their first year or two in the Power Five league.

History has shown that depth is always a problem for BYU, and that shortcoming will be exacerbated in the Big 12, when the schedule won’t fall off in November as it did all those years as an independent.

All that said, the schedule released last month is not as overwhelming as I thought it might be. There are only a couple of games that seem unwinnable. BYU has a history of surprising folks — like in 2021 when it went 5-1 against Power Five foes. So I’m saying there might be a chance.

Dick Harmon: No question BYU will be hard-pressed to break even in the Big 12 Year 1 schedule. They’ll be breaking in a new QB, an RB from the transfer portal, installing a new defense and having to face some competition they have not faced on a regular basis. However, I’m optimistic that the Cougars will not be in the basement.

BYU has defeated Oklahoma, Baylor, Texas, Houston and Central Florida in years past, but the challenge in the Big 12 is the weekly grind. BYU is a work in progress on depth, and that is key. Fesi Sitake needs to build back receivers depth and Justin Ena needs linebackers. This is a rebuilding year for the Cougars and that will be a challenge. 

I believe prognosticators are overlooking four factors that could elevate BYU higher than expected. The first is having Jay Hill as defensive coordinator and assistant head coach. Second, if they shake up the strength and conditioning program, with the hope of avoiding the rate of injuries that have plagued the program for a long time. Every team has injuries, but BYU’s have been especially tough because of the lack of depth. Third, BYU’s preferred walk-on program and returning missionary talent combined with the NIL program can deliver some immediate help not measured by recruiting rankings. Also, the kicking game will be more consistent. Fourth is what BYU is able to do now with more Power Five money, absent in years past. That has to do with staff, resources, training competency and with the coach workload.

The Big 12 is a great football conference, but it is a league where defenses struggle because of explosive offenses. BYU will only be as good as its offense executes on a consistent basis.

Cougar tales

The Cougar men’s golf team shattered a tournament record in winning a tournament in Hawaii last week. 

In men’s hoops the Cougars fell short in a hard-fought effort at WCC No. 1 Saint Mary’s, extending a losing streak to four games. Prior to that, the Cougars program under Pope received a lot of scrutiny when BYU looked weak and uninterested in a blowout loss to Santa Clara in the Marriott Center.

In women’s basketball, the Cougars beat Santa Clara 78-72 but lost to San Francisco 72-59.

Former track star Whittni Morgan put in another outstanding performance in the 3,000 meters.

From the archives

Related
QB guru John Beck weighs in on Zach Wilson (and Jaren Hall and Kedon Slovis)
Heading into the final week of the season, what seed would struggling BYU receive in the WCC tournament?

From the Twitterverse

Extra points

Fanalyst

Comments from Deseret News readers:

An honest article on BYU basketball. The portal cannot be the primary tool for bringing in players. For a team to develop it needs the chance to play together. Completely retooling every year will never produce a successful program. Secondly, it was obvious last year that BYU’s limited size was a problem. Their season fell apart when the two big men went down with injuries. Maybe there were no big men available but no matter how good your center is 6-6 is too short to play center in college ball. I’m no coach or bball expert but even I could tell that this was going to be a tough season for the Y and though they have played better than expected it is not surprising for an undersized and under skilled team to wear down over the course of a season.

BYU will fail miserably in the Big 12 if some serious changes are not made. They need size as well as talent.

— DH48

Pertinent points in this article. Gotta hand it to Sitake ... not a fan of his ... however I’ve got to admit he finally made the much needed nepotism changes. It was totally getting out of hand. BYU football may actually be able to head in the right direction now.

Pope is another story. Even “in-game” adjustments are hard for him. Too many examples to mention here. However, perhaps he can grow himself from all this and recognize the much needed “course corrections” which need to take place. This remains to be seen.

— magicman32

Why is Pope not winning any of the best LDS athletes? First BYU coach in history to start five non LDS players is only an accomplishment if you are actually good, not the worst BYU team in decades. Why is UVU getting vastly better talent including a far superior center with actual height? UVU has no facilities nor money nor fan support nor games on TV but have beaten BYU two years in row and are winning their conference.

Pope’s recruiting is horrendous and his coaching is average at best, he only did good his first couple years as he made a super team from the best of UVU and BYU players, but now he actually has to recruit for the long term and he can’t even get out of the bottom half of the pathetic WCC, so the Big 12 is going to embarrass him badly next year as he is in way over his head. I would love for him to prove me wrong but his teams has progressively gotten worse each and every year as he depends on low major rejects from the transfer portal to get BYU these absolutely horrible low major type teams. I hope they have a good plan B coach to get this program back on top after they crash and burn again next year.

— Terry

Up next

Feb. 22 | 5 p.m. | Baseball | vs. Louisiana Lafayette | @Lafayette, Louisiana

Feb. 23 | 4 p.m. | Softball | vs. Missouri | @Cathedral City, California

Feb. 23 | 5 p.m. | Baseball | vs. Louisiana Lafeyette | @Lafayette, Louisiana

Feb. 23 | 6:30 p.m. | Softball | vs. Texas A&M | @Cathedral City, California

Feb. 23 | 7 p.m. | Women’s basketball | vs. Portland | @Provo

Feb. 25 | 8 p.m. | Men’s basketball | vs. San Francisco | @Provo

Saint Mary’s guard Logan Johnson (0) shoots during game against BYU in Moraga, Calif., Saturday, Feb. 18, 2023. The Cougars fell to the Gaels, extending their losing streak to four games. | Godofredo A. Vásquez, Associated Press