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What the national media is saying about BYU football one week before Big Ten starts play

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BYU quarterback Zach Wilson throws a pass during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Houston, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020, in Houston.

Eric Christian Smith, Associated Press

How does BYU stack up against the rest of the college football world?

It’s a difficult assessment to make, especially with four conferences, including Power Five leagues the Big Ten and Pac-12, still not playing in a season impacted greatly by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Soon, though, there will be better answers as two leagues — the Big Ten and the Mountain West Conference — kick off play this weekend. Expect rankings — from how teams compare to Heisman hype — to shuffle as the Big Ten makes its official 2020 debut.

BYU, meanwhile, is coming off a critical victory, rallying to beat Houston 43-26 on the road. The victory lifted the Cougars to No. 12 in the latest Associated Press top 25 poll and tied for No. 11 in the Coaches poll. Opinions continue to vary from the national media on how to assess this Cougar team that is off to a 5-0 start.

Top 10 in rankings

Several national media members have the Cougars in their top 10 following week 7 of the college football season.

ESPN’s Chris Low, for example, put the Cougars at No. 9 in his latest rankings, one spot in front of the Pac-12’s Oregon. “BYU took its biggest step yet toward an unbeaten season with a 43-26 win at Houston on Friday night, and junior quarterback Zach Wilson took another step toward inserting his name squarely into the Heisman Trophy race,” Low wrote. “... BYU, averaging 43.6 points per game, still has its toughest games to come against Boise State (on the road) and San Diego State.”

Bleacher Report moved the Cougars up four spots in its latest rankings to No. 11 and just outside the top 10, like the national polls currently have BYU. Fox College Football’s Joel Klatt, though, put the Cougars at No. 10 this week.

Two national writers were even more bold, positioning the Cougars at No. 4 in the country — keep it mind some writers are including only teams that are currently playing in their rankings.

One of those is Sports Illustrated’s Pat Forde, who wrote, “BYU had it easy through its first four games, and then Houston made the Cougars work for this one. ... The Cougars will be heavily favored in their next two games (Texas State and Western Kentucky) before facing Boise State Nov. 6. If the Cougars run the table, they will likely be the most argued-over team from a College Football Playoff perspective.”

The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman has also BYU at No. 4 in his latest top 10 rankings — he, too, only ranked teams who have played so far — praising Cougar quarterback Zach Wilson while also writing, “The Cougars are physical and play hard on defense. They got a nice win against a dangerous Houston team on Friday night.”

ESPN’s Paul Finebaum put BYU in his top four, while adding Notre Dame is coming off a “sloppy” win over Louisville and “Ohio State finally plays this weekend, and I think they’re going to be around for the rest of this season as a contender.”

As for BYU? “They may not get back into the No. 4 position, but a huge win against Houston Friday night. The Cougars have looked really good. Now do they have the schedule? That’s a big question mark,” Finebaum said. 

Love for Wilson

Speaking of Wilson, his latest performance — a career-high 400 passing yards and four touchdowns while completing 71.4% of his passes — again had national media singing his praises.

Athletic national college football reporter Stewart Mandel called Wilson a strong candidate for “the 2020 Joe Burrow Award” — in reference to the former LSU star who enjoyed a breakout season in 2019 and won the Heisman Trophy, on his way to becoming the top overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft.

“A promising but injury-plagued player who made 16 starts his first two seasons, Wilson has gone from 62-percent passer last season to 79 percent this season, from 7.5 yards per attempt to 12.0 YPA and from an 11-to-9 TD-INT ratio to 12-to-1,” Mandel wrote.

“The BYU revival is well underway, and (Zach) Wilson has done it with a mix of flair and football acumen.” — Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel

Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel also pointed to Wilson’s injury history and inconsistency in previous years as reasons why he’s not been on the national radar much before this season.

“The BYU revival is well underway, and Wilson has done it with a mix of flair and football acumen. NFL scouts are quickly becoming infatuated with Wilson, as he’s a natural thrower who can deliver the ball in small windows from a variety of arm angles,” Thamel wrote.

CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd, on a four-person list titled “Week 7 Heisman Hype,” had Wilson third, behind Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence and Alabama quarterback Mac Jones and ahead of Crimson Tide wide receiver Jaylen Waddle.

Postseason talk

ESPN’s latest bowl projections came out Sunday morning, and its two prognosticators — Mark Schlabach and Kyle Bonagura — both have the Cougars playing the Big 12’s Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl, one of the New Year’s Six bowls. They also have Cincinnati of the American Athletic Conference, another early Group of 5 top contender for a New Year’s Six bowl, going to the Peach Bowl.

CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm, meanwhile, has both BYU and Cincinnati missing out a New Year’s Six bowl but matching up in the Armed Forces Bowl.

In the latest Allstate Playoff Predictor on ESPN, both BYU and Utah show up in the top 15 teams predicted to make the College Football Playoff. The Cougars are given 10.3% odds to make the CFP, ninth overall and better than the Big 12’s top team, Oklahoma State, at 7.6%.

Utah, meanwhile, is given a 1.4% chance to reach the playoff (13th overall), the last of three Pac-12 schools to make the latest odds, with Oregon sixth overall at 22.2% and USC at 17.6% (ninth).

Three Big Ten teams are in the predictor’s top seven, including Ohio State (third, 68.3%), Wisconsin (fourth, 40.1%) and Penn State (seventh, 20.5%), before they play their first game.