The latest weekend of college football was a memorable one. There were upsets, last-second thrillers and New Year’s Six play-in games.
Week 14 simply had something for every college football fan.
Here are six takeaways from the BYU, Utah and Utah State games, the latest exercise in Pac-12 parity, Top-25 upsets and more:
How will the 2020 BYU Cougars be remembered? How should they be?
The dream of a berth in a New Year’s Six bowl is over for BYU. As agonizingly close as it was, the Cougars’ loss to Coastal Carolina stopped that dream in its tracks.
At 9-1, and likely be be slated as the 18th- or 19th-best team in the country in the next release of the CFP rankings, BYU is going to fall out of the national discourse, baring another unexpectedly scheduled game.
It was the risk the Cougars took in traveling to Conway, South Carolina. With a win over the Chanticleers, BYU would have thrust itself into a New Year’s Six consideration. With a loss, BYU is likely headed to Frisco, Texas, or Boise or some other mid-level bowl destination at the end of year.
Whatever bowl BYU ends up in, the question now is how will the 2020 team be remembered.
Some of that will, of course, depend on whether or not BYU defeats San Diego State on Dec. 12 and wins its bowl game. An 11-1 Cougar team will certainly be looked at more fondly than a 9-3 version, especially when preseason rankings for 2021 roll around.
If BYU manages to secure another game, on Dec. 19, they could finish with 12 wins, or as many as four losses.
Whatever the final record, the 2020 season will likely be remembered with a bit of disappointment. BYU was a single yard away from reaching heights it never got to during the entire BCS era, to say nothing of the College Football Playoff era. Quarterback Zach Wilson was a yard away from bulldozing his way into the mix of the Heisman conversation, after hanging around all year long.
For many, the 2020 Cougars will be remembered for what could have been.
They should also be remembered, though, for what they did do.
That is, BYU became a national college football story for 14 weeks. For the first time since who knows when, the Cougars were regularly in the national discussion. Upset wins over Oklahoma, Nebraska, Wisconsin and USC briefly brought the nation’s eyes to Provo in year’s past, but in 2020 BYU was a weekly talking point for college football fans everywhere.
So yes, this year’s BYU team will be remembered for coming up short against Coastal Carolina, but they also put the Cougars back on the proverbial map.
Utah earns its first win of the season, but the eye test was not kind
The Utes will not go winless in 2020. That is a major takeaway from Saturday’s action up on the hill. Utah held on and defeated Oregon State 30-24, a week after the Beavers upset then-No. 15 Oregon.
For a young and inexperienced Utah team, the win was greatly needed, as wide receiver Britain Covey explained.
“It felt great. A ‘W’ is a ‘W,’” Covey said. “This is a young team. There are a lot of things to learn. This season, you’ve got to find the positives in it. We’re so happy to get a win. We’re sick of losing.”
And yet, despite improving to 1-2 on the year, the Utes didn’t exactly inspire.
Early on, Utah looked great, much like they did in the first half against Washington the week prior. Entering the fourth quarter, Utah led 30-10 and appeared on its way to a comfortable victory.
Penalty after penalty after penalty, coupled with extremely conservative offensive play-calling, turned that comfortable win into a nail-biter, though — a result that left head coach Kyle Whittingham anything but happy.
“It’s disappointing that we let the game get away from us,” he said. “We were in complete control and we lost control.”
That has been the story of the season for Utah, a lack of control. In some games, it’s been turnovers, in other’s penalties. An inability to control exposure to COVID-19 cost the team its first two games of the year.
It isn’t surprising, given the team’s youth, but the lack of control has left Utah looking like one of the worst teams in the Pac-12 this season.
With only two games remaining, including one against undefeated Colorado, a 1-4 season is a real possibility for the Utes, who need to get better in a hurry.
If only Utah State could play New Mexico every week
For a week, there was optimism, excitement and hope for the near and immediate future in Logan. After the Aggies defeated New Mexico last weekend, there was reason to believe that USU could take a step forward, even if only a small one.
After Thursday’s 35-7 loss at home to Air Force, those hopes should probably be stored away for the remainder of the year.
It was more of the same for USU, in the team’s fifth loss of the season. Outside of a strong opening offensive series, the offense couldn’t do much of anything, something interim head coach Frank Maile attributed to a lack of execution.
“It was lack of execution,” he said. “There’s a lot of pieces in that and everyone plays a part in that offensively. The bottom line is that we didn’t execute the way we needed to.”
Defensively, Utah State wasn’t any better and was particularly caught off-guard by the Falcons’ passing attack.
In the end, USU looked pretty much exactly like the team that started the year 0-4, the team that had its head coach fired, the team that was among the worst in the Mountain West Conference, the team... well, that point has been made.
Who is to blame for the Aggies’ struggles this year? Many should and do shoulder that burden — too many to list here — but Maile took it all upon himself, as head coaches are wont to do.
“Bottom line is that’s on me as the head coach, and I have to do a better job preparing these guys for the game,” he said.
As such, and with his record now 1-2 as the interim head coach this year, Maile’s chances of retaining the job on permanent basis are more slim than ever.
Pac-12 parity is one of the best things about college football, while simultaneously being awful for the conference
Is there anything more fun than Pac-12 football?
Not the caliber of play and certainly not the wealth of title contenders, but the sheer insanity of it all. The Pac-12 has genuine parity, which is missing from the rest of college football.
On Saturday, No. 22 Washington was upset by Stanford. No. 23 Oregon suffered the same fate against California. Previously winless Utah upended Oregon State and Colorado survived against Arizona.
The week before, then-No. 15 Oregon was upset by Oregon State, and look back week by week this season — most years really — and in almost every one, somebody beat someone they shouldn’t have.
It is exactly that parity that makes the Pac-12 fun to watch. The conference hasn’t had a truly dominant team since Oregon in 2011 or 2015, so on any given Saturday (this season, include some Sundays) anyone can win. Any team can beat any team.
That simply doesn’t happen in other conferences (the Big 12 is trying to prove otherwise this season).
Take the SEC or ACC. At the top of the SEC is Alabama and no one has played them close this year. In the ACC, Notre Dame and Clemson are at the top and no other team, not even 7-1 Miami, stands a chance. In the Big Ten, it is Ohio State, and no one else, to the point that the conference is looking at changing its rules to ensure the Buckeyes qualify for the conference championship game.
B1G ADs will likely change B1G title game requirements to allow 5-0 Ohio State in title game if it can’t play 6th league game, sources told @Stadium. But it won’t be an easy decision, source said. A win in B1G title game would all but guarantee Buckeyes a spot in @CFBPlayoff— Brett McMurphy (@Brett_McMurphy) December 5, 2020
Even in Group of Five conferences, like the AAC, Sun Belt or Mountain West, there are one or two teams at the top that appear mostly untouchable to the rest of the conference.
That just isn’t true in the Pac-12, which makes for thrilling football every weekend.
Of course, parity has routinely kept the conference out of the College Football Playoff discussion, and that is the case again this year.
Only two Pac-12 teams remain undefeated: Colorado and USC. The Trojans are ranked, but at No. 20, there isn’t really much of an avenue for them to make the CFP. Lack of playoff participants has hurt the prestige of the conference, as well as its pocket books, and will only continue do to so.
But, is there a more entertaining conference to watch?
San Jose State is officially a frontrunner to win the MWC
Of all the crazy things that 2020 has brought, few compare to what is happening in the MWC.
For years, the San Jose State Spartans had been doormats — maybe not the worst team, but never anywhere close to contention. The MWC was Boise State’s playground, except for years when Fresno State was resurgent or San Diego State made a run.
Entering the season, all eyes were on the Broncos and Aztecs again, and no one expected much of anything from the Spartans.
And yet, with only a week remaining in the season, San Jose State (5-0) is a win over Nevada away from clinching a berth in the MWC championship game. And if they make it, they’ll likely be the favorite to walk away with the title.
Let that sink in a little bit.
Boise State (4-1) is still strong, and Nevada (6-1) could play the role of spoiler and clinch its own berth in the title game, but San Jose State is a legitimate conference title contender. The Spartans are also one of only three undefeated Group of Five teams remaining in the country, along with Cincinnati and Coastal Carolina.
Who, if anyone, saw that coming?
More Top 25 teams fall. What will that mean for the CFP rankings?
Another shakeup in the rankings is coming.
Six ranked teams lost Saturday, namely No. 13 BYU, No. 15 Oklahoma State, No. 16 Wisconsin, No. 21 Marshall, No. 22 Washington and No. 23 Oregon.
Four of the six lost to unranked foes: Marshall to Rice, Oklahoma State to TCU, Washington to Stanford and Oregon to Cal.
While none of the losses should affect the top of the rankings, things will surely be shuffled from No. 13 to No. 25.
Washington and Oregon will most likely drop out of the rankings altogether, as could Marshall. Oklahoma State should fall into the low 20s, along with Wisconsin, while BYU will most likely land around 18 or 19.
Iowa, Coastal Carolina, North Carolina and USC — should the Trojans defeat Washington State on Sunday — should be the major beneficiaries, along with Tulsa and Louisiana.
There could also be some new teams in the Top 25, including San Jose State, Liberty or even Texas.
Higher up the table, Indiana could jump Oklahoma after beating Wisconsin, but probably not Iowa State or Georgia. The top 7, meanwhile, will likely not change at all.