LOS ANGELES — Control what you can control.
Along with constantly building a culture of “love and learning” in his football program, BYU football coach Kalani Sitake reminds his players to not worry about things that are out of their hands.
One such thing is where the 10-2 Cougars will go bowling, after they concluded the regular season with a too-close-for-comfort 35-31 win over USC at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday night in front of an announced crowd of 55,926.
Asked to make a case for BYU to get an invitation to a New Year’s Six bowl game after the come-from-behind win over the 4-7 Trojans, the Cougars’ fifth win over a Pac-12 team and sixth win over a Power Five conference team this season, Sitake deferred.
“I don’t control any of that,” he said. “All I know is that we played well enough to get one more game together as a team.
“I don’t know who is making the decision — there is a committee, obviously, but we are just going to be thankful for the opportunity to play.”
Slotted 13th in the College Football Playoff rankings going into the weekend, the Cougars are hoping to move two or three spots higher when the new rankings are released Tuesday by the CFP committee, but prospects for that don’t appear good.
That’s because No. 12 Michigan State and No. 8 Baylor won, leaving those schools in good position for an NY6 game.
Tenth-ranked Oklahoma’s loss to No. 7 Oklahoma State does create one opening, but that was just the Sooners’ second loss, so perhaps the committee won’t put BYU ahead of them.
At any rate, Sitake said he isn’t losing sleep over it.
As it stands now, BYU is almost certainly headed toward the bowl game it is contracted to play in if it isn’t invited to an NY6 game, the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, Louisiana, against a team from Conference USA, most likely UTSA.
The 11-1 Roadrunners’ perfect season went up in smoke Saturday with a 45-23 loss to North Texas, and the team from San Antonio tumbled out of the rankings Sunday.
BYU moved up a spot to No. 12 in the Associated Press Top 25 and a spot to No. 14 in the USA Today/Amway Coaches Poll. Those are meaningless polls at this juncture, however.
Postseasoon play is predicated on the CFP rankings.
“These guys earned (a bowl game),” Sitake said. “We will utilize the extra time to develop more players and be ready regardless of where it is.
“These guys know that we are thankful for that one more game that we have earned to be together and have some more fun, get 60 more minutes to play.”
Whatever the case, the Cougars need to heal up, Sitake said.
Add tight end Isaac Rex, who sustained a serious ankle injury against the Trojans, to the list of Cougars whose seasons have ended prematurely.
Sophomore Dallin Holker had arguably his best game as a Cougar in Rex’s absence, catching three passes for 56 yards and scooping up a Tyler Allgeier fumble and advancing the ball 22 yards during the Cougars final, game-winning drive.
“We feel like we have a lot of depth on this team, at that position,” Sitake said. “Not to make a lot of excuses, but there are a bunch of guys that are still missing (due to injuries), so we have to rely on our depth.”
In many ways, Sitake is doing it with smoke and mirrors. This is arguably his finest coaching job of his six-year tenure in Provo, given how many injuries he’s dealt with while still producing 10 wins for the second-straight season.
“For our schedule, and how tough it was for us to play sound football, we still played well,” Sitake said.
“You saw a lot of guys chip in and make plays. We had to use a bunch of different guys.”
One of those guys was redshirt freshman Jackson McChesney, who had just 11 carries entering the game but had three, for 17 yards and a touchdown, against the Trojans after star running back Tyler Allgeier was so beat up he suggested to coaches that perhaps another back should get some touches on the final drive.
“Well, Tyler was spent. You could see that he was so tired, and he has been banged up all year long. I think he is running on fumes at times,” Sitake said. “
“I think he knew at that moment that he probably wasn’t ready to go and trusted Jackson McChesney to get in there and make plays, and obviously (McChesney) broke tackles to score the touchdown for us.
“But Tyler, that is a true leader when he knows he could possibly hurt the team and that he needed the rest,” Sitake continued. “Just giving the opportunity to Jackson was huge. That’s a sign of a true leader.”
There’s one thing Sitake can control — and that’s how much talk there is about BYU being the Pac-12 champion, even if the claims are made in jest.
BYU defeated Arizona, Utah, Arizona State, Washington State and USC to go 5-0 against the Pac-12, but Sitake doesn’t like that kind of talk.
“We have too much respect for football and for this (Pac-12) conference to make statements like that,” he said.
“We are always going to try to be classy with the way we handle things.”
Sunday, USC’s athletic department issued a statement via Twitter apologizing for an “offensive chant” during the game that emanated from the Trojans’ sparse student section.
“Listen, it was an honor playing those teams,” Sitake said. “It is not easy making a schedule, so we appreciate all those teams for putting us on their schedule and working with our administration and our athletic director to put us on their schedule.”