This week’s chilly and damp weather for the final spring workouts at BYU is not unlike the conditions last Thanksgiving weekend in Stillwater, Oklahoma. That’s where the 5-7 Cougars first Big 12 season ended, leaving them out in the cold — one win short of the postseason.

Fortunately, in the spring in Provo, BYU can practice indoors. The work getting done today is to make sure when they are back out in the cold in November, hosting Houston (Nov. 30), they will be in much better shape and playing much better football.

A stinging 0-5 finish in 2023 gave the players in Kalani Sitake’s program two options — complain and mope about it or learn and do something about it. Defensive rush end Isaiah Bagnah, who will also moonlight in pass coverage this fall, wasted no time debating which direction to go — he returned for his final year of eligibility to go all-in.

With drills wrapping up Saturday and with his sociology degree coming in May, Bagnah beams with optimism. The 6-foot-4, 235-pound Boise State transfer is excited about his life with a BYU diploma and his team’s chances during the Cougars second season in the Big 12.

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“I can’t wait,” said Bagnah with a smile on his face and eagerness in his eyes. For a guy who just finished a two-hour practice, he looked like a kid in a candy store with a pocket full of cash. “We will be ready!”

The seven conference defeats served notice that BYU wasn’t ready in 2023. Being a football independent for 12 years served a purpose, but it could only do so much to prepare the Cougars for nine-straight weeks of Power Five football.

BYU and Bagnah needed to get bigger, stronger and faster to succeed in a league fighting for its place in the College Football Playoff. Losing Texas and Oklahoma to the SEC while adding Colorado, Arizona, Utah and Arizona State increased the field for limited postseason opportunities.

In defensive coordinator Jay Hill’s first season at BYU, the Cougars managed just 11 sacks and allowed 417 yards of offense and 29.8 points per game. The points swelled to 37.6 points during the final five-game stretch against the better teams in the Big 12 and Bagnah was right in the middle of it, making his share of plays and mistakes.

The strip-sack and fumble recovery at Texas showed what he can do. Now he just needs to do more of it. His 27 total tackles are 20 fewer than teammate Tyler Batty at the other end of the defensive line.

With a second year in Hill’s defense, and one last chance to prepare for the NFL, Bagnah believes his best football is months away, beginning with Southern Illinois on Aug. 31 at LaVell Edwards Stadium.

“I can’t wait,” he said. “I will spend all summer dreaming about the plays I will need to make.”

BYU defensive end Isaiah Bagnah, as the Cougars practice in Provo on Friday, March 17, 2023. The 2023 Boise State transfer returned for one more year of college football. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News