Among the rhetoric at this week’s Big 12 football media days in Las Vegas will be the lofty expectations for the University of Utah in its conference debut and the lowly projections for BYU, which was elevated to Power Four status and joined the league last year.

“We learned that when we come to show up, we need to be ready. We understand we need to be ready no matter what. No matter who goes down, the next guy has to be up.”

—  BYU receiver Keelan Marion

The Cougars and Utes will settle their differences in a face-to-face encounter Nov. 9 in Salt Lake City. Neither side will require any extra motivation as the rivals meet as conference foes for the first time since 2010; however, as for the other 11 games on the schedule, BYU’s less-than-positive prognostications might serve as a catalyst for a surprise or two.

“They can keep them that low. We’ll prove them wrong,” junior receiver Keelan Marion told the “Y’s Guys” podcast last week. “They can keep them right there (at 4.5 wins). They are going to see. We’re coming!”

BYU jumped out to a 5-2 start last year before losing grad-transfer quarterback Kedon Slovis to a season-ending injury at Texas. The Cougars ended the year beset by mistakes and stung by five straight defeats.

The team reports to fall camp July 30. BYU remains unsettled at quarterback with Jake Retzlaff and Gerry Bohanon resuming their battle in practice. The guys they will be throwing to, however, are back healthy and better educated in their preparation.

“We learned that when we come to show up, we need to be ready,” Marion said. “We understand we need to be ready no matter what. No matter who goes down, the next guy has to be up.”

Marion joins Darius Lassiter, Chase Roberts, Kody Epps, Parker Kingston, JoJo Phillips and Keanu Hill (moved to tight end) as returners with valuable experience. It may be the deepest group of pass catchers in program history, both in capability and personality.

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“Some of the guys say this is the most fun they have ever had. There are a lot of laughs and positivity,” Marion said. “Everyone is in there to compete. We all push each other. Everyone wants to start. Everyone wants the ball. We always tell each other there is enough for everyone to eat, we just need to each do our part.”

Marion, who missed spring practice with a groin injury, caught 20 passes for 216 yards in his BYU debut. The UConn transfer also returned 19 kickoffs (20.4 average) and ran for three touchdowns on fly sweeps.

“I’m ready for camp. I’m back healthy and anxious to get back out there and compete with the boys,” Marion said. “When the ball comes my way, I know what to do with it and I know what I’m going to do with it.”

Playing for Mom

Prior to BYU, Marion played two seasons at UConn. The Atlanta native started all 12 games as a freshman in 2021 and led the Huskies with 28 receptions for 474 yards and five touchdowns.

Connecticut Huskies wide receiver Keelan Marion (1) looks to the quarterback for the play call during an NCAA football game on Saturday, August, 27, 2022 in Logan, Utah.
Connecticut Huskies receiver Keelan Marion looks to the quarterback during game against Utah State on Saturday, Aug., 27, 2022, in Logan, Utah. Now a member of the BYU Cougars, Marion is looking forward to Year 2 in the Big 12. | Tyler Tate, Associated Press

In the middle of it all was a certain Saturday in October that Marion will never forget. UConn rolled into Nashville, Tennessee, for a date with Vanderbilt.

“That was the first game my mom came and saw me play,” he said. “I had some living conditions back when I was younger, and my mom had never seen me play. But when I got to college, she and my dad found a way to come to Nashville.”

With Nicole and Kevin sitting in the stands, Marion delivered a dazzling performance on the field.

His first catch was for 11 yards on UConn’s second possession of the game. He added a 26-yard reception and a 40-yard touchdown in the second quarter and capped his first 100-plus yard game with a 25-yard catch in the fourth quarter.

The only thing that soured the surreal experience was Vanderbilt’s 31-yard game-winning field goal as time expired, handing Marion and his Huskies a 30-28 defeat.

“I know we had lost, but it felt great to do that in front of my mom and see that smile on her face,” he said. “She was crying, and it was my little brother’s first game (watching me) too.”

Marion is one of five boys and a pioneer in his home as the first to graduate from high school and go to college. His family will be in Provo for BYU’s home games this fall and in nearby Orlando when the Cougars play UCF on Oct. 26.

Going west

BYU receiver Keelan Marion runs for a touchdown against Arkansas at Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Brigham Young led the pioneers west to Utah in the 1800s in the hopes of finding better circumstances to grow and prosper. Marion made his own trek here last summer. In both cases, there was plenty of anxiety and fear of the unknown.

“Me being from Atlanta, people were saying, ‘You are not going to fit in there. You can’t do what you want to do there,’” Marion said. “I love that my team welcomes anyone no matter where they are from or how they were raised. You have some who are not members of the church and some who are. I think I’ve fit in just fine. The love in Utah is really genuine.”

First 3 plays

The Cougars open the season Aug. 31 against Southern Illinois at LaVell Edwards Stadium. If given the option to call BYU’s first three offensive plays of the game, following Marion’s own kickoff return, this is what the 6-foot, 195-pound target recommends.


First play: “We need to go deep. Take a shot.”

Second play: “Hand it off to Hinck (Hinckley Ropati).”

Third play: “Throw it again. We are going to throw it again!”

Dave McCann is a sportswriter and columnist for the Deseret News and is a play-by-play announcer and show host for BYUtv/ESPN+. He co-hosts “Y’s Guys” at and is the author of the children’s book “C is for Cougar,” available at

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