The dust has settled now, and the math has all been tallied up. BYU lost a close game at Missouri, sending them topping out of the ranks of the Also Receiving Votes of the AP Poll, and likely into a Hawaii Bowl slot. The S&P+ just updated as well, and it only gives BYU a 46% chance of beating Utah State. If the math checks out, that means that BYU has a real chance of finishing 8-4 for the third consecutive regular season, and potentially the fourth consecutive eight win season.
In a vacuum, maybe going 8-4 this year, given the schedule and everything that has happened to BYU is totally fine, but this season doesn't exist in a vacuum. Is there now cause for existential panic among the fanbase? Has this been a disappointment?
Looking at this objectively as possible, I can see both sides. So lemme present both of them to you
No, this season hasn't been a disappointment, what are you, crazy?
You want exposure? You got exposure
Just about everybody outside of the most deranged Deseret News commenters realized that this year's BYU team didn't have realistic national championship potential. But you don't need to be in the top four to be a nationally relevant program, which is something that seems to be important to both BYU, and BYU fans. And in September, there might not have been a bigger story in college football than BYU, thanks to two miracle Hail Mary bombs (which gave us this!), and nearly a third against UCLA. That lead to a national media tour, scores of articles about BYU's chances as a dark-horse playoff contender, Tanner Mangum making everybody talk about missions, and more.
If you believe in BYU's independence as a vehicle for spreading awareness about BYU, the mission of the LDS church, and generally raising the Q score of the institution, it's hard to imagine it working out better than it did in September. Well, maybe it would have been better to avoid stuff like this, but otherwise, it was pretty perfect, even with the UCLA loss.
BYU had horrible injury/suspension luck, and could still win nine games
BYU lost their starting running back before the season. They lost their franchise QB after like, three quarters, and had to throw in a true freshman. They've had to cobble together a running game out of backup's backups. They played a game without four of their five offensive linemen. They've lost one of their best pass rushers for the season. They've had to play more freshman than nearly any other team in the country. They sport more walk-ons on their two deep than nearly any other decent team in the country. And yet, after all of that, the Cougars are 7-3, and could still finish 10-3.
It's not hard to look at all of that and want to take a glass half-full approach, especially since depth has been a concern for the Cougars after the last four years, and this glut of injuries could potentially set them up well for next season. Every team needs to deal with losing players, but the Cougars have weathered that storm pretty well. After all, this challenging schedule was built with a certain senior laden backfield in mind, and that backfield was completely gone after the very first game. Speaking of which,
BYU handled a potentially very difficult schedule
Nobody in college football played a harder September schedule than BYU, and the Cougars came out mostly intact, beating Nebraska and Boise State, and staying with UCLA snap for snap. They faced multiple challenging G5 programs and beat them all. The Cougars were underdogs in the first four games they played, and still won two of them, including one on the road. Given everything else that happened, you could argue the team still acquitted themselves nicely.
Every team that beat BYU had better players
UCLA and Michigan, by virtue of recruiting rankings, have some of the most talented rosters in the entire country. Missouri, for all of their problems on offense, featured a blue-chip QB and an elite defense, plus they were playing in a historic set of emotional circumstances. All three teams had better players, per the 247 Talent Composite. You can't really expect to win those games all of the time, no matter how much you can "coach 'em up".
No, I'm not crazy, this season has been a disappointment
This schedule isn't as tough as we thought it would be
Sure, there were some big names on that schedule in July, but now that we're in November, it doesn't look nearly as scary. Nebraska was thought to be a contender in the Big Ten West, but now, they'll be lucky to make a bowl game at all. Boise State was thought to be the overwhelming G5 favorite this season, now they're 7-3 and might not even win their division in a crummy Mountain West. UCLA looked like a Top 10 team, now they're on the fringes of the Top 25 entirely. ECU, Cincinnati, and even Utah State have underperformed too.
BCFToys, a great football analytics site, graphed what SOS looks like when compared to other conferences. For all of the talk about BYU's schedule before the season, and even with a few #brands wins, their schedule, per this metric, is still worse than every single team in the SEC, Pac-12 and Big 12, and most of the ACC and Big Ten.
So yeah. This is hard, but it wasn't THAT hard.
Yeah, other teams had better players, but that's not going to change
It sure is hard to beat teams that have bigger, faster and stronger players than you, and even harder when they have more of them. But that's also a fact of life for BYU. Next year's schedule is even harder on paper than this year's, and that trend really isn't going away. If that's an excuse for this season, it's sort of a built in thing for forever, right?
BYU isn't getting better
Since becoming an independent, BYU has been ranked in the AP Top 25 for exactly seven weeks. They've been ranked in the AP top 20 for just two, and they've never finished the season ranked. It's still possible they back into the final Top 25 if they win out, but even that might not be super likely. The team has remained relatively static in S&P+ over the last few years, and so has recruiting, so it's hard to point to any particular reason to expect a big jump in the near future.
That's fine, but given the financial realities of the program (and the teams they are trying to compete with), the school's public desire to get into a conference, and their TV deal ending in a few years, can they afford to just be "fine"? Taken in this context, a 8-4/9-3 season, especially one that ends with a loss to a so-so Utah State squad, could be cause for greater alarm.
I think I'm personally on team "this year is fine, all things considered", but I do understand the structural nervousness. It does seem that the same tired narrative surrounding the team will continue into another offseason, no matter how this year ends.