In 1817, Samuel Taylor Coleridge first described the notion of “suspension of disbelief.” Coleridge suggested that if it is possible to infuse “human interest with a semblance of truth” people will suspend judgment concerning the implausibility of the narrative.
This essentially describes most every sports fan during the off-season. BYU fans are as prone to this practice as any fanbase.
The human interest that BYU fans have collectively is found in the Cougars being amazing and the best they have ever been. The off-season fuels the suspension of disbelief fire with little semblances of truth or perceived truths in the form of rumors. The result is familiar: hype. Tons and tons of hype.
The hype builds for the entire summer. Then, the games get played. Sometimes the hype is warranted. Usually it isn’t.
- The Lone Peak Three era
The Lone Peak 3 were hyped given their earned credentials. All 3 players were 4-star recruits. Led by Nick Emery, TJ Haws, and Eric Mika, Lone Peak High School won the Mythical National Championship for high school hoops. Once this happened, BYU fans began to think about the Cougars reaching new heights with the talented and successful trio.
The team committed to the Y in 2011. The excitement was in the air.
The problem was BYU basketball and its fans had to wait.
2013-14 BYU Basketball Season
Just as Nick Emery and Eric Mika graduated high school, the LDS church changed the mission age for young men from 19 to 18. (Strangely, had the mission age rule never been changed with Eric Mika leaving to play professionally after his sophomore season, it is likely that the Lone Peak 3 would have never played a season together.)
This led Nick Emery to serve his mission to Germany first before enrolling at BYU.
Eric Mika came to play his freshman year alongside Matt Carlino and Tyler Haws. Mika struggled with foul trouble and free throw shooting, but still averaged 11.8 PPG and 6.4 RPG (both were 3rd best on the team) on his way to making the All-WCC Freshman team.
TJ Haws was busy finishing his senior season as a Lone Peak Knight. He earned the title of Utah’s Mr. Basketball during a state championship season.
2014-15 BYU Basketball Season
Nick Emery still in Germany for his 2nd year of his mission.
Eric Mika heads to Italy to serve his mission.
TJ Haws, now graduated from high school, leaves on his mission to France.
2015-16 BYU Basketball Season
Nick Emery returns to the basketball floor and puts in one of the greatest freshman season’s in Cougar Hoops history.
Mika and Haws are still serving in Europe.
2016-17 BYU Basketball Season
WE ARE HERE! 5 years after getting commitments to play ball at BYU. Finally, the crew is back together.
The Cougars picked up the program’s first win over a #1 ranked opponent when they beat undefeated Gonzaga in Spokane, 79-71.
Eric Mika was a monster with his 29 points, 11 boards, and a pair of blocks. Including perhaps the greatest block in BYU basketball history on Zach Collins dunk attempt. (2:46 mark of this video because I know you want to watch it again.)
TJ Haws had 17 points (5 3-pointers!!), 4 rebounds, and 3 assists. Nick Emery finished with 9 points, 4 rebounds, 3 steals, and a tremendous effort on the defensive end of the floor.
The win over Gonzaga is one of the greatest victories in program history.
Beyond that, Eric Mika put in the 2nd best statistical season by a BYU center in Cougar hoops history. Only Kreso Cosic’s junior season was better.
Despite being the only team that beat Gonzaga outside of the National Champion North Carolina Tar Heels, the Lone Peak 3 led Cougars suffered some really, really bad losses.
The losses on the road at San Diego and at Pepperdine who respectively finished 7th and 8th in the WCC essentially sealed the Cougars NIT fate.
The LP3 lost by 13 points to the Toreros at Jenny Craig Pavilion.
Here is a list of teams that San Diego lost to at home by more than 10 points in the 2016-17 season:
- San Francisco beat San Diego by 17
- Samford by 18
- Loyola Marymount by 19
- USC won by 21
- Saint Mary’s College beat the Toreros in San Diego by 44
- Gonzaga cruised to a 58-point victory
San Diego’s largest margin of victory at home during this campaign was by 16 points over the Flames of Bethesda University (CA) of the Pacific Coast Athletic Conference, which is part of the National Christian College Athletic Association branch of college sports. So, the good news is that the LP3-led Cougars faired 3 points better than the 2nd place team from the PCAC in the NCCAA when they lost by 13 points to San Diego.
The Waves of Pepperdine have proven to be a problem in Malibu at the Firestone Fieldhous year after year for BYU. No different for the Lone Peak 3. BYU lost by 15 points to the Waves. Pepperdine averaged 69 points per game offensively in 2016-17. That ranked 274th of the 351 D1 schools. The Waves managed to score 99 points on BYU — 30 points above their average and their highest scoring total of the season by a large margin of 14 points. Pepperdine scored their 2nd highest total of 85 points against Life Pacific. (You probably think I made up a college named Life Pacific, but I didn’t.) From San Dimas, California, the Life Pacific Warriors were the Champions of the PCAC in the NCCAA last season.
On the worst night’s for the Lone Peak 3 Cougars, they performed similar to the level of the best two teams from the PCAC in the NCCAA. Not great.
The losses to San Diego and Pepperdine were technically, RPI-wise the worst losses of the season.
However, optically BYU suffered its worst basketball loss in most any Cougar fans memory.
The “golden recruiting generation” headlined by the Lone Peak 3 lost to UVU for the first time ever. In the Marriott Center. By 13 points. While surrendering the highest total points scored by an opponent in Marriott Center history.
BYU lost 114-101 to the 5th place finishers in the WAC, the 17-17 UVU Wolverines.
Eric Mika was torched by former Cougar Isaac Neilson. Neilson scored 26 points with 9 boards and 2 blocks while drawing 5 fouls on Mika to disqualify the Y big man from the game.
Meanwhile, Haws and Emery’s heads were spinning trying to guard Brandon Randolph and Conner Toolson who each scored 21 points, as well as Jordan Poydras, who scored 20 off the bench.
UVU hit 18 3-pointers in the game.
It was an ugly, ugly game.
The losses to San Diego and Pepperdine have largely been forgotten just months later. But when it comes to memorable, bad, painful to watch losses, it is possible that the loss to UVU at home has erased bad losses from the past from our memory and will have the top spot in the minds of BYU fans for a long, long time to come.
That’s part of the LP3 legacy too.
(One of the great blessings of my mission was that I never had to see the horrible 3-0 loss to the University of Utah in 2003 that ended the 361 consecutive games scoring streak. I get the sense that many current or recently returned missionaries will feel similarly about being able to avoid witnessing the game when UVU beat BYU in the Marriott Center.)
After 5 years of waiting on The Lone Peak 3, it only resulted in 1 season of the trio playing together. That 1 season was as confusing and frustrating as any that a BYU basketball team played through.
Despite the highs and lows, the end result was a NIT appearance. It didn’t go well there either.
The Cougars suffered their 1st ever loss in the NIT when the game was played in Provo. The Y was crushed by the University of Texas in Arlington by 16 points, 105-89.
Considering that people were talking sincerely about the Lone Peak 3 carrying BYU to their first ever Final Four with multiple deep NCAA runs and that there were several people who were buying season tickets for the first time because they had to “witness the history in action.” Nothing that happened in the last 10 years matches up to the chasm between the hype and the reality of the Lone Peak 3 “era.”
This isn’t to say that Emery, TJ Haws, and Mika aren’t terrific ball players. They are. Maybe they could’ve lived up to the hype had they played out the full 3 years together.
But with Eric Mika’s decision to go professional, the ceiling of the Lone Peak 3 was a 1st round NIT exit at home to Texas-Arlington.
2. Big 12 Expansion To Include BYU
BYU had to go through 2 different rounds where the Big 12 looked at expansion only to do nothing.
The Big 12 is stupid. Everyone should be over it. If Bob Bowlsby starts sniffing around for teams to expand, everybody should just agree to ignore it. Please.
That being said, I’ve been noticing private airplanes from Austin and Norman making flights to Provo every 3rd week of the month for the last 2 months. #smoke
3. The Iggy’s Recruits
On June 4, 2009, Jake Heaps, Ross Apo and Zac Stout announced their commitment to BYU at a press conference they organized and held at Iggy’s Restaurant.
BYU fans rejoiced.
Jake Heaps was the nation’s #1 recruit at quarterback. Ross Apo, a Top 50 wide out, had flipped from the University of Texas to BYU. Zac Stout was considered one of the finest middle linebackers in the country.
It was exciting to pick up talent like that.
The excitement was ratcheted up by Heaps when he spoke for the 3 recruits:
This is the place we felt we had the best opportunity to win championships. In no way, shape or form am I guaranteeing anything, but we’re going to work like crazy for a national championship. It’s not a dream, it’s a reality and a goal we can achieve.
The bar was set. BYU gave Jake Heaps the best opportunity to win championships. Winning national championships wasn’t just dreaming, it was a reality.
In the end, it was a weird time with Heaps, Apo, and Stout.
Heaps played during his 2010 freshman year and set freshman records. Not only that, he was sharp during the New Mexico Bowl. He was 25-for-34 for 264 yards, 4 TDs, and an INT. A passer rating of 171.7. Heaps had guided BYU to a bowl game victory and a 7-6 record as a freshman.
As a sophomore, Heaps’ offense struggled to put points on the board. Heaps was benched in the 5th game of the season and Riley Nelson won the job. This led Jake Heaps to transfer.
Heaps won 9 games of his 17 starts as BYU’s quarterback.
Ross Apo, like Heaps, peaked during his freshman year. Apo had 34 catches for 453 yards and 9 TDs. That’s an awesome debut season — especially in the red zone. As a sophomore Apo’s production fell catching 31 ball for 311 yards and 1 TD. The trend continued as a Junior. Apo brought in 14 receptions for 204 yards and 3 TDs. As a senior, Apo caught just 1 pass for 13 yards.
It was like his career went in reverse, making it hard to remember his freshman year production.
To this day, whenever Ross Apo comes up in conversation my Dad still refers to him by his personal bizarro term of endearment Ross “Dropo.”
Somehow, Zac Stout may have had the strangest journey at BYU.
Stout played during his freshman season — he recorded 21 tackles. He didn’t play his sophomore year. His junior year ended with just 2 tackles after he had been involved in the infamous Racheritos fight on Halloween in 2012. Stout then had to sit out the 2013 season. Stout was then readmitted to BYU and played the 2014 season.
Stout was really good during his senior campaign. He had 62 tackles. He recorded a safety against Houston. He had a forced fumble and a pick 6 in the Miami Beach Bowl.
Who had the best career between Heaps, Apo, and Stout? It is truly hard to say. But we can agree that the hype at Iggy’s was the most fun part of their BYU journeys.
4. Duane Busby’s “NCAA Violations”
For a solid 6 weeks, BYU fans wondered if their claim of being the “only Football National Champions to never have a major NCAA Violation” was over.
It all started on May 21, 2014 when Scott Garrard of 1280 The Zone reported that BYU was conducting an internal investigation concerning allegations of improper benefits.
This report was correct. BYU was looking into allegations. BYU even confirmed on that day that the person at the center of the internal investigation was Duane Busby, the former Director of Football Operations.
The part that was incorrect was the hyped up allegations reported and discussed wall-to-wall by 1280 The Zone on that day. Claims of Busby arranging free or discounted housing, iPad gifts, and free meals were tossed around like a frisbee. All of this conjured up images of BYU players living it up in their mansions with their Steve Jobs gadgets. A pretty brazen version of breaking the NCAA improper benefits rules.
All of this had many concerned about doomsday penalties for BYU Football. Which seems hilarious now, but at the time this was the gravity that was given to the report of BYU conducting an internal investigation.
In the end, nothing ever came of this report. BYU self-reported any potential issues to the NCAA. The NCAA never took punitive action.
In the end, it wasn’t that Duane Busby was giving our iPads and housing accommodations to football players. Instead, it was socks. BYU football players were taking extra pairs of socks.
According to Brandon C. Gurney of the Deseret News:
@Kevin4byu I can't answer that for certain. I do know that socks started this and sources indicate it's pretty much just that— Brandon Gurney (@BrandonCGurney) May 28, 2014
Nike clothes, shoes, and socks are given to BYU athletes all the time. It seems that a few extra pairs were laying around and were allowed to be distributed rather than returned to Phil Knight.
In a world where running a program that provided escorts to players, recruits and their parents wasn’t a fireable offense for Rick Pitino, socks have to be the most adorable item on the NCAA improper benefits spectrum.
5. Football Independence
The value of Football Independence is constantly being sold to BYU fans. Frequently, the move to become a conference independent has been marketed as a game changer for the program. Not being affiliated with the Mountain West or any conference would fundamentally change BYU’s place in college football. It would make BYU more like Notre Dame. Less like Boise State.
The truth about football independence is that it just fine. It was more of a lateral move than it was a vertical move.
BYU had to do something. College football was amplifying it’s system that already made the sport’s riches and championships unreachable. The Cougars didn’t have anywhere to go and it couldn’t stay in the Mountain West Conference.
So, BYU did what they have the leverage to do to try to make more money and respond to the changing college football climate. They went independent.
Going independent has changed a lot of aspects of BYU football, but most of them haven’t been game changing. Just a different way to go about life as a college football program on the outside looking in. It was a solution to micro problems.
It is fun that BYU gets a couple more games against P5 opponents a season. It is good that BYU has taken better control of their media exposure and improved their financial standing. Those are the positives.
Football independence didn’t solve the macro problems. The truth is that BYU football is still left behind by the structure of the sport. The Cougars bring in less money by a good margin than members of a Power 5 conference. They are still destined for a mediocre bowl game, unless they go undefeated. Even if they go undefeated, they would likely be on the outside looking in. The quality of BYU recruiting is the same.
It also has created new problems and paranoias.
A decent, exciting top-to-bottom home football schedule has been tougher to come by than originally thought. The first 6 weeks of a BYU football schedule are loaded with intrigue. They are the first 1:45 of The Dark Knight. The last 6 weeks are the final 45 minutes of The Dark Knight.
BYU is at the mercy of ESPN. That’s not really a strong long-term position to be in. The rise of cord-cutting streaming services and the massive dent they have made to satellite/cable services has resulted in significant lay offs and cut backs the the Worldwide Leader. It is fair to wonder about the future of selling BYU football broadcasting rights as the primary revenue stream for the program.
With the 2 billion Facebook users being able to easily conduct a live broadcast now, the market for media attention is going to get further saturated. This will lessen the value of BYU broadcast rights as more and more outlets and productions syphon off casual viewers from cable and satellite services. This hurts ESPN’s bottom line.
If ESPN has less money to go around, they will have to take stock and inventory of the value each of their broadcasting rights properties bring to their programming. Some will get cut, others will get reduced, and a few will have leverage to demand their revenues continue to grow.
The long-term diminishing value of broadcasting rights is really a problem for all sports leagues and conferences, but BYU is more vulnerable to cut backs due to their independent status. Their appeal is niche and only expands to a broader audience if they start to earn a high-profile with a sparkly record. If they are simply a solid 8-9 win team, they don’t.
The main thing is that football independence has merit. With more conference volatility on the college football horizon, independence allows BYU the flexibility to move if the right situation were to arise. Independence is the conduit that would allow BYU to hack their way into the rigged college football system to unlock a path to big money and competitive equality.
This is the primary value of not having a conference affiliation.
However, being independent is often sold to fans as more than that. In an effort to increase the perception of their position, it has been sold by BYU administrators as a solution to the macro problems BYU Football faced when they announced independence in 2010. Despite the attempts at persuasion, it is clear that those macro problems of 2010 still exist in 2017.
Honorable Mentions: Corbin Kaufusi’s 1st Round NBA Draft prospects, The Improved Passing of Taysom Hill — All 3 Times, The 2015 BYU Offense of which Bronco Mendenhall predicted pre-season that they would be the most prolific offense in BYU football history, Brandon Doman: Offensive Coordinator, BYU winning 3 National Championships in One Day
To read about the Top 5 BYU things that lived up to the hype in the last decade, click here.