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Still Plenty on the Line for BYU in the Boca Raton Bowl

Despite not achieving their goal of a New Year’s Six bowl, BYU still has plenty to play for in Florida.

NCAA Football: San Diego State at BYU USA TODAY NETWORK

BYU takes on UCF in the Boca Raton Bowl in Florida on December 22. Indeed, it is not the bowl many BYU fans envisioned when BYU shot off to a 9-0 start, taking the nation by storm. Up until the Coastal Carolina game, BYU was in a New Year’s Six bowl slot in the majority of the major bowl projections. After that crushing loss, it was anyone’s guess where BYU would end up until the announcement came out.

Despite the end of the quest for a perfect season and the end of BYU’s New Year’s Six bowl hopes, there is still plenty riding on this bowl game next Tuesday.

Preserve 1-loss season

Not very many teams in BYU’s lustrous history have finished with one loss or fewer. Six, in fact, have achieved that in the Cougars’ 95 recorded seasons of football ahead of 2020, which is once approximately every 16 years. The last time BYU boasted such a year was in 1996. BYU is long overdue.

Plus, Coastal Carolina remains undefeated. Finishing the season 11-1 with that one loss against an undefeated team on the opposite coast on short notice is about as sparkling as a resume can be with one loss.

Achieve 11-win season

In the latter-days of BYU’s Mountain West era, the Cougars routinely achieved 11 wins with the likes of John Beck and Max Hall at quarterback. Now the Cougars have a chance to reach that lofty star once more behind Zach Wilson. Sitting at 10-1, they must defeat UCF in the bowl game to get 11 wins for the first time since 2009, and the first ever in the independence era.

Yes, the softer schedule did help but that’s not much different than BYU teams of old who beat up on inferior WAC and Mountain West opponents. You still have to win the game. Coastal Carolina aside, BYU has dispatched of every opponent on their schedule and has just one more hurdle to reach a plateau not seen in over a decade.

Silence skeptics

Skeptics are abound in regards to BYU football season. They got louder instead of quieter after BYU botched their game against the Chanticleers in South Carolina. Most, including that pesky College Football Playoff Committee, have disrespected BYU due to their soft schedule. Some mocked the Cougars after a strange exchange with the University of Washington as the two sides entertained a matchup.

UCF is arguably their second-toughest game on the schedule and no worse than third behind Coastal Carolina and Boise State. Plus, it is in the state of Florida, a de facto home game for the Knights. To increase the difficulty further, BYU has never won in the state of Florida. Beating UCF in Florida would validate a lot of what BYU has accomplished in 2020.

Avenge last year’s bowl loss

The 2019 season ended with a thud as BYU dropped a game to San Diego State on the road after scoring three points and then blew several chances in the Hawaii Bowl against Hawaii and lost on Christmas Eve, 38-34. Losing a bowl game puts a bad taste in the players’, coaches’, and fans’ mouths for the entire offseason. Head coach Kalani Sitake and the rest of the coaching staff along with Zach Wilson want to end this year with a bowl win.

The Boca Raton Bowl presents an opportunity to right that wrong and start a new bowl winning streak. The Cougars are just 2-4 in their last six bowl games since 2013. A lot of air goes out of the sails of this special season if the Cougars can’t finish the job against UCF.

Win first ever game in Florida

BYU has never won in the state of Florida and it has not been due to a lack of opportunities. The Cougars have played on Florida turf eight different times between 1976 and 2019 and have lost all eight matchups, the most recent coming against USF last season. This is also their fourth bowl in the Sunshine State, after the Tangerine Bowl in 1976, Citrus Bowl in 1985 and Miami Beach Bowl in 2014.

After beating Boise State on the blue turf, BYU already has shed one monkey off of their backs this season. It would be very satisfying to end another losing streak, this time in the state of Florida.

Finish in AP Top 25

Much like 11 wins, BYU has not ended the season in the final AP Top 25 poll since 2009, when they finished 12th. This is another notch in the belt showing you had a solid season. With BYU coming into the bowl game ranked 14th in the AP poll, it’s likely they would even finish ranked with a close loss to UCF. However, the opportunity is there to even finish in the top 10, given the attrition that will occur ahead of the Cougars with conference title games and other bowls involving schools ranked higher. BYU hasn’t finished a season in the AP top 10 since 1996.