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BYU Football: Looking ahead at a 25-game season

Alex Strelnikov takes a look at what is in store for the Cougars the rest of this season and what they will likely have to do to get into the College Football Playoff.

Jamaal Williams runs 11 yards for a touchdown
Jamaal Williams runs 11 yards for a touchdown
Jay Drowns

The 2014 BYU football schedule doesn't look as soft after week three, especially when wounded Texas roared back and had #12 UCLA but for the want of one play. Anyone that watched UCLA-Texas didn't see some down and out Longhorns suffering from drought. They saw a bunch of hard-nosed fighting Texans ready to skin themselves a bear.

BYU is facing far more formidable opponents in the coming weeks than many thought they would at the beginning of the season. Among them is a resurgent Virginia, credible California, determined Middle Tennessee State, a Wolf Pack that nearly tacked a Wildcat hide on their wall to go along with the Cougar hide they got last week. Then there’s a high scoring Boise State proving itself to be just as tough as ever.

BYU winning at Texas showed BYU might be, could be, should be no fluke when the UCLA-Texas game is evaluated side by side with the BYU-Texas game. The really scary part is, BYU could have done just a tad better in that game. It wasn't perfect by a long shot.

Some will then say: "What happened in the Houston-BYU game?"

First, you have to remember BYU was ahead 23-0 when Houston kicked a field goal on a 4th and 11 with 4:00 minutes remaining in the second quarter. That is very good defense against a team that last year pasted BYU for 46 points.

The naysayers will criticize Taysom Hill's interception on the 28 for not understanding gaps, lanes and throwing in them instead off the helmet of a charging defensive lineman. The interception led to a seven-yard touchdown pass two and a half game minutes later. You can't give a high scoring good team the ball on the 28 and not expect them to get points. As for the pass, the odds of a pass bouncing off a players helmet and being intercepted is about 1,000 to 1. If you do the statistics on it for the last 30 years and all the passes BYU has thrown in those 30 years, this is the first time I could find. If that's true, that would mean the odds in those 30 years are about 20,000-1.

Houston earned three points and got lucky on a 20,000 to 1 shot, then missed the PAT. On the ensuing possession, BYU was marching into scoring position and a mental error caused Mitchell Juergens to fumble the ball. Trying to get an extra yard or two is nothing to blame a young player for. Not running out of bounds with time running out is poor coaching, or a simple mental error in a moment of excitement. Either way, get over it, it happens. These are kids. I saw worse in NFL games this weekend.

The Hail Mary pass that followed the fumble isn't a 20,000 to 1 shot, but the very name of the pass that made the score 23-15 tells you the odds are so long even Las Vegas won't give you odds. The mental error of a young player to not knock it down is again either a reflection of coaching or the excitement of the moment that makes the game what it is. BYU has benefited from that kind of pass, and on occasion suffers from it. Just like every other team.

My only real criticism of BYU: The lack of aggressiveness on defense in the later stages of the game. Where was the blitz and pursuit of the very athletic and capable John O'Korn? But then, I'm not the coach and don't know the energy, or fatigue, of the players at the time on the field. I can only sit in seat and scream "blitz ‘em, blitz ‘em, sack the puppy." OK, I didn't say "puppy."

Looking Ahead to Bigger Teams & Better Victories

Now that we are through Houston, we look forward to Virginia. In a previous column, I said BYU would beat Virginia. I watched the Louisville-Virginia game and I stand by my previous analysis. BYU will beat Virginia. Louisville was overrated and Virginia wasn't as good as it seemed. Virginia had three turnovers, 13 first downs and only 285 yards total offense. It was only 6-18 converting 3rd downs and rushed for 114 yards in 40 attempts. That is 2.9 yards per rush. The Cavaliers fumbled the ball twice and lost one. They were not sharp.

Louisville played poorly in every category, Louisville was worse than Virginia, not because of outstanding defense, but because they played poorly. They fumbled twice and lost it twice and had two interceptions, the real kind where someone sticks their hands into the lane and grabs the ball, not a 20,000 to 1 shot.

BYU has an opportunity with its current rankings to begin a run that will place them in the top 10 and even top 5 -- Not this year, but next. BYU's season isn't 13 games long. It is 25. The Cougars have gone through the first three successfully. Now they have a unique opportunity done by few schools in NCAA history. Run the table, not for one year, but for two. If they do, no one will be able to prevent them from being considered a Power 5 conference level team.

Looking ahead doesn't involve just Virginia, or wounded Utah State the week after that. It involves an unnamed team in a bowl game with a winning record from the AAC, Nebraska, UCLA and Michigan. It involves Boise State twice, East Carolina (who just beat a very good Virginia Tech team that beat a highly ranked Ohio State team). Do you see the connections?

That is what BYU is looking ahead at. A misstep along the way and BYU could be viewed as confirming to critics that it is a former Mountain West/WAC powerhouse who is playing out of its league and trying to be one of the big boys when it isn't.

The future for BYU looks bright. With the UCLA-Texas game as evidence, Texas was just as big and tough as everyone thought they were. Look for Texas to be in a bowl game. The destiny of BYU and its bowl game this year looks like it will be in the inaugural Miami Beach Bowl game. But next year, if BYU takes care of business, may just be a year worth looking ahead to, and replete with destiny.