The key to a successful 2019 season for BYU football, as told by the players, is finishing strong. 2018 was proof of that as BYU won its bowl matchup against Western Michigan just one game after squandering a fourth-quarter lead to Utah.
“One thing that we’re stressing in this offseason are things like last year — finishing strong,” offensive lineman Tristen Hoge said.
It is easy to be excited about a schedule before the seasons begins, especially when that schedule includes a season opener against your biggest rivals followed by three perennial powerhouses. It is not as easy to be excited about a schedule when the season is over — looking back and seeing what you would have done differently.
BYU’s 2018 schedule featured some big-name programs like Wisconsin, Washington, Boise State, Utah State and Utah. Of these games, BYU went 1-4, with the lone win coming in week three against the Badgers. In those five games, BYU was outscored 157-94, while losing all three games to our biggest rivals. Though the season was capped off with a bowl win, the excitement at season’s end didn’t match the excitement at the beginning of the season.
Perhaps the leading reason for this was BYU’s fourth quarter against Utah on Nov. 24, 2018. Leading 27-7, BYU gave up a touchdown with just 30 seconds left in the fourth quarter. This was the start of an absolute debacle that ended with BYU giving up 21 more points in the fourth quarter. Utah’s 28 unanswered points gave the Utes yet another win in the rivalry, their eighth straight, deflating whatever excitement was left from the season for the fans.
Looking forward to the 2019 schedule, the excitement has again returned. BYU kicks off the 2019 college football season against their biggest rival, Utah. Their week two matchup puts the Cougars up against Tennesee, a team they have never played before. The Cougars see will then play their week 3 matchup against a team with some of the most talked about history in college football, USC, followed by Washingon in week 4. These four Power Five opponents in the first four weeks will be a tough yet exciting task for the Cougars to take on.
“We need to finish strong. I mean, we play a good starting schedule,” sophomore quarterback Zach Wilson said. “We just can’t get complacent and play against, you know, maybe the team that we should be beating up on a little bit or whatever it is; we can’t get complacent. Like, ‘okay, well, this isn’t a Tennessee or USC.’ Whatever it is, we got to come out and we got to play the best game we can play every game.”
On paper, a win is a win. A win near the end of the season is worth just as much as a win during the beginning of the season, even if the opponents aren’t perennial powerhouses. A win against a Power Five opponent may weigh more in the national rankings, but a BYU team that goes 5-7 with four wins against Power Five opponents won’t go to Hawaii, unlike a BYU team that goes 7-5 with four losses against Power Five opponents.
“Every game is important,” Wilson said. “I mean, if we go 4-0, and then we lose the rest of the games of the year, obviously that’s terrible. I think that sets the tone for how the season is going to be. I think that’s why those first four are so important, because we need to come out and do well against those teams, and it will just kind of say, ‘okay, well, now we shouldn’t lose to anybody else.’
Tough schedule or not, BYU’s goal, as with any good team, is to win every game. Finishing strong will more than likely mean playing against weaker teams while doctoring multiple injuries, something the team has been able to do over the last ten seasons.
“We can win every game,” sophomore running back Lopini Katoa said. “I believe that, so that’s always the standard, you know, to win every single game we play. Obviously, take it one week at a time, and the biggest thing is just to beat Utah right now and then move on from there.”
Over the last ten seasons, BYU has a 29-11 record against the opponents it plays in the last four weeks of the season.