Opinion: These are the ‘glory days’ for BYU athletics
This past Saturday was a day for the ages at BYU.
By some incredibly poetic fate, the stars aligned in immaculate fashion to deliver a full sweep of Cougar conquests. If winning is contagious, then seemingly every program in Provo caught the full bug.
Whittni Orton and Conner Mantz both took home individual national titles for cross country, the first time since 1988 that both champions hailed from the same school.
Women’s basketball slaughtered Boise State by more than 40 points.
Women’s volleyball clinched another conference championship, their seventh in the past eight seasons.
Football rallied for a hostile road victory at Georgia Southern.
Women’s soccer pulled off a thrilling upset of one-seed Virginia to advance to the Elite Eight in the national tournament, their fourth such appearance in program history.
Men’s basketball shot lights out en route to a commanding win over Central Methodist.
Are you not entertained?
If you walk into the Student Athlete Building on campus, you’ll see a small whiteboard displayed at the front desk. It’s nothing flashy, but the board reads “shall we not go on in such a cause.. on to the victory,” paraphrasing a famous 1842 epistle from Joseph Smith recorded in Doctrine and Covenants.
Just below the rallying cry lies a list of each of the currently ranked teams at BYU— a group that has continued to grow each week from August into late November, now with both men’s basketball joining the party today ranked at No. 18 and the women’s team set to follow tomorrow when their polls are released.
All BYU does is win, win, win no matter what.
In the final episode of “The Office,” Andy Bernard famously quipped, “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.”
Cougar Nation, these are “the good old days” here for sports at BYU. We are witnessing a period of collective Cougar success that is undeniable, unprecedented, and yet could be just the start of something even greater with the Big 12 on the horizon.
Is this a golden age, or a “royal age?” Let’s just hope it’s not a “navy age.”
There have been a number of successful stretches for BYU athletics over the years, and I’ve grown up hearing about plenty of them. My mother was a freshman when Ty Detmer took down No. 1 Miami and won the Heisman Trophy in 1990, and my father was a senior during the reign of the 1996 Cotton Bowl champion Cougar football squad. My own earliest memories of BYU fandom involve Jimmer Fredette— enough said.
But today is even better.
If you haven’t already noticed, football is enjoying a miraculous campaign. Despite entering the season with the least returning offensive production in the country, Kalani Sitake’s squad is chasing double-digit wins in consecutive seasons for the first time in over a decade while having played one of the tougher schedules in program history. They’ve overcome injuries, silenced critics, won with a flair for the dramatic and dominated Power 5 opponents, including an unbeaten run over against the historically petty Pac-12. Even their punter is a superstar.
Oh, and they beat Utah for the first time since 2009. No big deal.
Men and women’s hoops both started 4-0 for the first time since 2013, with the women set as the heavy favorite to win the conference and men posing an ever-growing threat to challenge No. 1 Gonzaga. Mark Pope’s motley crew has already taken down three of last year’s NCAA tournament teams this season— including a ridiculous 32-point pounding of No. 12 Oregon a week ago— as the third-year head coach has accelerated the program’s turnaround from underwhelming mid-major to national force in record time.
Women’s basketball has been outscoring opponents by more than 20 points per game with a lethal, veteran scoring quartet of Shaylee Gonzales, Paisley Harding, Tegan Graham and Lauren Gustin leading the charge.
Don’t let the more visible Sitake and Pope distract you from the fact that Jen Rockwood and Jeff Judkins are arguably the most dominant pair of Cougar coaches, each having amassed more than 400 victories in their tenures at the helm of women’s soccer and basketball, respectively. Rockwood is fifth nationally in career winning percentage, and Judkins is the winningest basketball coach in school history.
Throw in women’s cross country head coach Diljeet Taylor — who already has a national title and 27 All-Americans under her belt at BYU — and it’s perfectly clear that this collective culture of winning at BYU comes straight from the top.
There’s been plenty of speculation regarding Sitake and Pope taking off for jobs at bigger programs, and while the cause for concern is understandable, the interest in “college football’s Ted Lasso” Sitake and the “mad scientist” Pope is a testament to the incredible job they’ve done and continue to do in Provo. There’s a reason why their teams are both ranked in the top 25 together in November for the first time since 2007. Athletic director Tom Holmoe will have quite the task to keep them both in Cougar blue, but I’m sure it’s a problem he loves to have.
Speaking of Holmoe, he should have a building on campus named in his honor when it’s all said and done. He finally landed the Big 12 invitation, brought Sitake, Taylor and Pope to Provo, single-handedly reassembled a football schedule to salvage the 2020 season has done even more work behind the scenes that we’ll never even know about. He was the clear no-brainer to be named Athletic Director of the Year from the NACDA this past March — even the athletic directors at BYU pick up dubs.
Student-athletes are quickly taking advantage of the recent name, image and likeness regulations to build their personal brands and receive well-deserved compensation for their on-field heroics, with local companies such as Built Brands, SmartyStreets and Mr. Mac stepping in to strike up deals. Simply put, business is booming.
While some parties worried that NIL would create a drastic imbalance slanted toward starting quarterbacks and superstars making the most money, BYU’s most notable deals have involved football walk-ons and the entirety of the school’s female athletes. In these wild, uncertain early days of NIL, BYU has quickly blazed ahead of the curve as pioneers in the field to take care of every roster from top to bottom.
BYU’s two most recognizable stars— running back Tyler Allgeier and point guard Alex Barcello— are not Church members, nor is Taylor, the first non-LDS head coach at BYU in any sport in over half a century and who is also of Indian descent. Jaren Hall is the first Black starting quarterback in school history, and both basketball rosters are peppered with international talent. Sure, the “Alpine pipeline” is still around, but it’s hard to say that BYU athletics has ever been more diverse than today.
At the professional level, Zach Wilson was the second overall pick in this year’s NFL draft. Fred Warner is the best linebacker in the league, Kyle Van Noy single-handedly dismantled the Atlanta Falcons on national television this past week, and former Cougars have appeared in five straight Super Bowls. Elijah Bryant just won the NBA finals this past summer with the Milwaukee Bucks, baseball alum Jackson Cluff is collecting offseason hardware and former soccer star Ashley Hatch is the NWSL’s leading goal-scorer.
LaVell Edwards Stadium averaged over 61,000 fans per game on the season, the Marriott Center has begun its 50th-anniversary campaign packed to the brim, the Smith Fieldhouse has been deafening as usual and the stoke for women’s soccer has been enough to leave recent basketball transfer Seneca Knight shook.
How crazy are BYU fans for their Cougars? Fans sold out a mundane, November afternoon FCS matchup with Idaho State that was bound to be an early blowout and where the starters were guaranteed to be taken out early. A sellout against Idaho State is just absurd. Cougar fans have shown up, shown out and been on another level this year, especially on the road where “every game is a home game.”
With Knight as a prime example, BYU has become a legitimate and desirable destination for transfer athletes. Basketball’s aforementioned Barcello and Graham— along with Brecken Mozingo for women’s soccer and the Nacua brothers for football— are just a small sampling of the 60-plus athletes who have landed in Provo from the transfer portal and made an immediate impact.
Recruiting as a whole is becoming a sizable strength for the Cougars, with football landing its first-ever five-star prize in Oregon lineman transferKingsley Suamataia and Mark Pope waving his magic wand to swipe top Utah high school recruit Collin Chandler from the grasp of the Utes and into Cougar blue. With the amount of winning BYU does, it’s not hard to see why so many talented recruits are heading “along the trail to fame and glory.”
Have we even mentioned Cosmo yet?
There’s plenty more that could be said and even more yet to come for athletics at BYU. Football is playing meaningful November games for the first time in forever and knocking on the door of a New Years Six bowl, women’s soccer is three wins away from a national championship, both basketball squads are looking for deep March Madness runs and the school’s track and field programs will surely keep breaking a new record every week like they always seem to do.
This Thanksgiving season, Cougar fans should give thanks for the current state of nirvana within BYU athletics. Every program is a force to be reckoned with, coaches are teaching principles of character while getting results on the battlefield, student-athletes and recruits are catching the vision and everyone is winning.
Luckily, Daily Universe Sports is always along for the ride to tell the story.