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‘They should be better this season’: What Big 12 football coaches are saying, anonymously, about BYU

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2023 BYU Football - Fall Camp

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August 19, 2023

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23FTB PRAC 8-19 282 23FTB PRAC 8-19 2023 BYU Football - Fall Camp Photo by Jaren Wilkey/BYU August 19, 2023 © BYU PHOTO 2023 All Rights Reserved photo@byu.edu (801)422-7322 | BYU Photo

The format has changed slightly over the years, but one of the highlights of the annual Athlon Sports college football preview is that the publication allows coaches to anonymously talk about other programs throughout the country.

With the printed editions expected to hit newsstands and be mailed to subscribers this month, Athlon recently posted on its free website an article entitled “Big 12 Coaches Talk Anonymously About Conference Foes in 2024.”

For the Big 12, that’s a lot of work, considering the expanded league now has 16 members, including BYU and Utah.

“It is not easy getting college football coaches to honestly comment on another coach, player or team,” Athlon reports. “Most coaches don’t want to give opposing teams bulletin board material, which is why there is a lot of coach speak or overused cliches used during the year.”

Full disclosure: I write the article for Athlon previewing BYU’s season, along with the depth chart projections and other features, and have done so the past five years; however, I am not involved in the reporting on what anonymous coaches say or have said about any of the teams and do not know the identity of the coaches.

Without further ado, here’s what anonymous coaches said about the Cougars this year:

Transition to Big 12 did not go well

“Last year was a good example of a transition to Power Five or Four football; you can run out of steam, you don’t have depth, and you can’t plug guys in after injuries,” said one coach, referring to BYU going 5-7 overall and 2-7 in the Big 12.

Indeed, the Cougars hit the wall in the middle of the season after a 5-2 start, dropping their final five games. Starting quarterback Kedon Slovis suffered elbow and shoulder injuries in a 35-6 loss at No. 7 Texas and BYU’s offense was never the same.

The defense suffered a big blow on Sept. 23 in the 38-27 loss at Kansas when leading tackler Ben Bywater sustained a season-ending shoulder injury, and also never really recovered.

It took a few games for the Cougars to regain their footing, but they did play much better in the final two — close losses to No. 14 Oklahoma and No. 21 Oklahoma State.

A quick recovery is expected

While Big 12 coaches seemingly had less to say about BYU than any other program — BYU’s segment is a bit shorter than most — they did express confidence that Kalani Sitake can get BYU back to a bowl game in 2024.

“They should be better down the stretch this season,” one coach reportedly said.

Meanwhile, in Provo, the coaching staff is expecting a faster start, with far fewer new faces in the lineup this fall than last fall. They will need it, with road games at SMU on Sept. 6 and Wyoming on Sept. 14 before they host expected league-title contender Kansas State on Sept. 21.

“We gotta change minds, and that is the goal,” Sitake said Monday. “From what I have seen from the guys, and the work ethic and the urgency to get better this offseason, I really like.”

Hiring of Jay Hill will help

“Last year’s hiring of Jay Hill (as defensive coordinator) is the big story here because I think that side of the ball could turn a corner this season,” one coach noted. “Hill was a really good head coach (at Weber State) and this job is going to showcase what he can do.”

Certainly, after bottoming out in 2022, BYU’s defense improved in 2023 under Hill, despite playing a more difficult schedule. The Cougars finished No. 106 in total defense, allowing 417.7 yards per game.

BYU passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach Fesi Sitake, talks with defensive coordinator Jay Hill and head coach Kalani Sitake during practice.
BYU passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach Fesi Sitake talks with defensive coordinator Jay Hill and head coach Kalani Sitake during practice. | Nate Edwards, BYU photo

Reaping the rewards of ramped-up recruiting

Sitake, Hill and offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick worked hard on their 2024 recruiting class, and opposing coaches noticed. Casting a wider net and using Big 12 membership as a selling point, BYU signed the No. 44-ranked class in the country, according to 247sports.com.

“They closed out a really strong recruiting class, and they’re bringing more guys in over this offseason on (the defensive side) of the ball,” said one coach.

The Cougars open the 2024 season on Aug. 31 against Southern Illinois at LaVell Edwards Stadium. Kickoff is at 6 p.m. MDT and the game will be available on ESPN+.