What BYU football gained from its 2024 recruiting class — and why BYU basketball needs Aly Khalifa back in the lineup

BYU coach Kalani Sitake watches from the sideline as BYU and Oklahoma play at LaVell Edwards stadium in Provo on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023.
BYU coach Kalani Sitake watches from the sideline as BYU and Oklahoma play at LaVell Edwards stadium in Provo on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

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On the February signing date, Kalani Sitake got a huge boost when two Oakland, California, teammates from Fremont High decided to sign with the Cougars. Both were highly sought-after and their additions have elevated BYU’s 2024 recruiting class composite of high school and JC transfers from No. 48 to 44.

Naki Tuakoi and Sefo Akuila are both edge rushers and were highly recruited this past year.  Tuakoi had committed to Stanford and had offers from Arizona, ASU, Cal, Maryland, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, USC and Utah. Akuila had been headed to Arizona before a coaching change in Tucson. That’s when BYU’s staff stepped in and continued to recruit him hard. Akuila had offers from Arizona, Cal, Nevada and Washington State, where former Cougar Mark Atuaia is a chief Polynesian recruiter.

This defensive recruiting class is one of the best in recent memory and follows the leadership of defensive coordinator Jay Hill and his staff. BYU also got a commitment (as a preferred walk-on) from Kansas City Player of the Year, QB Dylan Dunn.

Offensively, BYU is holding scholarships for returning missionaries who will enroll this spring and summer, thus the disparity in offensive signees.

Cougar Insider predictions

BYU players meet on the court game against West Virginia Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024, in Morgantown, W.Va. | Kathleen Batten, Associated Press
BYU players meet on the court game against West Virginia Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024, in Morgantown, W.Va. | Kathleen Batten, Associated Press

Question of the week: ​​After a split on the road with West Virginia and Oklahoma, BYU returns from a four-day road trip and must recharge. What are the biggest issues/challenges Mark Pope must fix before hosting Kansas State on Saturday and why? Predict the score.

Jay Drew: BYU’s first order of business has to be to get healthy, perhaps for the first time all season. Aly Khalifa is both ill and injured. Noah Waterman played more than 40 minutes in the two road losses but is clearly ailing.

Coach Mark Pope needs to figure out his point guard situation. Dallin Hall looked exhausted in the second half of the 82-66 loss to Oklahoma on Tuesday night, yet Pope never went to backup Trey Stewart. He stuck to that eight-man rotation, and the Cougars ran out of gas.

I’m not saying a healthy BYU would have downed OU, but the game would have been much more competitive late.

BYU also has to get Trevin Knell going again, as he was before he sustained a foot injury in the win over UCF. Knell only got two shots in nearly 24 minutes against the Sooners. That’s not enough shots for one of the best shooters in college basketball, as Knell has been called.

Short rotations don’t work in the Big 12 — particularly on the road. Pope and his staff need to find more contributors — and fast.

Prediction: BYU 82, Kansas State 74.

Dick Harmon: Fouss Traore is a real load for Big 12 opponents, but Aly Khalifa can do things as a finesse center that Traore cannot even attempt to do. That makes for a great tandem, and the absence of Khalifa really hurt BYU in the loss at Oklahoma.

Traore is so effective that he forces defenses to choose between doubling him — they have to — or coming out on BYU’s shooters. When they do that, Traore scores almost at will as shown in his 16-, 25- and 21-point performances against Texas, West Virginia and Oklahoma.

Khalifa is needed and whatever illness he is suffering from in missing this past road trip is something Pope needs to heal as soon as possible. With games missed by Traore (hamstring), Knell (foot), Khalifa (illness, knee), Noah Waterman (illness, concussion), Jaxson Robinson (ankle sprain) and Atiki Ally Atiki (broken hand), it makes one wonder how good BYU would be if they’d kept everyone healthy all season.

Pope is lucky Dallin Hall has been immune to an injury so far. He’s been a workhorse, as has Spencer Johnson. I agree with Jay that Hall is on the verge of getting worn down and that makes him susceptible to an injury or being less effective. If any positives come from some of these challenges, perhaps everyone will be healthy when the Big 12 tournament comes around.

Prediction: BYU 78, Kansas State 69.

Cougar tales

In basketball, BYU defeated a streaking West Virginia team in Morgantown and then ran out of gas in a loss at Oklahoma this past week. BYU hosts Kansas State on Saturday.

At the U.S. Olympic trials, two former Cougars, Conner Mantz and Clayton Young, finished first and second in an inspirational performance.

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Comments from Deseret News readers: 

I watched the game. I agree 100% with Harmon’s assessment. BYU created nice shots, got to the rim but maddeningly couldn’t make the shots. It was as if there was a lid on the basket. Lack of concentration? Bad luck? Both? Who knows but I thought BYU was the better team overall. I honestly think BYU would beat them 7 or 8 out of 10 times although they didn’t deserve this one. Make your 3-foot shots, BYU.


And there was hardly anyone there to see it. OK, the Cougs can go home and rave about attendance, but it’s the play on the court that matters, and play the Sooners did. Life on the road in any conference is tough, and it looks like it is much the same in the Big 12. And the Aggies got rolled at home to Nevada. Utah’s ranked teams did not look all that good ... no, they were terrible. Can the Utes regain some pride for the state tomorrow night at home against Arizona? A real tough draw for Utah, but they have shown some magic at home. Could be a lackluster week for local teams, but let’s see how the dice roll the next few days.


BYU went 1-1 on the road this week, I’ll take that every time in the Big 12. All they have to do is just win both games at home ... FYI BYU has 5 home games left and 4 away.  

— Stathis

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