Could Kedon Slovis have played in final two games of disappointing 2023 season?

BYU quarterback Kedon Slovis celebrates his touchdown with teammates during the game against the Southern Utah Thunderbirds at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023.

A couple weeks before the NFL draft, former BYU quarterback Kedon Slovis got in a discussion with some of his teammates from the Cougars’ 2023 team that failed to reach one of the biggest goals — play in a bowl game — it set before the first year in the Big 12 began.

Slovis’ quick summary of the chat: “We were close (to bowl eligibility), but at the end of the day it left a sour taste in all our mouths.”

Slovis has moved on, of course, but he told the Deseret News in an exclusive interview before the draft that his only season at BYU was still “incredibly memorable and satisfying” and that he made memories and relationships that will last a lifetime.

“All in all, I am happy with my decision to go there,” he said, noting that he felt his work with BYU offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Aaron Roderick and former BYU QB John Beck had prepared him well for pro football.

Slovis went undrafted, although he spent a lot of time on ESPN analyst Mel Kiper’s “Best Quarterback Available” list in the draft’s later rounds. Shortly after the seven rounds concluded, he was given several offers, all with financial incentives, to sign as an undrafted free agent.

He eventually chose the Indianapolis Colts and signed for $30,000 guaranteed, according to Joel A. Erickson, who covers the Colts for the Indianapolis Star. A source confirmed that Erickson’s reporting “is accurate.”

Can Slovis make the team? It is going to be an uphill battle for one of the three expected roster spots, as Anthony Richardson is the assumed starter if he returns intact from a season-ending right shoulder injury in Week 5 of the NFL season last fall.

Joe Flacco stepped in and was the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year, so the veteran who once tutored former BYU QB Zach Wilson in New York is likely entrenched as the primary backup. Former Texas QB Sam Ehlinger is the current third-stringer.

“He’s going to have an opportunity in training camp and the preseason to show what he’s got, but it is kind of a tough quarterback room to crack right now,” Max Chadwick of Pro Football Focus told Ben Criddle of ESPN 960 Sports in Utah County.

Back in his hometown of Scottsdale, Arizona, before the draft, Slovis took some time out of his pre-draft preparations to reminisce on 2023. One of the first questions posed by the Deseret News in that regard was whether Slovis could have played in the last few games of the season, close losses to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.

After Slovis suffered an elbow injury in the 35-6 loss to then-No. 7 Texas on Oct. 28, Jake Retzlaff became the starter in the four remaining games, all losses.

“It is hard to explain,” Slovis said. “I could have played, but I don’t think I could have played well, or up to my standards. I certainly wasn’t 100% healthy.”

He said he definitely could not have played in the 37-7 loss to West Virginia on Nov. 4, or in the 45-13 loss to Iowa State on Nov. 11, the game in which the team hit rock bottom on both sides of the ball.

He spoke to Roderick before the Oklahoma game, and the two made the “mutual decision” that Slovis wasn’t quite ready.

“A Rod said if you are not going to go out and play like yourself, and you are going to play poorly, we are not putting you into position to have success, and we are not putting the team into a position to have success,” Slovis said, summarizing several conversations in November.

“Again, coaches said if you are playing at 50%, 60% or even 70%, you can’t really play well,” he continued. “I guess that is the best way to answer that question, about how it went down.”

Slovis said he felt the offense was “just starting to click” at the end of September, when the Cougars beat Cincinnati 35-27 at LaVell Edwards Stadium to get to 4-1.

Then they had a bye week, which probably couldn’t have come at a worse time, looking back.

“Going into the bye week, things were so great. We still had an opportunity to be even better. Granted, at that point our offense wasn’t playing as good as we should have been. There were still points left out on the field, still stuff to clean up,” he said. “But that game at TCU (a 44-11 loss) killed a lot of momentum.”

The Cougars came back to Provo and beat Texas Tech 27-14, after leading 24-7 at halftime, but teams had figured out that BYU couldn’t run the ball and the course of the season changed.

Slovis completed 15 of 27 passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns against the Red Raiders.

“If we had went to a bowl game, gone 7-6 or 8-5 instead of 5-7, I would have called that a great first year in the Big 12, and the kind of season Cougar Nation could be proud of. We played a great schedule, and it seemed like we were underdogs in all of our games after the first two.”

Former BYU quarterback Kedon Slovis

“There were a lot of things I like to take away from the season that were positive. We struggled with some things as well. I struggled with some things as well,” Slovis said. “Being so close to bowl eligibility and not getting there was tough to take.”

Slovis believes the Cougars were one win away from being able to call the season a success.

“If we had went to a bowl game, gone 7-6 or 8-5 instead of 5-7, I would have called that a great first year in the Big 12, and the kind of season Cougar Nation could be proud of,” he said. “We played a great schedule, and it seemed like we were underdogs in all of our games after the first two.”

Personally, Slovis felt like his performances in the eight games in which he played were validated when he received an invitation to the NFL combine, along with punter Ryan Rehkow and offensive lineman Kingsley Suamataia.

Both of those guys will join the Kansas City Chiefs — Suamataia as a second-round draft pick and Rehkow as an undrafted free agent.

As for the guys returning to BYU — including Retzlaff, running back LJ Martin and a talented receiving corps led by Kody Epps, Darius Lassiter, Chase Roberts and Keelan Marion — Slovis thinks the future is bright.

“Not the year we wanted to have, but I still take a lot from it,” he said. “There’s no reason for anyone to apologize. There were so many great memories that I had with my teammates and coaches. It was worth it.”

BYU quarterback Kedon Slovis runs a drill at the NFL scouting combine, Saturday, March 2, 2024, in Indianapolis. | Michael Conroy, Associated Press