Blue Blood: Cougs looking to finish on a roll with eye on bowl invite

COMMENTARY – There’s been some heartbreak this year, for sure, but the sun is shining bright in Provo as BYU looks like it will finish strong in 2016.

The Cougars (5-4) are now one game closer to being bowl eligible for the 12th straight season after nearly pulling off a road shutout on the Cincinnati Bearcats last Saturday. With a home game against FCS team and in-state opponent Southern Utah University this Saturday, it’s pretty safe to assume that BYU will become bowl-eligible and should even win out its remaining schedule (with home games against UMass and underachieving Utah State to close out the year).

byulogoFor Kalani Sitake’s first year as the new head coach, eight wins is a great mark to hit and with this year’s challenging schedule, we could definitely say that Coach Sitake picked the ball up where Bronco Mendenhall left off – and is going to take things to the next level.

Keep in mind that the Cougars have a whole new offensive, defensive and special teams system in place as well as almost all new coaches. It generally takes awhile to rebuild a program, but this new staff did something that most couldn’t. With the really soft part of the schedule left, BYU fans can start looking forward to the San Diego Poinsettia Bowl vs. a tough MWC opponent (more than likely San Diego State or Wyoming).

No, 2016 hasn’t been the perfect season for BYU by any stretch of the imagination. But there are some successful personal and program records that are worth noting. Jamaal Williams recently set the all-time BYU rushing record. Taysom Hill returned and is close to completing an entire season injury free.

Jamaal Williams is the Y's all-time leading rusher, file photo from BYU at Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio, Nov. 5, 2016 | Photo by BYU Photo
Jamaal Williams is the Y’s all-time leading rusher, file photo from BYU at Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio, Nov. 5, 2016 | Photo by BYU Photo

Plus, BYU beat some very good teams like Michigan State, Cincinnati and Arizona on the road. While we can’t say we are happy about losing some early games to Utah, UCLA, and West Virginia, we have to keep things in perspective. BYU has played six Power 5 conference programs (not including Boise State, which was ranked No. 14 when BYU played at Boise) and have been not only in every game, they had their opportunities to win each one right down to the end.

This season sets things in the right direction for a great 2017 season. With another tough and power-packed schedule up next season, BYU will need to improve in some specific areas.

First, the Cougars need a lot more depth and talent at wide receiver (possibly looking to a junior college transfer). Second, while the BYU secondary is heading in the right direction, they will need to continue to add speed to cover today’s really big, fast and athletic receivers. Third, BYU needs Tanner Mangum and Squally Canada to solidify the QB and running back spots for next year.

Coach Mike Empey has done a great job with the O-line this year, but he will have some big shoes to fill with two senior SUU transfers graduating.

If BYU’s coaching staff can focus on a few of these areas, I am personally confident that all these close losses will turn into wins next season. Watch what has happened over the years up at Utah and it’s easy to see how just a few plays and a few players can make or break your season.

Utah has done a great job with not only competing against tougher competition, but establishing a winning atmosphere in Salt Lake City. BYU has every opportunity to break out of its shell, focus on areas that need improvement and really start to dominate.

As a former player and alumnus of BYU, I can be really critical. But I try not to be biased. That being said, I have high hopes for the future of BYU football after watching nine games and I really do look forward to the opportunity BYU has to win out and play in a good bowl game this year.

Blue Blood is a sports column written by former BYU lineman and captain Scott Young. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. George News.

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Twitter: @oldschoolag

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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