Commentary: BYU, Utah football both plagued by missed opportunities

Published: Monday, Nov. 25 2013 10:30 p.m. MST

Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall of the Brigham Young Cougars watches during the football game against Wisconsin in Madison, Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

After BYU and Utah football both suffered tough losses on Saturday, one can't help but think of the immortal words of John Greenleaf Whittier:

"For all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, 'It might have been.’ ”

Cougar and Ute fans alike will look back on 2013 and wonder, "What if …." While BYU will be going to a bowl game and Utah will have to stay home for the second year in a row, the Cougars and Utes both find themselves in largely the same boat.

And it's not a comfortable one.

Bronco Mendenhall hasn't missed a bowl game yet, and the Cougars have already accepted an invitation to the Fight Hunger Bowl. However, there's a feeling of impatience building in Provo. Part of the reason why is Mendenhall's own comments.

Namely, it's Mendenhall's repeated statements that the national championship is BYU's goal now that the Cougars are independent. Anyone who watched BYU get manhandled by Notre Dame knows that the Cougars are no closer to winning a national title than they were when they left the Mountain West Conference.

Yes, BYU is making some progress. The Cougars did beat Houston on the road as well as Texas, Georgia Tech and Boise State at home. Really, 2013 could have been a solid success even with losses to Wisconsin and Notre Dame.

But losses to Virginia and Utah put a damper on things.

The Cavaliers are 2-9, and it looks like BYU will be the only FBS team they will beat this season. There were plenty of excuses. Robert Anae was installing a new offense, Taysom Hill had to shake off the rust after being out much of last season with a knee injury and there was the rain delay that seemed to take momentum away from the Cougars and gave it right to Virginia.

Of course, all those excuses don't matter now. All that people will remember is that they lost to a terrible team on the road.

But if BYU could have just one game back, it would surely be the Utah game. Losing to the Utes for the fourth season in a row hurt, particularly since the Cougars won't get a shot at redemption until 2016.

All four of BYU's losses were by 10 points or less. A play here, a touchdown there or a big defense stop at a key time were the difference between an 11-0 or 10-1 record and BYU's actual 7-4 record.

The Cougars' loss to Notre Dame was no different. BYU failed to capitalize on key opportunities, including Craig Bills' interception in the end zone. BYU drove just 13 yards before punting the ball right back to the Irish.

Plus, BYU's "blue zone" efficiency is just awful. The Cougars have been inside the 20 51 times this season, and they've only scored touchdowns 24 times. Ten of those trips to the end zone have ended without even a field goal.

That translates to 219 points in the blue zone out of a possible 357. That's 138 points left on the field. This hurts even more given that BYU's four losses came by a combined 29 points.

BYU will finish 2013 with a winning record and up to nine wins. However, BYU needs more than that if football independence is going to work long-term.

Kyle Whittingham and the Utes are in a bad position as well. Utah's 49-37 loss to Washington State will keep Utah from a bowl game and ensure a losing season.

This is not what Ute fans had envisioned when their team received a coveted invite to the new Pac-12. They dreamed of playing in the Rose Bowl and laughing at BYU languishing in mediocrity. Well, they can still laugh at BYU thanks to Utah's four-game winning streak over the Cougars, but they'll have to do so at home instead of at a bowl game, Rose or otherwise.

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