Last week's collective groan from Provo wasn't an echo from football season. It stemmed from a new source of underachievement, this time courtesy of the BYU men's basketball team.
The Cougars, predicted by many to round out a three-team power in the West Coast Conference, dropped ugly back-to-back games to San Diego and cellar-dweller San Francisco. For fans and national pundits alike, the defeats seemingly put BYU directly on course for the NIT, a destination even less appealing to Cougar fans than the Poinsettia Bowl.
Football and basketball share more in common than a let-down present, however. The future looks brighter for both programs, thanks to the respective presence of young and explosive offensive players.
For football, it's all about Jamaal Williams (on offense, anyway). As a 17-year-old, the freshman running back finished with over 1,000 yards of total offense, including 775 yards rushing, averaging 4.7 yards per carry. Twelve of his 13 touchdowns came on the ground, including seven over the final five games.
Williams' sooner-than-expected production produced an immediate fan following starving for a grade-A star in a C-minus season. The Cougars finished 8-5, making fans only too eager to look forward.
The scene isn't much different just up University Parkway. BYU basketball is 19-8 with only four games left in the regular season, putting Dave Rose's six-year streak of at least 25 wins (and the subsequent NCAA Tournament berths) in serious jeopardy.
Much as they did with football, BYU fans are snagging what optimism they can by clinging to individual success as long as the team's is lacking.
Sophomore forward Tyler Haws has become the feel-good story both locally and on national circuits. Less than a year back from an LDS mission in the Philippines, Haws is leading the WCC in points per game (21.0) on 48.2 percent shooting.
Toss in his 4.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.5 steals per contest, and it's easy to see why imagining how good Haws could be is a lot more appealing than how good the Cougars are right now as a whole.
Haws will look to provide more wins along with optimism tonight against Utah State, who he hasn't played since Dec. 2, 2009. The Cougars lost that game 71-61, then their first loss of the season.
Matt Petersen is the Sports Web Editor for DeseretNews.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @TheMattPetersen.
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