HONOLULU — Before the 2017 season began, some projected that BYU could reach a double-digit win total.
Nobody imagined the Cougars could have ended up with double-digit losses.
And thanks to Saturday’s 30-20 victory over Hawaii, BYU (4-9) avoided that fate.
Only once in the school’s 95-year football history have the Cougars recorded at least 10 losses in a single season — it happened in 1949, when BYU posted a 0-11 campaign.
At any rate, coach Kalani Sitake has a lot of evaluation, reflection and work to do now that the offseason has finally arrived and the Cougars aren’t playing in a bowl game for the first time since 2005.
“It’s a long trip home so I’m going to look at everything. I’m going to watch a lot of film,” Sitake said after the win over Hawaii. “I owe it to the fans and the players here to get this team right and make sure this season doesn’t happen again. The first year we went 9-4 and in the second year we went 4-9. What are we going to do the third year? I’m willing, with our coaching staff and players, to work as hard as we can and see what happens when we play Arizona next season.”
Running back Austin Kafentzis, who rushed 18 times for 98 yards against the Rainbow Warriors, said his team was focused for the season-finale.
“We prepared this week as a bowl week. We didn’t make a bowl game, obviously, but we came in here working hard and never giving up,” Kafentzis said. “It’s a great win to be able to build off of for next season. We’ll come back on Monday, work hard in the weight room, get our bodies healed up, bounce back and have a great season next year.”
On Saturday, the Cougars ran for 285 yards behind their experienced offensive line, a similar game plan that BYU utilized in a road win over UNLV a couple of weeks ago.
Unlike last week, when quarterback Joe Critchlow threw 45 passes and four interceptions in a loss to UMass, the coaching staff didn’t put too much on Critchlow's shoulders. The freshman completed 14 of 23 passes for 166 yards and a touchdown, with no interceptions, against Hawaii.
BYU relied heavily on its run game.
“I’m glad it wasn’t 45 (passes),” Sitake said of Critchlow's contributions. “We could probably have used that (running attack) every week. It’s something to learn from. Rather than to just trying to fit a format, it’s OK to look at your talent level and skill set right away — even with injuries, you have to figure it out — but I think we can recruit, get guys developed and get more depth. That will help our team overall.”
Speaking of recruiting, the college football early signing period starts Dec. 20.
“Most of our recruits have been committed for a long time. There’s going to be some attrition. We’ll see how it goes. That’s the recruiting game,” Sitake said. “We have a lot of things going for us. There’s a lot of good players out there who want to be here at BYU and want to live this life, and want to make it work and have the academics to make it work. We’ve got to go find them.”
The Cougars also have a lot of players returning next season. All the touchdowns BYU scored this season came from players who are scheduled to return in 2018.
“I’m glad a lot of young guys got experience,” Sitake said. “I wish we would have won more games.”
Meanwhile, one of BYU's seniors, linebacker Fred Warner, enjoyed winning his final college game at Hawaii.
“I’m the sorest loser on this team. I’m really happy for the win,” he said. “This win is for sure is going to mean something, knowing I won my last game.”
What will the returning players need to do to avoid another losing season in 2018?
“There’s got to be a lot of good leadership next season. They’ve got to take this offseason very serious,” said Warner, who will begin preparing in earnest for next spring’s NFL draft once he graduates in December. “Not just in the weight room but making sure they study the film from this year and learn from the mistakes that we had.”
After a dismal season, at least Sitake has the win over Hawaii to use as a springboard going into next fall.
“The goal was to win this game for the seniors and have something we can build for next year. A lot of young guys stepped up,” he said. “I’m looking forward to (working with) those guys in the offseason. We’ll start right away with a team meeting on Monday and get working because we don’t have a bowl game with the prep. We’ll try to utilize as much time as we can from now until finals.”