Steve Griffin, Deseret News
The Cougar bench explodes with excitement after a game tying Wisconsin kick sailed wide during the Wisconsin versus BYU football game at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, WI in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018.

PROVO — Ranked BYU could lose to McNeese State this Saturday.

That is if Kalani Sitake’s team repeats the “lull” in practices that existed after beating Arizona in the opener.

That’s just the science of football.

McNeese State is 3-0, possesses Cal-Berkeley speed and is capable on any given day.

Just look at the Big Ten last week, which had half its members lose to non-Power 5 opponents, including No. 6 Wisconsin’s stunning loss to then-unranked BYU at Camp Randall Stadium. Temple beat Maryland, Akron upset Northwestern and South Florida beat Illinois.

Gulp. It was a banquet of the over-confident.

“Rankings are a fun thing for the fans but I don’t know if it’s necessarily a good thing for the team,” said BYU offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes on his weekly radio show.

“My message to the team is to enjoy the win for about an hour once we get meeting and back to work and then it doesn’t matter if we are ranked 25th or 75th. It has no bearing on this week.”

Then again, for a team, staff and fan base starving for good news, Sunday’s appearance in the Associated Press Top 25 for the first time since 2015 was like an injection of energy with a firehose syringe.

BYU’s win over Wisconsin was no fluke. Sitake’s staff completely out-coached Wisconsin and the players out-executed the Badgers, who hadn’t lost this kind of game at home out of league play in 15 years.

Rankings, sad to say, do mean something. Especially for an independent program like BYU football.

A ranking is a catalyst for weekly inclusion in roundups on national TV. It is a metric used for bowl games, it helps with recruiting and it confirms that a program is one to respect.

Being ranked also does something especially different for BYU, a team that is looking for an identity outside the Power 5 good-old-boys group. It blows up the stupid wishful thinking refrain by some that somebody will someday pull the plug on BYU football.


This ranking represented a lot of things.

It meant critics of Sitake and defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki can retreat to the back row.

It solidified Sitake’s hire of Grimes as a brilliant move.

And for media types like me who believed BYU was making progress but picked them to lose to Arizona and Wisconsin? Well, we were wrong. Very wrong.

It’s tough to come from nowhere and climb in the rankings like the Cougars did on Sunday following the upset trip to Big Ten country. Compared to other wins over top-10 teams during the past 40 years, when BYU was already ranked, this climb has been much more dramatic.

In 1984 after beating Pitt in ESPN’s first broadcasted game, the Cougars were unranked but climbed to No. 13 after a season during which the program established respect thanks in part to Steve Young.

In 1985 BYU beat a top-10-ranked Air Force team and moved from 15 to 11.

When Ty Detmer led 16th-ranked BYU past No. 1 Miami voters moved them to No. 5.

The Max Hall promise at halftime that the Cougars would beat No. 3 Oklahoma in Dallas resulted in a 20th-ranked Cougar team winning and moving to No. 9.

The Pac-12 has great interest in BYU climbing in the polls because a ranked Cougar team strengthens schedules of Arizona, Cal, Washington and Utah.

It is interesting to see where geographically the Cougars got AP voters onboard after the upset of Wisconsin.

The highest vote came from Baltimore radio WJFK sportscaster Rob Long at No. 15. Voting BYU No. 19 were Brent Axe (Post-Standard) in Syracuse, N.Y., Jon Wilner (San Jose Mercury News) and Michael Lev of the Arizona Daily Star.

Conor O’Neill of the Winston-Salem Journal gave BYU No. 20 on his ballot. Voting BYU No. 21 was Bill Landis of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Garry Smits at the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville and Keith Sargeant at the New Jersey Advance Media.

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Longtime WAC and MWC columnist Ferd Lewis at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser had the Cougars No. 22, as did Gary Horowitz from Salem, Oregon, and Kirk Bohls, a columnist at the Austin American-Statesman in Texas. National columnist Brett McMurphy at the Stadium in Tampa, Florida, voted BYU 23rd.

The local voter with the highest BYU vote was Tony Parks at 1280 The Zone at No. 24, agreeing with Eric Hansen of the South Bend Tribune in Indiana and Brandon Marcello, 247Sports in Auburn, Alabama. Voting BYU No. 25 was Brian Howell at the Daily Camera in Boulder, Colorado, in Pac-12 and MWC territory.

Rankings really do not mean a lot at this stage of the season.

Unless you coach and play and follow a team that won just four games a year ago.

Then, it is a very big deal.