SALT LAKE CITY — Eight years after BYU launched its grand experiment, not much has changed with either the Cougars or their No. 1 legend/fan/critic Jason Buck.
Both think they know how to get BYU back to national prominence in football.
BYU apparently wants to stay the course as an independent and hope for an invitation from a Power Five conference. Buck wants the Cougars to follow the model of Utah State; i.e., join a solid Group of Five conference. He has said that often, but now he is making a direct comparison to the Team Way Up North.
“Just watch the rise of Utah State’s program in a conference and our decline in independence, and now we’re battling for our lives, for relevance, against Utah State,” says the former Outland Trophy winner.
Buck says USU, which finished last season 11-2 and ranked No. 22, provides “a great side-by-side analogy” because the Aggies left the Western Athletic Conference for the Mountain West Conference two years after BYU declared its independence. His opinion is that USU is moving forward and BYU is standing in place.
“Tiny Logan gets in a conference and we drop out. Eight years later, USU beats us two years in a row, it’s playing for conference championships, it’s the end of the year, and we’re like, ‘Uh, no conference championship ... we know we struggled in the first half (of the season), then we wiped out Wagner and Liberty and Idaho State and now we’re going to a bowl game.’”
His point is that G5 teams like Boise State, Western Michigan and even Utah State can entertain hopes of reaching a New Year’s Six bowl game by dominating their conferences.
Buck has never been afraid to take criticism. He says when he transferred from Ricks College to BYU in 1985, the Outland Trophy seemed unlikely, but the goal “was on my mind.”
He doubled his weight-room time, pored over film and worked with various position coaches to see how he could make himself harder to contain. He even solicited the help of the track coach and sprinters to improve his speed.
After a seven-year NFL career that included two Super Bowls, he tried a variety of ventures, including farming, investing and an unsuccessful run for the U.S. House of Representatives. He has co-owned an Arena Football League team, worked the public speaking circuit, volunteer-coached his grandchildren’s teams, and twice filed for bankruptcy after getting involved with what he has said were unscrupulous business partners. He co-hosts the podcast “Rivals” with former Utah quarterback Scott Mitchell.
Buck has been forthright with school officials about his vision for the program, but his hopes of change have stalled.
Kind of like the football program, if you ask him.
He laments the team’s late season scheduling, which BYU can’t easily change. This year the Cougars play a killer lineup of Utah, Tennessee, USC and Washington to start the season, and later USU and Boise State, but play Liberty, Idaho State and UMass in November.
“Utah State — with less money — is in a conference and has come so far purely because it got in a (solid) conference,” he says. “It was nothing until it got in a conference. Can we survive as an independent, just because it’s such a good school?
“I think we can survive it. But it says that’s really where we’re at. We’re not getting any better or any more special. We have some exciting games at home this year, and might have an awesome year and sometimes go 9-3, but most likely 7-5, 8-4, which is good, we’re playing solid, but where does that get us in the end?”
It leads them back to the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
“Right now it kills me; it rips my heart out,” he says. “We’re middle-of-the-road.”
Eight years is an eternity in matters of the heart.254 comments on this story
“I don’t see any change,” Buck says. “We’ll still get 40,000 going to the Liberty game and still go to the same bowl. I think the best scenario right now is to bust into the Fiesta Bowl like Boise State and Western Michigan (Cotton). Go back to owning what we can control. Don’t put it in the hands of the biases and prejudices and academic elites. We can control our own destiny and own it. Be part of a G5. If we burned our bridges with the Mountain West, find another one ... let’s just own that.”
BYU is less attractive to a power conference as an independent than it would be by winning G5 conference championships, in Buck’s estimation.
“Let the P5 happen if it happens,” he says.
Let the G5 happen regardless.