Johnny’s Surprise of the Week: the BYU Cougars

Photo via Rick Bowmer/AP Photo

Non-Power Five teams simply have a different aura to them. 

Sure, the Clemson’s, Alabama’s and Florida’s of the world are fun to watch. After all, they are the staples likely to be seen playing in the College Football Playoff later in the season. Those storylines are expected. The success of non-Power Five teams, though, adds a different flavor of excitement to the college football storyline menu. 

When looking at this season, non-Power Five teams have already stood out. The Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns and Cincinnati Bearcats ring a bell. Let’s not forget about SMU, either. 

Another team, though, holds the honor of being a non-Power Five team that does not call a particular football conference or division its home. 

BYU, I am talking to you. 

The Cougars, through the early campaign of the 2020 College Football Season, have shown out, to say the least. If you want the basics, well, here they are. The Cougars are currently 4-0 and have vaulted into the AP Rankings by the power of both their offense and defense. Offensively, the likes of quarterback Zach Wilson and wide receiver Gunner Romney have gifted the Cougars an offense that has racked up the yardage. Heading into action on Oct. 14, BYU’s 556.8 total yards per game ranks fifth out of 76 FBS schools that have played a game this season. BYU’s 43.8 points per game, meanwhile, ranks sixth. 

Defensively, the Cougars’ collective defensive unit is allowing only 250.5 total yards a game. This ranks fourth in the entire FBS, but even this does not give the defense enough credit. After all, two teams ahead of them (the Houston Cougars and Air Force Falcons with 211.0 and 241.0 yards allowed, respectively) have only played one game this season. The only other team in terms of yards allowed ahead of BYU are the Georgia Bulldogs, who have allowed 236.7 yards per game. They have only played three games, though. BYU has played four. BYU’s 11.0 points allowed per game collectively ranks fourth, but first in terms of games played when compared to teams ahead of them. 

When stacking it all together, BYU’s scoring offense and defense both rank inside the top 10 in all of college football. The only other team to say the same through the early portion of the season is Clemson. Pretty good company, eh? 

Comparisons to a former National Champion aside, BYU has one more thing going for it – its record. As mentioned previously, the Cougars are currently 4-0. It is the first time since 2014 the Cougars have started the season 4-0. The 2014 season, however, saw the team lose their next four regular season games before winning their final four. The inconsistency would continue into the postseason, as the Cougars faltered in the Miami Beach Bowl to the Memphis Tigers, 55-48, in two overtimes.

The 2020 season, however, could see better fortunes for the Cougars when compared to the up-and-down 2014 season. How? Well, look no further than their Football Power Index (FPI). 

FPI, which looks at a team’s strength and predicts how the team will do moving forward, shows two different stories in regard to the two different BYU teams. The 2014 BYU team had a collective ranking of 43rd, in addition to a strength of record ranking of 53rd. While not inherently weak, it was not collectively strong, either. The relatively average ranking, in turn, could help explain the inconsistencies BYU faced that season. 

The 2020 BYU team, meanwhile, has a collective FPI ranking of 21st. Their strength of record, meanwhile, ranks 18th. Even with 76 FBS teams playing through Oct. 14, the improvement is noticeable enough. Additionally, when looking at BYU’s schedule moving forward, their lowest percentage chance of winning, per ESPN, is 52.3% (Oct. 16 on the road against Houston). Should BYU run the table as FPI and the winning percentages potentially say they can, they would come away with their first undefeated regular season since 1984

The success of non-Power Five teams come and go as the seasons pass by. While the long-term success of non-Power Five teams might not be as consistent as other staples in college football, the storylines are still abundant no matter what season you look at. 

For BYU, their storyline is already apparent. Depending on how the rest of the season goes, though, their story might only be starting up.

Published by John Crane

I am originally from Alexandria, Louisiana, but have lived in South Carolina, Texas, Arizona and now Colorado. After recently graduating from Northern Arizona University, I am now continuing to sharpen my journalistic craft through writing, radio and podcasting. My dream is to become a sports reporter or broadcaster.

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