BYU is the magnet, and Boise State must resist the pull

12 September 2015: Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Tanner Mangum (12) dives for extra yards during a game between Boise State and BYU.  Boise State leads at halftime 10-7 at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo, Utah . -- Boyd Ivey/Icon Sportswire
Boyd Ivey/Icon Sportswire

Consistently inconsistent — BYU football fits that description. From inconsistency emerges a noticeable pattern, making it easy (or is it difficult?) to understand the Cardiac Cougars, who visit Boise State Thursday night in a contest which can’t be judged by win-loss records.

BYU might have three losses and Boise none, but the Broncos — operating on a very short week (a Saturday-Thursday turnaround) — cannot assume to the slightest extent that BYU is an inferior team. The Blue Turf Boys must treat their guests from Provo as though they are the unbeaten team in this matchup, not the Ida-hosts.


BYU is that team — people know it when they see it — which almost always plays to the level of its competition. Bored against the inferiors, inspired against the superiors, BYU very rarely plays with the same level of energy from week to week. Naturally, this is prevalent among college athletes; BYU hardly owns a monopoly on inconsistent performances. However, BYU represents an extreme example of this dynamic. It’s difficult to find a more representative case of a team which so ably marshals its mental resources one week and then takes many mental mini-vacations the next.

BYU’s performances fluctuate so wildly, and yet because the level of the Cougars’ competition is so different in what is an independent team’s schedule (without a conference structure), BYU winds up playing close games on a regular basis.

Consider this team’s 2016 results to date — not the wins and losses, but the margins, the point totals, and the opponents:

BYU played a two-point game in which fewer than 35 points were scored (18-16 over Arizona), and a two-point game in which more than 105 points were scored (55-53 over Toledo).

BYU played West Virginia and Mississippi State on even terms.

Utah and UCLA exist at different ends of the Pac-12 South standings, but BYU played each of them closely, and actually gave Utah a tougher battle on the road than it offered UCLA at home in Provo.

BYU is such an enigma that five of its seven games — against very different teams, as you can see above — have been decided by no more than three points. The only BYU game this season which has been decided by more than one score was a game in which the Cougars pounded Michigan State in East Lansing.

Many people might have predicted BYU would be 4-3 through seven games, but the way in which the Cougars arrived at that record defies easy description… except for the only obvious point available: This team is a close-game magnet.

Boise State has to resist that magnetic force, five days after allowing Colorado State to recover two straight onside kicks and turn a what had been a Bronco blowout into a close game.

It’s almost as though Boise State — knowing it was about to play the ultimate close-game team in college football — wanted to give itself a little close-game drama and practice against CSU. Clearly, the Broncos did not intend for that to happen; head coach Bryan Harsin was visibly annoyed at the end of BSU’s win over Colorado State, upset that his team made such a mess of the fourth quarter. However, coaches love that kind of situation. They get the win they need, but they also get to pound home points to an attentive team all week in practice and film study.

This Thursday is instructive because it will show how much Boise State has learned… and whether the Broncos are good enough to prevent BYU from being a typical and familiar pest.

It is not lost on the Broncos that in 2015, they should have created a lot more distance between themselves and BYU, but they messed around long enough to keep the Cougars in the conversation heading into the final minute of regulation. BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum threw a Hail Mary into the end zone in that final minute, and it was plucked for a touchdown.

The Cardiac Cougars almost always live on the edge, and sometimes it doesn’t work out for them… but it worked against Boise State last year.

The Broncos know what they have to do: Lead by at least nine points heading into the final two minutes… and recover any onside kicks that might come their way this time.

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