BYU coach Kalani Sitake, far right, chats with running back Tyler Allgeier and wide receiver Gunner Romney before a press conference at Independence Stadium in Shreveport, La. On Friday, December 17, 2021. (Jaren Wilkey, BYU Photo)
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SHREVEPORT, Louisiana – It’s been all fun and playful, but now it’s getting real.
The 13th-ranked BYU football team will be among the first games of the 2021 bowl season on Saturday afternoon when they host Alabama-Birmingham in the Independence Bowl (1:30 p.m. MST, ABC).
And while the Cougars (10-2) are favored by 7 points and the highest ranked team to ever play in the bowl game dating back to 1976, the bowl game has a must-have feel.
Nothing else matters – not what BYU did last year, not this year, not some pseudo-mythical headline in a conference that never invited them – but what happens after the fact. Saturday’s dispatch at the Independence Stadium.
If they win, the 2021 season will be a success, ending an 11-2 campaign with a 6-1 record against opponents Power Five and a 5-0 mark against Pac-12.
Losing, and that’s probably all that will be remembered this year – and potentially the careers of all-time talent, at least statistically, in Provo.
That’s a lot of pressure on a game against the USA West Conference finalists. But the Cougars are ready for it.
“We’re extremely hungry,” said wide receiver Gunner Romney, a junior who, like teammate Tyler Allgeier (and unlike compatriot Lopini Katoa), declined to determine whether Saturday would be his last game at BYU. “That’s probably the first thing people talk about is the more motivated team will win this game. I feel like the practice has been a bit more competitive, a bit faster than they are. have not been used all season. “
If this is the last game of a rich career for Romney, the former Chandler High, Arizona star player would love nothing more than to come out on a high note.
Romney’s season has been hampered by injury, playing just nine games and missing the Cougars’ regular season finale at USC. BYU quarterback Baylor Romney’s younger brother caught 31 passes for 539 yards and three touchdowns, but he always left the option of returning for a final year of eligibility or declaring himself for professional companies.
He is not the only one to leave the decision at the end of the year. Romney and running back Tyler Allgeier – the Cougars’ Doak Walker Award contender whose 1,409 rushing yards give him consecutive seasons with at least 1,130 yards and the NCAA’s top 20 rushing touchdowns this season – await the end.
Even though he played four years at BYU, including a red shirt season and a year as a linebacker, Allgeier is only a second year in a red shirt by eligibility standards, thanks to the effect of COVID- 19 on eligibility across the country.
And he let Romney handle the question of whether or not he will return.
“At the moment, I’m not really focused on this,” Romney said at a press conference Friday morning. “I think all the emphasis was on preparing for this last game. We put all our effort into this game, and we will have time for that afterwards.”
BYU coach Kalani Sitake has been around long enough to grow from a cool older brother to a father figure in his alma mater, where he is 48-28 in six seasons as the head coach for the first time. But he may need to take on the role of motivator and mental strength coach for a team that may have been inches away from a New Years Six appearance and are now facing the USA West Conference finalist.
The games are over; it’s time to prove that the Cougars belong, like they did in some midweek bowl activities and less in others.
“We’re not very good at Madden, and I don’t plan on improving. But for some reason we’re really good at ax throwing,” Sitake said.
But when it comes to winning football games, the Cougars really want to win.
The Blazers (8-4) are not to be overlooked either. Just four years after reinstating a program once shut down by the University of Alabama board of directors, UAB is 42-20 with two Conference USA title games and 22. -5 against league opponents. They’ll be heading to the American Athletic Conference in 2023 – the same year BYU joined the Big 12 – and were the turn-of-the-century story under the leadership of recent National Coach of the Year Bill Clark.
This year’s Blazers aren’t quite where they were from a year ago – they finished a three-point loss to UTSA away from competing for a C-USA title. But they still have 1,000-yard sophomore rusher DeWayne McBride (1,188 yards, 12 TD) and strong junior red-shirt quarterback Dylan Hopkins (2,085 yards, 15 TD, six interceptions) .
UAB also set an all-time program record with 23 all-conference caps, led by first-team left tackle Colby Ragland and defensive lineman Tyree Turner.
“We understand they have great defense and we know our offense is running to open the pass. But if we run the ball it opens the field of shots and allows us to give the ball to our playmakers,” he said. Ragland said. “It’s a way of imposing our will. It’s a great football team, and in attack we’re going to have to score some points.”
The number at stake, then, may be the never with two offenses averaging over 29 points per game. The Cougars lead the Blazers in this category, 33.5 to 29.4 while maintaining their opponents at 24.2 points per game against 22.8 for UAB.
Clark knows what it will take to maintain an explosive 457.1 yards-per-game offense, and how bad it would be for his program, not hesitating to have several players call it the biggest win in history. from the program.
“Obviously any win in a bowl will be important,” said Clark, who will be leading the Blazers on the old-school FieldTurf, a six-hour drive from the Birmingham city campus. “But it’s one of the shows that you grew up watching; you watch them in the boules games, you watch their history.
“We talked about the traditions that we started at home… and now we expect to win. But they still expect to win. Being a varsity football history enthusiast, we know their program and their history.”
Much of the Cougars’ season has been a success, from the hype of the 2020 campaign, to losing most productions in the Football Bowl subdivision, to repeating a 10-game winning season for the premiere. once in more than a decade – one that has earned Sitake a new “unprecedented” contract until the 2027 season that will provide the resources for a program making the transition to a Power Five conference.
But there is still one last step and one final goal: a goal like this team has faced 12 times in 2021.
“They can live with the result better if we play our best. That’s it,” Sitake said. “I think these guys get a little jealous when there are soccer games and they don’t play. I saw that during the week off… and if they could they would love to play. another bowl game, if possible. “
How to watch, stream and listen to the Independence Bowl
No. 13 BYU Cougars (10-2) vs. UAB Blazers (8-4)
To start up: 1:30 p.m. MST
TV: ABC (Roy Philpott, Cole Cubelic, Paul Carcaterra)
Radio: BYU Radio 143, KSL 1160 AM / 102.7 FM (Greg Wrubell, Riley Nelson, Mitchell Juergens)
The series. BYU and UAB meet for the first time in football history. The Cougars are 39-12-1 against members of Conference USA.
House on Bayou State. BYU is only playing its third game in the state of Louisiana and its first in the playoffs, with the previous two games at the New Orleans Superdome. The UAB campus is 451 miles from Shreveport.
New excavations. BYU and UAB will switch conferences in the coming years, with the Cougars set to join the Big 12 in 2023 and UAB are expected to fill a vacant American Athletic Conference vacancy left by departures from Cincinnati, Houston and UCF.