by Christian Mott
The 2021 football season for BYU will be one of high expectations after a fabulous 2020 season. Quarterback Zach Wilson exploded onto the scene. Entering his sixth season as head coach, Kalani Sitaki has molded BYU into a potential perennial powerhouse outside of the Power Five conferences. Coach Sitake lost some major pieces including Zach Wilson and the team’s leading receiver Dax Milne to the 2021 NFL Draft. However, all eyes shift towards this upcoming fall season. BYU will make its first stop at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas as they open up against new head coach Jedd Fisch and the Arizona Wildcats.
2020 Arizona Wildcats Season
Arizona’s 2020 was one to forget after the tenure of former Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin came to an end. He failed to give the Wildcats their first winning season in four years after starting a shaky 9-15 in his first two. However, the shortened season turned out to be the worst one yet for the Wildcats. They finished with their first ever winless season (shout out to the 57 teams who went 1-8-1).
Additionally, they finished 119th in scoring offense. They scored an anemic 17.4 points-per-game. They also had the 121st ranked defense by giving up a whopping 39.8 points-per-game. It’s safe to say the Wildcats want to put this season under the rug. Kevin Sumlin was pulled after three years at the helm. The season included a heartbreaking 44-27 loss to USC. The brutal 70-7 massacre by no other then there bitter rivals Arizona State topped it all off. Now they head into 2021 with a new start.
After a season like that, the school’s patience with Sumlin wore out and he was released. He finished his time in Arizona with a 9-20 record. They made the move to hire New England Patriots quarterback coach Jedd Fisch as their new head coach. The 44-year-old is in his very first year of head coaching after 20 years in the NFL and NCAA as an offensive coordinator and quarterback coach.
In his first offseason, his first recruiting class has some highs and lows. Arizona’s recruiting class ranks 78th on 247sports recruiting rankings. That is down from their 59th ranked class the year prior. However, their class might be sneakily crafted to be better than advertised. They added talents such as defensive lineman Alex Navarro-Silva and running back Jame Bohis to their core.
How BYU Matches Up
BYU on paper would seem to have the overwhelming advantage in this matchup, but it’s no walk in the park in this new season. One thing the Cougars will have to take advantage of is playing against a first time head coach making his debut. Fisch is from the Josh McDaniels coaching tree, so it’s safe to say that he will be using a similar scheme. This means several offensive tackles will be running with the passing game and focusing on working the hashes to open up the sidelines.
If Sitake starts Baylor Romney, they just need to continue off of their play of last year. BYU’s talent pool is returning their leading tackler Keenan Pili and a ground game lead by Tyler Allgeier (who may very well be used heavy early and often). They could have a field day against an unproven defense. This matchup looks a lot like Glass Joe trying to fight King Hippo in the old Punch-Out Nintendo video game. The proverbial Glass Joe doesn’t look like they’ll have a chance against BYU, but even Glass Joe can find a way to win.
Analysts will look at this matchup and chalk it up an easy win for the Cougars. While that is fair, this game provides plenty of intrigue for both fanbases. For BYU, it will be the first game in the post Zach Wilson era. Will Sitake be able to repeat last year’s success with Baylor Romney taking snaps? Meanwhile, a brand new head coach for Arizona brings hope and energy for a team that’s in need of it. Additionally, being able to play in front of a full stadium fans for the first time since 2019 will be a major boost for all teams this year.
Featured image courtesy Jaren Wilkey/ BYU Photo