What BYU Must Do to Win At Least Seven Games

<i>(<b>EDITOR'S NOTE:</b> This article appears in <b>TOTAL BLUE SPORTS</b> Magazine's upcoming 2004 Football Preview due out in August.)</i> <P> On top of BYU's dismal record the past two seasons, the Cougars are confronted this fall with another daunting out-of-conference schedule against defending national champion USC, Notre Dame, Stanford and Boise State.

After some number crunching of last year's statistics, this is what BYU head coach Gary Crowton must do to substantially revitalize the Cougar football fortunes and win at least seven games this fall.

Key injuries aside, BYU was killed last year by turnovers. They had 22 interceptions, 17 fumbles and two blocked punts. More frustrating for Crowton is the fact that three interceptions were returned for touchdowns; three fumbles were returned for touchdowns; and their only two blocked punts were returned for touchdowns!

Overall, BYU gave up 56 points in turnovers last season. The fact that opponents scored eight touchdowns as a result of BYU turnovers within the Cougars' own 35 yard line makes it even more troubling. The Cougars must significantly reduce these turnovers within the shadows of its own goal line.

With 27 field goal points scored off BYU turnovers, the total rises to 83 points or roughly 6.9 points per game. Indeed, these stats are an obvious formula for a losing season. If the Cougars reduced their turnovers by 50 percent, its defense would have given up 3.5 fewer points per game – and would have won more games.

So what if the Cougars improved its offensive production by just seven points per game and reduced its turnovers by half? BYU would have had a winning season and tied for 1st place as the Mountain West Conference (MWC) champions.

Modified "What-if" Scenario

BYU 31 – Georgia Tech 9 (1-0)
USC 31 – BYU 25 (1-1)
BYU 17 – New Mexico 3 (2-1, 1-0 in MWC)
BYU 21 – Stanford 15 (3-1) Air Force – 20 BYU 17 (3-2, 1-1 in MWC)
BYU 51 – San Diego State 32 (4-2, 2-1 in MWC)
Colorado State 54 – BYU 20 (4-3, 2-2 in MWC)
BYU 17 – Wyoming 10 (5-3, 3-2 in MWC)
BYU 34 – UNLV 17 (6-3, 4-2 in MWC)
Boise State 47 – BYU 19 (6-4)
Notre Dame 30 – BYU 21 (6-5)
BYU 7 - Utah 0 (7-5, 5-2 in MWC)

Taking this what-if scenario even further, if BYU's offense improved enough to score 10 more points per game last season, eliminated all touchdowns directly from turnovers, and cut its turnovers by half, that would have further reduced the Cougars defensive scoring by 2.3 points per game for a total of 5.8 points per game. This is how the season would have unveiled:

BYU 34 – Georgia Tech 7 (1-0)
USC 29 – BYU 28 (1-1)
BYU 20 New Mexico 2 (2-1, 1-0 in MWC)
BYU 24 – Stanford 12 (3-1, 1-0 in MWC)
BYU 24 – Air Force 19 (4-1, 2-0 in MWC)
BYU 54 – San Diego State 30 (5-1, 3-0 in MWC)
Colorado State 52 – BYU 23 (5-2, 3-1 in MWC)
BYU 20 – Wyoming 7 (6-2, 4-1 in MWC)
BYU 37 – UNLV 14 (7-2, 5-1 in MWC)
Boise State 44 – BYU 22 (7-3)
Notre Dame 27 – BYU 24 (7-4)
BYU 10 – Utah 0 (8-4, 6-1 in MWC)

The Cougars don't have to score 30 points a game this season with Bronco Mendenhall's intimidating defense to win. If they simply reduced their turnovers slightly above what they did in 2002 on offense, they would be right back up there with Utah.

Let me go on record and predict the Cougars will win at least seven games this season despite a daunting out-of-conference schedule. The Cougars are not really that far from reclaiming the MWC title this fall. They simply have to hold onto the ball and consciously make fewer mistakes.

It's a lot easier said than done.

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