BYU's dream of going undefeated and contending for a College Football Playoff spot were fumbled away on Saturday.
The Cougars fumbled the ball three times in a 26-17 loss to Boise State. BYU entered the game without any lost fumbles through the first five games of the season but that ball security disappeared in its first game of 2021 as a top-10 team.
BYU (5-1) jumped out to an early 10-0 lead too. Boise State fumbled on its first possession and BYU capitalized with a TD five plays later after Jaren Hall threw a 14-yard pass to Samson Nacua. Things went horribly wrong after that drive. BYU's six possessions after that TD ended via punt, fumble, fumble on a kickoff, turnover on downs, fumble, and turnover on downs.
Those fails allowed Boise State (3-3) to score 23 consecutive points and seize control of the game. BYU had a chance to cut Boise State’s lead to a touchdown with 11 minutes to go but couldn’t score from first and goal at the Boise 3. Heck, BYU couldn’t even gain a yard. The Cougars lost two yards before a fourth-down pass attempt was incomplete.
Boise State's win is the first for the school over a top-10 opponent on the road since 2001. It was also the first time that BYU had lost three fumbles in a game since it played Boise State in 2018.
BYU's strength of schedule
With wins over Utah and Arizona State and a schedule that includes Baylor, Virginia and USC over the rest of the season, there were plenty of Power Five opponents on BYU’s 2021 slate to assuage the same strength of schedule concerns that were commonplace in 2020. Had BYU gone undefeated with a schedule that included seven Power Five teams and Boise State, the Cougars were going to be in the top seven or eight at the end of the season at the very least.
Instead, BYU is probably not going to sniff the playoff again. A New Year’s Six bowl game is a longshot now too, though an 11-1 season could be enough for a berth if everything breaks in BYU’s favor.
Can Boise State make a run?
At 3-3, Boise State isn't going to sniff a top-tier bowl game. But Boise State is in a decent position to keep its modern run of success going. Had Boise State dropped to 2-4 on Saturday the Broncos would have been guaranteed a four-loss season for the first time since 2015 and a loss away from just its second five-loss season of the millennium.
Instead, Boise State could possibly finish 9-3 or 8-4 as it should be favored in all but two of its final six games. There's still plenty of work to be done to get to an eight-win season, of course, especially with games looming at Fresno State and San Diego State. But first-year coach Andy Avalos shouldn't be in peril of coaching the first Boise State team to finish at .500 or worse since 1997.