BYU lost again last night, and it wasn't pretty: Boise State 55, BYU 30. The Cougars are now 0-4 without Taysom Hill, and the team that was one of the nation's best is now mediocre on a good night.
Back on September 6, BYU beat Texas 41-7 in Austin. The Longhorns aren't great but they hung close in losses to UCLA (20-17), Baylor (28-7), and Oklahoma (31-26). Those are some of the best teams in the country and the Cougars far outclassed them by this one comparison at least, and they handled UConn, Houston, and Virginia as well as almost every other team did.
After four games they were 4-0 and ranked #19 in our Strength power rating. It appeared that an undefeated season was a strong possibility—but then Taysom Hill was injured against Utah State, and that changed everything.
Utah State had taken the lead after a fumble and was up 21-14. Hill scrambled, as he often does, but this time he went down awkwardly on the tackle and wouldn't be back on the field again for the Cougars. With Hill gone the QB job fell to Christian Stewart who had 2 pass attempts last year. It's obvious that it was a big change: Hill's QBR was 85.6; Stewart's so far is 39.7.
Perhaps more importantly the team lost its leader. The Cougars faded against Utah State and lost 35-20; they lost in overtime at Central Florida, and blew a lead against Nevada and fell 42-35. The worst was the Boise State game. The chart of BYU's game rating performances says everything:
The team's offense, as expected, slowed down considerably. Only the Nevada game was as good as the weakest of the team's performances with Hill:
But what's interesting is how much the defense has collapsed recently. The Cougar D was at its best against Texas, then looked vulnerable against Houston and Virginia. The D stepped up against UCF in game 6 but lately it's been terrible:
The defense's problems are somewhat a mystery. Are they being exposed the way Houston and Virginia almost did? With the offense ineffective, the opposing offense has more opportunity to score. Injuries to the secondary have crippled the defense and that was clear against Boise State. Fans have criticized defensive coordinator Nick Howell, and this is the first year Bronco Mendenhall ceded play calling to his DC. But the collapse has been so complete that team morale has to be a factor, too; something has changed recently to make the defense porous, and that's really the team's main concern. With the offense in trouble, the defense had to step up rather than take the step down that it did.
BYU has four games left and has to win two games to make a bowl game. They still have promise, and the remaining schedule (MTSU, UNLV, Savannah State, and Cal) isn't tough. The offense, despite a huge downgrade, is still capable of winning games. The defense is actually the bigger problem. The Cougars went from a team with a great offense and average defense to one with a mediocre offense and terrible defense.
Given the team's current Strength rating they should go 3-1 in the remaining games, and by the odds they have a 99.6% chance of being bowl-eligible. That's mainly due to the games against UNLV and Savannah, which rate as 98% and 100% certainties.
But BYU's Strength rating combines their former 4-0 selves with their current 0-4 team. What happens if the teams are split into two? In that case, we see the following schizophrenic split in the Cougars' Strength ranking:
num Team record rating offense defense
13. Nebraska 6-1 67.42 62.72 [ 18] -4.70 [ 19]
14. Brigham Young 4-0 4-0 67.13 67.04 [ 10] -0.08 [ 45]
15. Kansas St 5-1 67.06 60.89 [ 23] -6.16 [ 11]
118. Eastern Washington 7-1 34.82 55.03 [ 46] 20.20 
119. Brigham Young 0-4 34.63 52.07 [ 65] 17.44 
120. Wyoming 3-4 34.61 40.71  6.10 [ 80]
The 4-0 team ranks #14, keeping company with 6-1 Nebraska and 5-1 Kansas State. The current incarnation ranks #119, behind FCS Eastern Washington and rating almost exactly the same as 3-4 Wyoming. That means today's BYU is a whopping 32 points per game worse than the team was early on. The offense has dropped dramatically from the 10th best in the country to #65, and the defense has fallen from #45 to #205.
Using the 0-4 team's ranking split, the outlook isn't quite as rosy. The team goes 2-2, losing to MTSU and Cal, but still has the UNLV win (now 85% likely) and Savannah State (still 100%). The odds of bowl eligibility drop to 89.8%.
The good news is that if BYU reaches 6-6 they're guaranteed a spot in the inaugural Miami Beach Bowl—they won't face the indignity of qualifying for a bowl and not being selected. But if the team doesn't correct some of its problems, a bowl against a decent opponent could be embarrassing. Fans might wish the Cougars had stayed home after all.
It's up to the team and coaches to find some quick fixes to salvage the season. 2014 will always be a "what could have been" year for BYU, but the last 1/3 of the season will determine whether it's one that is best forgotten, or one remembered for a team that faced major adversity and didn't give up.