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Zach Wilson and BYU football keep on winning. Is anyone paying attention?

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BYU football had already begun preseason camp in August when the bottom seemingly fell out for the Cougars.

One by one, conferences began cancelling their fall seasons or going to conference games only, and BYU, one of the few independents remaining in college football, was left with only three games on a schedule that was once being touted as perhaps the strongest in the program’s storied history, a schedule that included three Pac-12 teams, one Big Ten team and one SEC team.

“It’s been a roller coaster of ups and downs, just praying that we were going to play football this year,” BYU junior quarterback Zach Wilson said this week.

So when Wilson, or anybody else on BYU’s team for that matter, hears that the unbeaten Cougars haven’t really played anybody to this point, he has a ready response.

“Everyone would say that your schedule isn’t nearly as good this year, and I’m like, ‘Hey, we’re playing football. We can’t complain,'” Wilson said. “It doesn’t matter who we’re playing. We’re going to show that we’re a good team no matter what.”

The 2020 college football landscape has already been weird enough amid the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic with conferences cancelling their season and then reconsidering, games being postponed, head coaches contracting the virus, once vaunted defenses giving up yards and points in record numbers and teams playing in front of a smattering of masked-up fans in stadiums normally filled to the brim.

For BYU, though, it’s almost as if the Cougars have played in a vacuum to this point despite their 4-0 record, despite dominating three of their first four foes and despite Wilson putting up Heisman Trophy-esque numbers.

In fact, Friday’s road game against Houston at TDECU Stadium (9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN and ESPN App) will be the first time all season that No. 14-ranked BYU has played in front of any fans. The Cougars’ season-opening 55-3 rout of Navy in Annapolis was played in an empty stadium by virtue of Maryland state regulations. And their three home games at LaVell Edwards Stadium have also been without fans as a result of Utah state regulations, although BYU hopes to be able to have fans at home games later this season.

“It’s weird because you go to the games and feel like no one’s watching because the stands are empty,” said Wilson, who has accounted for 14 touchdowns and thrown just one interception in his first four games.

One of Wilson’s favorite targets, junior receiver Gunner Romney, said the Cougars have had to “create their own energy on the field” in games.

“It’s been kind of eerie and awkward [with no fans in the stands],” said Romney, who’s averaging 22.7 yards per catch.

And yet, BYU coach Kalani Sitake has seen the kind of spirit, commitment and edge from his team that should serve the Cougars well in a season unlike any other.

“We have to have that chip on our shoulder,” Sitake said. “That’s kind of how we’re built, and it doesn’t really matter what our record is or what our ranking is or any of that stuff. We have a lot to prove. That’s just our mindset here. … Our mindset is based on we need to prove something to people and prove it to ourselves.

“It’s not a disrespectful thing. We want a place at the table.”

If that place at the table is a spot in the College Football Playoff conversation should the Cougars go unbeaten — and only Clemson, Ohio State and Marshall have a better chance to go unbeaten this season than BYU, according to ESPN’s FPI — that’s more fantasy than it is reality.

The Cougars’ lack of schedule strength would be a deal-breaker in the eyes of the CFP selection committee, even though they were able to add Boise State and San Diego State in recent weeks to get to 10 games. But a New Year’s Six bowl game wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility, not to mention earning the kind of national acclaim that has eluded BYU for more than a decade.

The last time BYU finished in the top 10 of the final AP poll was 1996 (No. 5), when LaVell Edwards was still coaching. The Cougars were 14-1 that season with Steve Sarkisian as their senior quarterback. BYU’s last top-25 finish was 2009 (No. 12).

So what needs to happen for the college football world to take this BYU team seriously without any Power 5 teams on its schedule?

“I think it depends on the way that we beat teams,” Wilson said. “If we’re comfortably beating teams and showing our dominance and showing our ability to put up a lot of yards and showing our ability to have explosive big plays, I think people around the nation will say, ‘Hey, this is a good team.'”

That’s what makes the Houston game so important, especially given BYU’s shaky performance last week in a 27-20 win over UTSA.

“We had a lot of mental errors and missed assignments and were able to learn from a win,” Wilson said. “It can help us put that chip back on our shoulder, that we still haven’t done anything yet.”

Regardless of what happens the rest of the way this season, Sitake said he is proud of the way his team stayed the course, never quit working and never quit believing there would be a season.

At one point, BYU was the only school in the western part of the United States scheduled to play any football games this season.

“This year has been so different than any other year obviously, but the level of appreciation is what I admire the most from our players, that they’re thankful to be here and to be around each other practicing and playing,” said Sitake, who’s in his fifth season as BYU’s head coach. “There’s a different mindset, different perspective on things now because of the pandemic. I think it kind of brought out to all of us what matters the most.

“I just love that our guys love to compete and love to play the game.”

And given all the uncertainty and winding road just to get to this point, Sitake has no interest in looking ahead and playing the “what if” game. At least, as he so appropriately points out, not when your mere participation in a game hangs on the next round of test results.

“Right now, if we’ve learned anything through this pandemic, it’s to focus on the here and now, on this day … because you don’t know if you’re going to be out of it tomorrow,” Sitake said.

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Gase cedes playcalling vs. Bills, but Jets still lose

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — In perhaps a last-ditch effort to save his job, New York Jets coach Adam Gase relinquished the offensive playcalling Sunday — but the result was yet another dreary performance in an 18-10 loss to the Buffalo Bills.

With offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains calling plays, the Jets showed an early spark and took a 10-0 lead, but quarterback Sam Darnold cooled off and the offense shut down in the second half as the Jets remained the NFL’s only winless team at 0-7.

Darnold was sacked six times and threw two interceptions.

This was a significant move by Gase, who has been under fire for an offense that has ranked at the bottom of the league in most categories. This marked the first time in 71 games as a head coach that he did not call the plays. It was an odd sight, seeing Gase on the sideline without his menu-sized play sheet.

Gase considered a change a couple of weeks ago, but he said he decided to retain the duties after consulting with his staff. Under mounting pressure, he finally decided to make the move after last week’s shutout loss to the Miami Dolphins.

Loggains, a longtime Gase ally, hadn’t called plays since 2015, when he served as the Chicago Bears‘ offensive coordinator. Working from the sideline, he made two noticeable changes for the Jets:

Early on, he capitalized on Darnold’s mobility by calling plays that allowed him to get outside the pocket, including a handful of bootlegs off play-action.

Loggains also featured rookie running back La’Mical Perine, who had been playing behind 37-year-old Frank Gore. Providing an outside speed dimension, Perine rushed a career-high 11 times, but for only 39 yards. He scored his first career touchdown.

In the end, the bottom line was the same. The Jets have scored only seven offensive touchdowns in seven games with an offense that ranks among the worst in franchise history.

Darnold, who returned to the lineup after a two-game shoulder injury, passed for only 120 yards and threw a costly interception late in the first half. He was under pressure throughout the game, as the Jets struggled against blitzes. He completed only 12 of 24 passes.

The Bills (5-2) adjusted to the Loggains wrinkles, and held the Jets to only four total yards on 16 plays in the second half. The Jets played without top wide receiver Jamison Crowder, who sat out with a groin injury. They got a lift from rookie Denzel Mims, who caught four passes for 42 yards in his NFL debut. End

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Cowboys’ Dalton concussed in Washington loss

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A Dallas Cowboys season that has been bad has gotten worse.

Andy Dalton, starting his second game for an injured Dak Prescott, was forced to the locker room in the third quarter against the Washington Football Team after taking a big hit from linebacker Jon Bostic on a third-down scramble.

Dalton went straight to the locker room; he was evaluated for a concussion and later ruled out for the game. Bostic was ejected.

Dalton was replaced by rookie Ben DiNucci, a seventh-round pick, who saw one series of action in last week’s loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

Before the injury, Dalton completed 9 of 19 passes for 75 yards. He was sacked three times and fumbled on the Cowboys’ first possession, leading to a safety. He had one pass intercepted on a throw that was behind Ezekiel Elliott and tipped into Cole Holcomb’s hands for the turnover.

The Cowboys’ third quarterback, Garrett Gilbert, who joined the team last week, is inactive. Tight end Blake Bell was a quarterback at Oklahoma, so he could be the team’s backup.

The last time the Cowboys had to use three quarterbacks in a season because of injury came in 2015. Tony Romo started and finished just two games as he suffered a twice-broken right collarbone. The Cowboys also had Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel and Kellen Moore, their current offensive coordinator, start games in that 4-12 season.

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Cowboys QB Dalton out for game after hard hit

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A Dallas Cowboys season that has been bad has gotten worse.

Andy Dalton, starting his second game for an injured Dak Prescott, was forced to the locker room in the third quarter against the Washington Football Team after taking a big hit from linebacker Jon Bostic on a third-down scramble.

Dalton went straight to the locker room for further examination; Bostic was ejected from the game.

Dalton was replaced by rookie Ben DiNucci, a seventh-round pick, who saw one series of action in last week’s loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

Before the injury, Dalton completed 9 of 19 passes for 75 yards. He was sacked three times and lost a fumble on the Cowboys’ first possession that led to a safety. He had one pass intercepted on a throw that was behind Ezekiel Elliott and tipped into Cole Holcomb’s hands for the turnover.

The Cowboys’ third quarterback, Garrett Gilbert, who joined the team last week, is inactive. Tight end Blake Bell was a quarterback at Oklahoma, so he could be the team’s backup.

The last time the Cowboys had to use three quarterbacks in a season because of injury came in 2015. Tony Romo started and finished just two games as he suffered a twice-broken right collarbone. The Cowboys also had Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel and Kellen Moore, their current offensive coordinator, start games in that 4-12 season.

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