Crystal Ball: Predicting the 5 biggest Latter-day Saint sports stories for 2023
By Jason Swensen
Historic moments this year await several Latter-day Saint pros — and Big 12-bound BYU
6 Jan 2023
If Church Ball Magazine enjoyed an unlimited operations budget, we would have retained the finest — and unquestionably legit — collection of clairvoyants, psychics, oracles and mediums to predict 2023’s biggest Latter-day Saint-related sports stories
Instead, our humble staff is handling this year’s prognosticating.
Here are the top-5 Latter-day Saint-related sports stories that Church Ball Magazine is (pretty much) certain will snag headlines in 2023:
A Latter-day Saint-rich Super Bowl LVII
Expect a Church member or two to play prominent roles in the Feb. 12, 2023 Super Bowl at Arizona’s State Farm Stadium
The San Francisco 49ers and the Philadelphia Eagles are overwhelming favorites to represent the NFC in the NFL title game. Both teams boast a Latter-day Saint that will likely get a fair amount of screen time.
The 49ers are home to former Brigham Young University star Fred Warner. The California native is arguably the best linebacker in the game and would demand the full attention of any opposing offense. The Super Bowl could also be Warner’s vehicle to claiming defensive superstar status similar to past champions Aaron Donald and Von Miller.
If the Eagles can win their way to Arizona, returned missionary Britain Covey will be returning Super Bowl punts and maybe a kick-off or two.
On the AFC side, either the Kansas City Chief or the Buffalo Bills are expected to be at Super Bowl LVII. A Chief’s victory in the Big Game would cement Latter-day Saint Andy Reid’s seat in the pantheon of NFL all-time great coaches.
2. Golfer Tony Finau claims his first Major
Latter-day Saint golfer Tony Finau enters 2023 fueled by momentum. He won three PGA events in 2022 — including a commanding victory in last November’s Houston Open.
Given his confidence and strong form, Finau is poised this year to move beyond the “Best Golfer to Have Never Won a Major” debate.
The Utah native has notched Top-5 finishes in all four Majors, so he’s accustomed to seeing his name near the top of the final round leaderboard. If Finau can blend momentum, talent, experience and a bit of good luck at the 2023 Masters, he will leave Augusta wearing a green jacket.
3. BYU makes room in Legacy Hall for its first Big 12 trophy
If you are a BYU fan, you already have July 1, 2023, circled on your calendar. Call it “P5 Celebration Saturday” when the Cougars officially join the Big 12 Conference.
Then things get tough.
Football and basketball coaches at the Church-sponsored school know well that some of the country’s top programs will now be Big 12 Conference foes. There will be memorable Cougar wins in 2023 — and some rough losses. Patience will be a Provo virtue.
Still, expect BYU to immediately compete for Big 12 titles in several Olympic fall sports in 2023. Texas, TCU and West Virginia will be formidable women’s soccer conference rivals on the pitch, but BYU’s nationally-recognized team won’t be intimidated. Expect Jennifer Rockwood’s squad to make a maiden title run this fall.
Meanwhile, veteran All-American harriers such as Casey Clinger will have just enough juice to edge out Oklahoma State and claim BYU’s first Big 12 championship in mens cross country. The womens cross country team will also challenge OSU for the conference team title.
A favorite to win the Big 12 women’s individual cross country title will be OSU’s Taylor Roe, another Latter-day Saint athlete.
4. A returned missionary is selected in the NFL Draft’s first round for the first time in six years
Hard to believe a half-dozen years have passed since returned missionary/O-lineman Garett Bolles was selected by the Denver Broncos in the opening round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
Other returned missionaries have been drafted since Bolles — but none on the first day. That will change this year when RM/Stanford product Tanner McKee is selected by a team looking for a mature, strong-armed quarterback.
McKee — who served a mission in Curitiba, Brazil — has seen his draft stock jump in recent weeks. His 6’6” frame and football IQ will have teams moving him up their draft boards following the fast-approaching 2023 NFL Combine.
5. Latter-day Saint goal scorer Ashley Hatch raises the World Cup Trophy
Soccer watchers note that Ashley Hatch, a former BYU star, will be hard-pressed to secure a 2023 World Cup roster spot on a U.S. women’s national team that boasts elite forwards such as Alex Morgan, Morgan Rapinoe and Trinity Rodman.
But after watching Hatch ascend the college and pro ranks by doing what she does best — booting goals — I’m certain she can make the squad and play a key role in helping the Stars-and-Stripes defend their world title.
Team USA will utilize goal-magnet players such as Hatch to fend off vigorous challenges from England, Germany, France and Sweden.