Amid its best season in decades, BYU poised to benefit from Pac-12 decision to allow nonconference games
Officially, BYU is enjoying its best season in a quarter century. Unofficially, that season could get a lot better.
BYU is at the center of a policy shift by the Pac-12 that is allowing conference members to play nonconference games amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The Pac-12 approved this week a recommendation from athletic directors that allows nonconference games be played in Pac-12 home stadiums in the event of league game cancellations.
Pac-12 teams are playing the fewest games among Power Five conferences (seven), and the conference has already had five games canceled.
With three open dates left on its schedule, BYU could be open to filling it with opponents from the Pac-12 or elsewhere. Such a move would be mutually beneficial.
Without any Power Five opponents this season, BYU could enhance its almost non-existent College Football Playoff hopes. BYU adding nearly any Pac-12 team would enhance its strength of schedule.
“Right now, the question that you ask [is], ‘Can you do more?'” BYU AD Tom Holmoe said. “I really don’t know. We’ll try to see what’s out there. The question now would be, ‘Do you want to play a game just to play a game?'”
Holmoe put together a 10-game schedule on short notice when other leagues initially canceled their fall campaigns. Out of that, BYU (8-0) has only seen one scheduled game canceled due to the coronavirus. That was the Sept. 19 contest at Army West Point.
The Cougars have two games left, Saturday at home against FCS North Alabama and Dec. 12 at home against San Diego State. Open are the weekends of Nov. 28, Dec. 5 and Dec. 19. That eliminates any possibility of a top-10 matchup with a Cincinnati-BYU game. There are no common open dates between the two before Dec. 19.
No FBS team has filled in a hole in its schedule with a nonconference game since the seasons started. The Pac-12 decision Thursday creates that possibility.
The Cougars are particularly flexible because they’re an independent. However, due to its reconfigured schedule, BYU has not played a Power Five opponent. Adding one or two Power Five teams to the schedule could add some legitimacy and possible playoff buzz.
A BYU-Pac-12 union could be mutually beneficial. The Pac-12 is already behind in the playoff chase because of its short season. If conference favorite Oregon had even one game canceled, it would be down to five before a possible Pac-12 Championship Game. Meanwhile, the other Power Five conferences are all scheduled to play at least nine games: ACC at 11, SEC and Big 12 at 10 and Big Ten at nine.
It’s already been determined not all of those games will be played. At least 40 games have been canceled or postponed this month alone.
“Right now, would we play Bemidji State just to play a game? There’s all kinds of things you’ve got to factor,” Holmoe said. “For the right team at the right place at the right time? That’s just our attitude. It’s not anywhere anytime.”
BYU’s season could be drastically different. Holmoe said that, at one point he had two SEC opponents lined up. (He would not identify them. Missouri was on BYU’s original schedule.) Notre Dame was a possibility. As the schedule stands, the Cougars will play only one ranked team, Boise State. The Broncos were knocked out of the AP Top 25 when they were slammed by the COougars, 51-17.
BYU is 38th nationally in schedule strength, according to the NCAA, ahead of the likes of Alabama, Miami, Auburn and Texas.
Holmoe told CBS Sports he has received no calls from the Pac-12, though CBS Sports spoke with him less than a day before the league approved nonconference games.
At the heart of the matter for all schools and conferences is getting as much game inventory to the television rightsholders as possible. Schools and conferences are already taking tremendous financial hits for not playing all their games. BYU has a scheduling agreement with ESPN.
“Would we go to State U in one of the Power Fives just to play on the road just to get a game? I don’t know the answer,” Holmoe said. “Maybe the answer is, ‘Yes.’ The way I’m going to find out with [coach Kalani Sitake] is go down and look in his eyes. If he looks at me and says, ‘Let’s do it.'”
Holmoe is one of the most respected administrators in college athletics. There was much doubt about a 2020 BYU season when the Power Five conferences originally postponed their seasons. BYU, in its 11th season of independence, had originally scheduled teams from eight different conferences for 2020. Houston, Boise State, San Diego State and North Alabama made it onto the reconfigured schedule.
What resulted has been the Cougars’ best season since 1996. That 1996 team finished 14-1 and in the top five after beating Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl with quarterback Steve Sarkisian.
Quarterback Zach Wilson is a Heisman Trophy candidate. Offensive lineman Brady Christensen is an Outland Trophy candidate. Wide receivers Gunner Romney and Dax Milne are one of the best pairs in the country.
Will they get to show it against Power Five competition before bowl season?
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