Dick Harmon: BYU's grid schedule has a vacancy to fill
It remains to be seen how BYU will use the spot in its 2008 football schedule recently vacated by the University of Nevada.
One thing we do know is the Cougars already have two games with BCS opponents scheduled for 2008 UCLA and Washington. Athletic director Tom Holmoe is on record saying his first priority for replacing Nevada would be a similar opponent not another BCS team, but rather what we used to call a Division I-AA team, like Eastern Washington in 2007.
Still, he'll have to make a decision sooner than later to post the non-league Cougar slate for the Mountain West's master league schedule, and that may mean going with a team like Eastern Washington if the Western Athletic Conference doesn't come up with a comparable foe.
BYU wants to keep a similar feel to the early schedule, fitting it in a home game and doing it early, before league play begins.
But that's a debate for another day.
The model Holmoe and head coach Bronco Mendenhall are trying to use fits the same scheduling philosophy used in the LaVell Edwards era. Play a couple of the big boys, take on the challenges of the league schedule and then fit in what one would consider some winnable fodder.
There is a tendency by some to inflate the difficulty of BYU's strength of schedule back in the glory days, when the Cougars won 10 consecutive WAC titles from 1976 to 1985 or the eras from Gifford Nielsen through Robbie Bosco.
Trouble is, back in the day, some of the league games BYU played in the WAC were akin to playing Northern Arizona or Eastern Washington today.
Take a BYU league opponent like Texas-El Paso, for instance. Back in that year, the UTEP Miners were horrible. From 1977 through 1985, the most games the Miners ever won in a season were two. In 1980, when Jim McMahon and Company throttled UTEP by an obscene score of 83-7, the Miners finished 1-11, with one win, just like in 1977, 1978, 1980, 1981.
BYU players from that era routinely say they barely had to get up for playing some games.
BYU's chief rival, Utah, was not on the solid ground built by Ron McBride and elevated by Urban Meyer and Kyle Whittingham, who just finished 9-4. In those days, Utah never had a nine-game win season. The best was in 1978, 1981 and 1985 all with eight wins.
In BYU's WAC run, there were plenty of five-win Utah teams on the league schedule. Colorado State and New Mexico may have been worse.
Also, Utah State had plenty of struggles through that 1977 through 1985 BYU run.
Still, BYU fans ate it up.
Aside from scheduling three or four BCS teams a year, BYU will always receive scrutiny for its schedule.
In short, critics have always been weary of BYU schedules, and that was the main cry against the undefeated championship year in 1984, with good cause.
You usually talk about BYU teams by the era of the quarterbacks who started at the time.
McMahon may be the best quarterback to have ever played at BYU. But a little known fact shows he only played one time against a ranked opponent (being ranked at the end of the year in The Associated Press Top 25) and that was SMU, ranked No. 20 after that 1980 Holiday Bowl.
The toughest schedules played by BYU were taken on by John Beck and Ty Detmer, and it isn't even close.
Beck went up against nine ranked teams; Detmer faced eight.
Following those two QBs, Kevin Feterik and John Walsh faced five ranked teams each, followed by Steve Young (four) and Robbie Bosco (three).
BYU's tradition is to go up against some quality opponents, and they've had plenty of chances over the years. But the BYU tradition is also to beat down some pretty stinky patsies the past four decades. In the '80s, the Cougars poured it on in the process also part of the program's heritage.
So, when Mendenhall and Holmoe speak of returning BYU to the tradition once enjoyed back in the day, there is a lot of stuff that goes with it, including scheduling.
If they tough up BYU's 2008 schedule, they may be damned, perhaps sacrificing wins for losses in a quest for respect.
If they lighten it up, they may also be damned, because folks will poke fun like Hawaii discovered this season when they made it to the BCS with the weakest schedule in Division I.This will be an interesting call in weeks to come.
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