John F. Rhodes, Associated Press
PROVO — BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe was standing at the back of the room at the Armed Forces Bowl press conference, a day before BYU's 24-21 victory over Tulsa, when he struck up a conversation with a reporter.
Before long, Holmoe found himself surrounded by several reporters, resulting in an impromptu 15-minute question-and-answer session about the state of Cougar football. Holmoe addressed a wide array of salient topics.
Year One of Independence was certainly an eventful one. In between the narrow season-opening victory at Ole Miss, and the narrow win in the season-finale in Dallas, there were plenty of storylines, including the mercurial quarterback situation; unprecedented exposure thanks to ESPN and BYUtv; the challenge of late-season scheduling; rampant conference realignment speculation; uncertainty about the long-term future of the rivalry with Utah; and the transfer of quarterback Jake Heaps.
How does Holmoe assess the inaugural year of independence overall?
"In hindsight, it went well," Holmoe said. "As you look at it as a whole, it's just really different …. All things considered, it works … Notre Dame's been doing it forever. Army and Navy have had different experiences. For us, it works right now. With everything going on around us, it's probably a good place to be."
Even before making the decision to go independent last year, Holmoe said it was imperative to have a bowl deal in place. BYU entered an agreement to play in the Armed Forces Bowl last April.
"It came together considering it was our only shot. The alternative would have been to try to be a free agent and go, 'OK, pick us.' I didn't even look at it to see how that would have gone, if someone vacated a bowl, we could have gone," Holmoe said. "In the first year of independence, I wasn't about to get left out. It's possible you could get left out. It's turned out good."
Next year the Cougars, if they post a winning record and are not selected to play in a BCS bowl, are set to participate in the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego. In 2013, BYU is under contract to play in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco.
"They are ESPN bowl games," Holmoe said. "That was one of the discussions that happened ahead of time — what about bowl games? We actually kind of solidified the bowl games before we solidified our contract (with ESPN). This is the one shot that we had because there was an opening this year. The other ones were bowl games that we felt, being an independent and without a lot of openings in bowl games for independents because they're already locked up, San Diego and San Francisco are two areas that we have a lot of fans and those are areas that we'll be in a lot. We felt like those were good games for us to get to — good for our fans, good for our players, good for recruiting. ESPN games."
As for the future? Bowl contracts are going to expire in the next couple of years, which means BYU is trying to look ahead.
"We're starting to talk to people," Holmoe said, explaining that the Cougars could work their way into a contract with a bowl that is looking to avoid similar matchups every year.
Meanwhile, last week, the Pac-12 and Big Ten announced a plan to start competing against each other on a regular basis by 2017. Such a scheduling scenario could limit the possibility of Utah scheduling BYU in football.
For now, the Utes and Cougars are under contract to play next season. Beyond that, no other meetings have been announced.
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