SALT LAKE CITY —
I'm no mathematician and here's the damning proof: I once over-tipped a waiter by $70, thanks to my own faulty calculations.
Still, I can work numbers well enough to see that BYU improved its football schedule in 2012. Slightly. It's playing Boise State this year instead of Central Florida. It has six nice matchups stead of five, plus two quasi-interesting matchups.
It also has four opponents the Cougars could beat blindfolded.
In 2011, BYU had five compelling opponents, three quasi-interesting matchups and four bad ones.
So it's a plus-one this year.
If I am to take BYU athletics director Tom Holmoe at his word, life as an independent is improving. If I'm understanding his hints, there are still big conference teams willing to play BYU in November. What I'm also taking from his remarks is that conference membership remains a possibility.
Independence, in my mind, is still just a layover until the next departure.
The occasion was Monday's announcement regarding the Cougars' 2012 schedule. As expected, it is front-loaded: Washington State, Utah, Boise State, Oregon State, Notre Dame and Georgia Tech play BYU in September and October. Then come the chill winds of November: Idaho, San Jose State and New Mexico State.
Also in the mix are Hawaii, Weber State and Utah State. That's a diverse schedule with top-, middle- and bottom-tier opponents. Nevertheless, the whole thing made me weary for Holmoe. Scheduling 12 games plus a bowl tie-in must be like re-roofing your house every year.
BYU has multi-year contracts with several teams, but the days of filling in the blanks are over until the Cougars get in a conference. Holmoe hinted that better late-season teams are coming, Notre Dame included.
At the same time, he also alluded to possible conference membership.
"I love the fact that as an independent we have home-and-home games (scheduled). Even if we're in a conference in the future, we can still play them," he said on BYUtv, noting that the Cougars have multi-year deals with teams like Hawaii, Boise State and Notre Dame.
He added, "We're going to play them over the next decade-plus — whether we're in a conference or not."
BYU had previously announced series with Southern Mississippi and East Carolina, which aren't too far up the food chain from Idaho and New Mexico State. At the same time, Holmoe says the schedule will get increasingly tough beyond next season. Meanwhile, he is working feverishly with Utah to keep that rivalry alive.
My prediction is the Utes will continue to play BYU ... occasionally.
So where does that leave BYU in its second year of independence? Where it always was: swimming forward, but upstream. When Navy announced last month it was joining the Big East, athletic director Chet Gladchuk said, "We feel really strongly that it's clear to us the future of college football is in a conference, and that's the bottom line."
Independence, the Midshipmen determined, is overrated.
Getting into a conference wouldn't be hard for BYU — depending on which one. A new fall-back plan arrived on Monday when the Mountain West and Conference USA announced they were combining.
If the Cougars get lonely, they can always hook up with that league, which expects to grow to as many as 24 teams. The vacancy light is on.
Better still, BYU can concentrate on getting in the Big 12 before the doors shut.36 comments on this story
Though Holmoe says high-profile teams are considering playing BYU in November, it's something the Cougars likely couldn't sustain for long. Conferences are increasingly looking into banning late-season non-conference games. I don't see BYU's November schedule consistently being more interesting than it is already.
As it currently stands, you have to wonder if BYU fans will call it a season after the October 27 game at Georgia Tech.
Conference membership is still the way to go.
But don't take my word for it. Just do the math.