Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
PROVO — BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe made it clear what he wanted the Cougars' football schedule to look like as an independent.
"Our vision is to play football games across the country against many of the storied football programs in their legendary stadiums and to have those same highly regarded programs return to Provo to play in LaVell Edwards Stadium," Holmoe said the day the school announced it was going independent in football back in September 2010.
At the same time, Holmoe asked fans and media to be patient when it came to scheduling, explaining there would be "a transition period of a couple of years before we achieve the full vision of what football independence can become."
Two years have passed, and Holmoe is certainly delivering on that promise.
The Cougars are playing games against high-profile competition, including last weekend's visit to historic Notre Dame Stadium. BYU travels to Georgia Tech Saturday (1 p.m., MT, ROOT Sports) to take on the Yellow Jackets at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Meanwhile, next season's schedule features home games against Texas, Boise State, Utah, Georgia Tech and Middle Tennessee State, and road games against Utah State, Houston, Wisconsin, Notre Dame and Hawaii. It's regarded as the toughest schedule in school history.
The Cougars will take on Wisconsin and Notre Dame in the month of November, when it's difficult to schedule prestigious opponents.
In future years, BYU is slated to play teams such as Southern Miss, West Virginia, Nebraska and East Carolina.
A couple of weeks ago, BYU and Wisconsin announced a home-and-home deal in 2017 and 2018.
"We're always looking for opportunities to schedule storied football programs like Wisconsin," Holmoe said. "It will be a great experience for our coaches, players and fans to visit Big Ten country and have Wisconsin play at LaVell Edwards Stadium."
"I'm looking forward to that," Mendenhall said of facing the Badgers. "We're looking to build our schedule, and so I think one of the ways to grow our program is to continue to play really good teams and if they'll come here, fantastic, and we know we'll have to play them on the road as well. I think it's a good series."
Mendenhall also likes the six-game series with Notre Dame, which was announced the day BYU went independent.
"We were looking for good opponents and good partnerships," Mendenhall recalled. "I certainly don't think it was a deal-breaker if it didn't happen. But I wanted the game. I thought it was a nice, intriguing game and some similarities between the two institutions. I'd like to get something similar with Boston College or the military academies. I think they're good games and they bring interest. It was just the first one that happened to come."
A few weeks ago, the Irish announced a scheduling arrangement with the ACC, which means Notre Dame will start playing five games a year against ACC foes. It is not yet known how that could affect the series with BYU. Will the two programs end up playing six games?
"Who knows?" Mendenhall said. "With the way things work now, it's hard to say. I haven't had any indications that they won't. I think it's too far for me to say absolutely we'll play at all six."
Of course, playing a more challenging schedule carries a certain amount of risk. This season, the Cougars are 4-4 after having played back-to-back top 10 teams for the first time in school history. Is Mendenhall concerned about how fans might react with the possibility of more losses in the era of independence?
"I've learned my support is conditional," he said. "The bigger picture is that in order to continue to perform on the national stage, I'm not satisfied with being in the top 25. I want to be more than that. Yeah, there's risk. However, what if you win those games and the support grows? You can look at it either way."
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