Editor's note: This is the ninth in an occasional series exploring the issues related to BYU scheduling football games as an independent.
PROVO — This could be the toughest schedule the BYU football team has faced in its history.
In this age of independence, athletic director Tom Holmoe and coach Bronco Mendenhall are scheduling boldly.
This fall, the Cougars are slated to meet four teams that are included in some preseason top 25 polls (Texas, Boise State, Wisconsin and Notre Dame). Plus, there are emotional games against in-state rivals Utah and Utah State. The season opener is a long trip to Virginia of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
In 2013, the Cougars will play teams from eight different conferences and will travel nearly 6,000 miles.
“It’s a tough schedule,” said Holmoe. “We’re taking them on. A lot of teams around the country look at their (schedule) and say, ‘There’s not a game on there we can’t win.’ I’m glad our guys think that. You could do that with a mediocre schedule and as an independent that doesn’t mean much. I haven’t tried to put together mediocre schedules. So in the future, if there’s a bad schedule, it’s on me. But you can’t get everybody you want. Not every schedule going forward is going to look like this year. I can’t always get six good ‘Big Five’ teams.”
About one year before the 2013 schedule was finalized and announced, Mendenhall said it “will be the toughest schedule we have played. When you see it, you will say, ‘What, is he crazy?’ But it is good.”
During the school's first two years as an independent, Holmoe put together a football schedule that was front-loaded with high-profile opponents, while the month of November lacked sizzle.
But year three of independence features marquee games from the beginning of the season to the end. After playing a steady diet of Western Athletic Conference foes in November the past two seasons, BYU will play at Wisconsin and Notre Dame this November.
“The first couple of years, our fans have been patient with us. Now that the tough schedule is here, we’ve got to play,” Holmoe said. “That puts pressure on the team and the coaches. But this is athletics. Our fans want us to be playing in the big games, on the road and at home. They are easier to get on the road. They’re great to get them at home. As the years unfold, the schedules will kind of go a little bit up and down. I don’t think you’ll see bad schedules, I don’t think you’ll see fantastic schedules. But you’ll see good schedules.”
Putting together the right kind of schedule is a delicate balance that athletic directors must manage. Especially at BYU. Guiding an independent program, Holmoe schedules 12 games every year.
Schedule a bunch of weak teams, and the fan support wanes and national respect erodes. Schedule a bevy of top-flight teams, and there’s a risk of a losing season. BYU has experienced both sides of the equation. In 2000, in legendary coach LaVell Edwards’ final season at the helm, the Cougars opened the season with three straight road games against Florida State, Virginia (back-to-back trips to the East Coast) and Air Force before the home opener against nationally ranked Mississippi State. BYU began with a 1-3 record. Then, midway through the season, the Cougars traveled to Syracuse, where they lost by four touchdowns. “It killed us. It tore us up,” former BYU defensive lineman Hans Olsen remembered of that season's schedule. “I look at this (2013) schedule, and this is a tougher schedule than that. I think this might be the toughest schedule ever for BYU.”
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