In 1991 — Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Ty Detmer's senior year — the Cougars started the season playing Florida State, UCLA and Penn State on the road. The result? An 0-3 record. The schedule eased up considerably from there and BYU finished 8-3-2.
When the Cougars suffered through three consecutive losing seasons from 2002-04, a factor that contributed to the team's struggles was a difficult schedule. BYU's nonconference schedules featured teams like USC, Boise State, Stanford and Notre Dame.
On the other hand, in 2001, which was Gary Crowton’s first season, it appeared the Cougars would be facing a challenging schedule. After starting 3-0, BYU had a game at nationally ranked Mississippi State. But that was days before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and that game was postponed until December.
By then, Mississippi State had a losing record. Despite beating a Southeastern Conference opponent on the road, the Cougars didn't benefit much.
BYU boasted a perfect 12-0 record, but hadn't faced any ranked teams, and the BCS computers didn't like BYU schedules. Ironically, one of the teams the Cougars beat that season was Cal — coached by Holmoe — a team that won only one game that season. The Cougars were released from BCS consideration before the regular season ended.
Meanwhile, BYU’s 1984 national championship has been maligned by critics for decades because of its so-called weak schedule that season. The Cougars did upset No. 3 Pitt in the season opener, but the Panthers ended up with a losing season.
In this new era of a four-team playoff, Holmoe knows that it’s important to schedule the best competition possible.
“When we went independent, and in light of where you see the playoffs going and college football is going, if you want to be relevant, you don’t want to slip in,” he said.
Holmoe understands that the fan base would like to see the Cougars play prestigious opponents on a regular basis.
“I know what people want, but I can’t deliver that every time,” Holmoe said.
One of the challenges is not knowing how good a team will be by the time the game comes around.
“The thing that’s hard about it is, when you set schedules — and we’re scheduling teams into the 2020s already — if I schedule Notre Dame in 2022, I don’t know how good they’re going to be," Holmoe said. "They might be going to the national championship game, or not in the top 25. But what everyone can understand, when you schedule those games, you’re scheduling a name. I think we’ve scheduled names now into the future that I would anticipate would always be good. Sometimes you schedule teams into the future that you think might not be great, then when the game comes, they’re really, really good.”
How will Holmoe evaluate the 2013 season, considering the degree of difficulty this schedule offers?
"If we win 10 games this year, that’s a really, really good season. If we win nine games, or eight games, it’s a good season," he said. "It’s not necessarily the number of wins that you have. We have teams that haven’t won as many games, but they’re progressing up. With this team, this staff and this schedule, I’m looking for progress. That’s not to say we can’t be really good. But I don’t think the number of wins will necessarily say exactly how we are. We could not win as many games, and still look really good. If we blow games, that’s different."
2013 BYU schedule
Aug. 31 — at Virginia
Sept. 7 — Texas
Sept. 21 — Utah
Sept. 27 — Middle Tennessee
Oct. 4 — at Utah State
Oct. 12 — Georgia Tech
Oct. 19 — at Houston
Oct. 25 — Boise State
Nov. 9 — at Wisconsin
Nov. 16 — Idaho State
Nov. 23 — at Notre Dame
Nov. 30 — at Nevada
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