Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Bronco Mendenhall and Tom Holmoe have BYU football on a track they believe will prepare them for whatever happens on the ever-changing college football scene.
The potential of the 2013 season proves it so.
This is a stage far from the hope, faith and dreams expressed in August 2010 when Holmoe got up in front of an army of media and announced the Cougars would leave the Mountain West Conference and turn independent in football.
Criticized? In many corners.
Three years ago, Holmoe said the bold move would be tough, that it would take at least two years to create schedules and competition needed to keep the program on a viable horizon of respectability. ESPN becoming a partner, he predicted, would be key.
He was right.
BYU made the move to gain exposure for its program. It also desired flexibility to play whomever it could, wherever it wanted, and take advantage of the worldwide reach of BYUtv.
This season, the Cougars face a schedule that is tough, creative and capable of launching the program into the Top 10 — if they win.
A road game at Virginia kicks off a nationwide tour from coast to coast.
Texas in Provo will feature a team that returns as many starters as any team in the country, and the Longhorns are expected to challenge Oklahoma State for the Big 12 title. The Utah game in Provo features a Ute team that is a part of what is considered the nation’s second toughest conference next to the SEC.
Trips to Wisconsin and Notre Dame, the home game with Boise State and Georgia Tech are made for TV gems against programs that have the respect of knowledgeable football fans.
This, Holmoe envisioned, was the kind of football schedule that can project BYU into the national discussion. If the Cougars win.
This week, speaking to Legacy boosters, Mendenhall said adding big-name teams that will give BYU tough battles is exactly what the Cougars need to be relevant, overcoming the lack of conference affiliation. If they win.
Mendenhall said he approves every game scheduled and he is not afraid of playing anyone. He said his players are energized by playing against the best teams possible.
Future schedules include games against USC, Notre Dame, Texas, UConn, Southern Miss, Nebraska, Michigan, Cincinnati, UConn, Houston and the Broncos.
Those are games that write tickets. If BYU wins.
The independent thing has also given the Cougars flexibility.
It is no secret there is talk of college football creating a Division 4 — or a super division of college football. Some believe it is inevitable. The power conferences are simply tired of having smaller schools dictate NCAA policy. Now that public opinion has hacked apart the BCS in favor of a playoff, the new agenda is to build a super division.
“Right now, being able to jump is a good spot to be,” Holmoe said this week.
What he meant is BYU is a free agent. It doesn’t have conference buyout penalties as seen in the Big 12 and other conferences. Its contracts have clauses in case of major changes. Holmoe sees BYU as a middle of the pack prospective invitee, but nothing is imminent or on the verge, and the most important thing in inclusion is BYU needs wins.
Lastly, this exposure deal.
It was the primary reason BYU made the plunge for independence after fighting with MWC television partners to rebroadcast games and carry more rights as promised.
BYU’s pitch these days is that in the past two years, only eight college programs have had more games played on national television. Those schools are Notre Dame, LSU, Alabama, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Clemson, Ohio State and South Carolina.
The qualifier for such a statement is a count of national games on the major networks including CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox , ESPN and ESPN2. This does not include BYU games on BYUtv or ESPNU, which could be considered available for national audiences. If counted, that would be more impressive.
So, bottom line?
The big picture is that BYU is in a good place.
It ultimately gets better if it wins.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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