PROVO — BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall recently conducted an internal survey of his players on what they enjoy most about the program.
That survey revealed that his players love being able to travel — visiting new, and historic, venues on a fairly regular basis, and playing in a variety of places all over the country.
BYU will be doing plenty of traveling in 2014. Only two teams, Hawaii and Idaho, will travel more this season than BYU, as the Cougars will cover 14,956 miles.
BYU will play in every time zone this fall, with the season opener at UConn and an October contest at Central Florida in the Eastern time zone; games at Texas and Middle Tennessee State in the Central time zone; and the regular-season finale at Cal in the Pacific time zone.
That’s one of the benefits of being independent, the Cougars say.
“It’s given us a good opportunity to play in a lot of different venues,” said quarterback Taysom Hill. “We got to travel to Virginia last year, Notre Dame, Wisconsin. We have Central Florida and Texas this year. It’s an opportunity to travel all over the country and showcase what we can do.”
“I’ve never been to Texas’ stadium or UConn or UCF,” said running back Jamaal Williams. “Those are great schools to go to and play. I can’t wait to go.”
In future seasons, BYU is scheduled to play at places like Nebraska, UCLA, Michigan, Arizona, Arizona State, Wisconsin, Washington State, Cincinnati, Southern Miss, USC and Stanford. When BYU faces West Virginia in 2016, it will be played in Landover, Maryland, just outside of Washington D.C.
“I like (independence) a lot. I like it way more than being in a conference,” said Williams. “You get to play wherever you want. You don’t have to play the same people all of the time. Playing the same teams every year gets boring sometimes. You already know how things are going to go. It’s great to have independency because you never know who you’re playing. It’s always a random pick. It makes it fun to go to places for the first time all the time.”
Hill said the exposure BYU has received through its exclusive contract with ESPN has benefited the program and the players.
“The contract with ESPN has given us a great opportunity for the program to be showcased on a national level — and not only that, but for our individual team members to be showcased on a national level," he said. "It’s brought us a lot of good publicity, I think.”
The Cougars also acknowledge the challenges of independence.
“I think the biggest thing is, as a player and as a team, we can’t say, ‘Let’s go win our conference championship,’” Hill said. “The mentality and motivation factor is a little bit different from when we were in the Mountain West. I wasn’t here when that was the case. But that was the challenge there.”
Senior tight end Devin Mahina, who played one year in the Mountain West Conference before BYU went independent, doesn’t regret not making trips to places like Laramie, Fort Collins and Albuquerque.
“If I had to play the same teams every year, it would be boring,” Mahina said. “To be able to travel to Connecticut, Texas, Florida, Wisconsin, not a lot of players get to see that. It’s cool to see all those places.”