LANDOVER, Md. — As a senior at BYU in 2000, which coincided with legendary coach LaVell Edwards’ final season at the helm, current coach Kalani Sitake was part of a Cougar team that made three trips to the East Coast in a little over a month.
BYU traveled a total of 10,874 miles that season, including trips to Jacksonville, Florida; Charlottesville, Virginia; and Syracuse, New York. The Cougars posted a 1-2 record in those games.
Now Sitake will take his team on the 1,926-mile journey east when BYU meets West Virginia Saturday (1:30 p.m. MDT, ESPN2) at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland.
Sitake knows all about the inherent challenges involved with traveling east, which is one reason why the Cougars left Provo a day early — Thursday — in order to try to get acclimated to the climate and ease the impact of the time difference.
“When you go two time zones, it makes it difficult,” Sitake said.
Asked about his memories of those three road trips during his playing days, Sitake said, “It was fun. We played in a lot of different places. I think if you give it too much power, it’s difficult. We’re going to have a lot of fans there. It’s a neutral site. We saw what happened the last neutral-site game we had. I’m looking forward to playing at a great place, FedEx Field, and having our players be in the nation’s capital. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
That approach is similar to the one he had 16 years ago as a player.
"I don't know why people make such a big deal about flying around in an airplane," Sitake said then. "A charter flight is like sitting in a hotel room. It's not a big deal. We're big boys."
But such trips have proven to be tough for the Cougars.
The last time BYU played in the Eastern Time Zone was a year ago when the Cougars visited Michigan. BYU arrived Friday, the day before the game, then had an early kickoff Saturday. The Wolverines blanked the Cougars, 31-0.
“We had to wake up at 6 a.m. our time and be at the stadium at 8 a.m. our time after the jet lag,” remembered defensive lineman Sae Tautu. “Traveling a day earlier gives us some down time. Being there and adjusting for a day will be great for us.”
While in the Washington area, the Cougars are scheduled to visit the National Mall and national parks, which feature the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial and Jefferson Memorial, among other sites.
Still, BYU’s No. 1 goal this weekend is to win a football game. Since 1980, the Cougars’ record in the Eastern Time Zone is an underwhelming 8-17.
BYU is scheduled to play two more Eastern Time Zone games this season — at Michigan State (Oct. 8) and at Cincinnati (Nov. 5).
Saturday’s game is at a neutral site, at the home of the NFL’s Washington Redskins, so at least BYU probably won’t have to worry about a hostile crowd.
West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen likes to play at neutral sites.
“I’m a big fan of them,” he said, adding that his team has played Alabama in Atlanta recently at a neutral venue. “Most of these teams are East Coast teams. I’m interested to see what a West Coast team brings to the table. I know there’s a big Mormon population on the East Coast in D.C. Hopefully they bring a lot of people to the game. I know Mountaineer fans will be there. Should be a great atmosphere. I know BYU’s been pretty adamant about playing anybody anywhere and they don’t care where it’s at. Them coming to the East Coast is not unusual. Us playing neutral site games is not unusual. Us playing over in the D.C.-Baltimore area is not unusual, as well. It’d be good for our fan base to play a national team, and to be able to do that at a neutral site, I think, will add to the intrigue of the game overall.”
BYU players say they are looking forward to the long trip to play West Virginia.
“We’re excited. It will be good,” said wide receiver Garrett Juergens. “We’ll be ready and rested. We’re ready to show the East Coast what we can do.”
BYU (1-2) vs. West Virginia (2-0)
Saturday, 1:30 p.m. MDT, FedEx Field
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM