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Brad Rock: Last round of drama is courtesy of Cougars

Published: Thursday, Aug. 19 2010 1:53 a.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Now that the BYU Cougars have cleared a path to possible football independence, all they need is to figure out how to find 12 opponents per season. Oh, and where to put the other sports.

How hard could that be? Surely no harder than cramming its offensive line into a closet. OK, it's tricky. This is the program that in recent years needed Eastern Washington, Northern Iowa and Eastern Illinois to fill its calendar. Under its Mountain West setup, BYU has only four nonconference games to schedule each season. But 11 or 12?

Remember when athletics director Tom Holmoe said a couple of months ago that the Y. had a lot of friends and he may be contacting them? Turns out the WAC wanted to be part of BYU's Tomorrowland. Hard to imagine the conference the Cougars left in 1999 would invite them back.

New friends are silver, but old friends are gold.

It's the friends that are on the move you have to watch.

The upheaval in college football lurched ahead Wednesday when word came that BYU was poised to go independent in football. With its advanced broadcast facilities and nationwide fan base, independence was no longer an idle threat. On Wednesday it was learned BYU planned to play in the WAC in all sports except football, but the conference would provide up to six opponents a year for the Cougars, to help fill out the schedule — even in November when finding opponents is hardest.

Nevada and Fresno State were on board with that for, oh, six hours before joining the Mountain West. There went a couple of nice potential football opponents and a considerable chunk of the WAC's proposed basketball strength, not to mention the WAC's overall appeal. It also left open the possibility that BYU could rethink its position.

In a conference call on Wednesday, MWC commissioner Craig Thompson said, "They (BYU) are a member (of the MWC) as of this call tonight."

This is how weird college football has become. Eleven years ago, there were hurt feelings when Utah, BYU and others left the WAC to form the Mountain West. It seemed that would be the end of it. But in 2010, the world started tilting. Utah abandoned the MWC for the Pac-10. Unhappy with its TV revenue, BYU started looking around. It didn't get courted by the Big 12 or the Pac-10, but it did consider its potential for a big cable presence, on both its own network and ESPN.

As an independent, BYU could keep all of its bowl and TV revenue, instead of sharing with the Mountain West.

All this is built around scheduling — the potential mouse in a punch bowl. There's a good reason there are only three other independent teams (Navy, Army, Notre Dame). If you don't have an automatic eight or nine conference games, most others are too focused on their conference play and traditional rivals.

Notre Dame still schedules plenty of A-list opponents. This year it has Purdue, Michigan, Michigan State, Stanford, Boston College, Pitt, Utah and USC. Navy doesn't have nearly that drawing power. It has Maryland, Wake Forest, Duke and Notre Dame in 2011, but it also has Georgia Southern, Louisiana Tech, Central Michigan and Arkansas State.

A BYU independent football schedule could land somewhere between (and including) Notre Dame and Navy. The Cougars could kill off two games by playing traditional instate opponents Utah and Utah State. Once in a while it could play Weber State, which would be happy to play BYU on the 12th of Whenever. If it eventually added fellow independents Notre Dame, Army and Navy, several BCS teams such as Texas (which it plays next year), Washington (this year) and Oregon State (next year) and threw in some combination of teams like, say, Indiana, Missouri, Arkansas State, San Jose State, Idaho or Hawaii, the Cougars would be good to go.

A decent schedule and freedom to loosen the seat belt and move about the cabin.

Staying in the Mountain West is safe but not lucrative. And waiting for the BCS to invite the Mountain West is like waiting for your shoe size to change.

The Cougars have already played UCLA, Washington, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Boston College, Notre Dame, Georgia Tech, Syracuse, Florida Sate, Alabama and USC in the past 15 years. They'll be even likelier to schedule them if they're independent.

Problem is that — at least for, oh, the next 12 minutes — there may not be much of a WAC for BYU's other teams to join.

That's BYU's fault.

It started this whole thing.

e-mail: rock@desnews.com

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