By Jeff Call
BYU opens a new era as an independent football program Saturday when the Cougars visit Ole Miss, a game that will be televised on ESPN.
The college football world will be paying close attention to BYU this season to see how it fares without conference affiliation.
"A win in Oxford, Miss., on Saturday would go a long way toward showing the college football nation what BYU is all about," writes Andrea Adelson of ESPN.com. "BYU opens Year 1 as an independent with a slew of 'statement games.' Following Ole Miss, BYU travels to play Texas, then has Utah and UCF at home. The first three are against teams from automatic qualifying conferences, and wins against all three would most certainly land the Cougars back into the national spotlight."
BYU quarterback Jake Heaps told ESPN.com: “It’s a huge statement game for us. This game means a lot to us. This is an SEC football team, so to walk into an SEC stadium and environment and walk away with a win from a traditional powerhouse program in the SEC, that’s a great thing for us. But it’s going to be a hard fought battle. They’re a good football team, and we’re up to the challenge.”
Meanwhile, rumors continue to swirl about BYU and a potential invitation to the Big 12, which expects to lose Texas A&M soon. ESPN.com's Ivan Maisel says BYU is a good fit for the Big 12.
And David Ubben of ESPN.com writes that there's a "60 percent chance" of BYU joining the Big 12, as part of his article looking at potential candidates.
"BYU: This is my official recommendation. The Big 12 needs to heavily pursue the Cougars and stick with 10 members for the same reason it didn't expand to 12 over the past year: No one else adds enough to the league to warrant membership," Ubben writes. "This marriage would be beneficial for both sides. BYU gets more money and access to the BCS, while likely keeping its already-active television network for Mormons across the country. The Big 12 might have to allow the Cougars to keep their current television deal with ESPN, though. The Big 12 gets a national brand with great football and great basketball while expanding its footprint. And there's plenty of BYU fans inside the Big 12 footprint, too. There's an argument that independence better serves BYU's mission, which might cause decision-makers to think twice, but this decision-making process will be interesting."
Copyright 2017, Deseret News Publishing Company