I'm sure you'll all agree when I say I can barely wait until BYU's football opener next year. Because Nevada bailed on its commitment to play the Cougars in August, BYU is free to schedule any replacement it can.

I'm hoping for Elon University, home of the Phoenix. Or perhaps a game against Maine, which, as you know, had that big win at Stony Brook this year and absolutely annihilated Rhode Island.

I figure if things work out, by 2011 the Cougars will have a home-and-home scheduled with Cornell. After that, the sky's the limit. Norfolk State could be right around the corner.

Anything it takes to get the Cougars in a BCS bowl.

Scheduling has been a subject of considerable discussion this week, thanks to BYU's Las Vegas Bowl matchup with 6-6 UCLA. Same UCLA the Cougars lost to in September. So what if the teams have already played once this season? It's what the Cougars earned. To heck with their nine-game win streak. The Vegas Bowl agreement calls for the MWC champion to play the fifth-best team in the Pac-10, and that happens to be the Bruins — who had such a good season they fired their coach.

Meanwhile, undefeated Hawaii is going to the Sugar Bowl to play Georgia in a BCS game. The team with the third-weakest schedule in America is playing in a mega-bowl, while the Cougars are playing in Vegas for casino coupons. Although Hawaii won all its games, it's also true that the Warriors played lower-division teams Northern Colorado and Charleston Southern — which is like saying you beat your hamster in checkers.

It might be OK compared to its peers, but it's still your hamster.

Hawaii plays in the WAC, which has a nice upper division but an abysmal lower division that includes Utah State, New Mexico State and Idaho. All totaled, Hawaii beat the aforementioned five teams 279-86.

Still, it helped get the Warriors where they wanted.

In that light, BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall is again hinting he wants his schedule lightened. The way he sees it, the best route to a BCS bowl is to win every game. And the only way to win every game is to play a few easy ones — my words, not his — as was Eastern Washington this year. He has a point. Winning the Mountain West isn't enough. That will only guarantee a trip to Vegas and an opponent that considers its season a failure.

But wait. Whatever happened to playing up in the regular season? Remember Texas A&M? Miami? Pitt? Notre Dame? Remember Wisconsin, Georgia Tech, Penn State?

Now maybe it will be Coastal Carolina.

BYU didn't become known nationally by playing lower division schools to pad its schedule. It started out playing teams from bigger conferences in the 1970s, then began winning those games.

"You can't be the best unless you play the best," coaches used to say.

Now it's more like, "You can't be the best unless you schedule the worst."

Ohio State and Florida play cream puffs, too. But they're already in BCS conferences and have less to prove.

In the short term, BYU might benefit from a soft schedule. But in the long term, it's a mistake. When Utah went to the Fiesta Bowl in 2004, it beat Texas A&M, Arizona and North Carolina — all teams from BCS conferences.

Over time, BYU will gain more from playing teams from top conferences than padding its schedule with weaklings. Recruiting will be better, exposure greater, the fan base happier. Beating such teams might even lead to an invitation to join their conference.

Mendenhall has spent three years urging the Cougars to embrace BYU's tradition. In that case, they should start by sticking with what got them ahead in the first place — playing the best they can find.


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