PROVO — When the chance to face national power Oklahoma on national television — at the Dallas Cowboys' brand-new, billion-dollar-plus stadium in Arlington, Texas, — presented itself, BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe didn't shy away from it. Neither did coach Bronco Mendenhall.
From their perspective, the rewards far outweigh the risks.
"This wasn't a game that I took on solely by myself. I always talk to Bronco about the football schedule," Holmoe said. "He has ideas, I have ideas. We've pretty much been on the same page in most of the things we talk about. Certainly, with a team as nationally respected as Oklahoma, knowing what they have coming back, sure, it's a risk. It's a risk — you could lose the game, you could have a bad game and get blown out. But I don't think it's going to ruin our season. A lot of people are afraid to play the intersectional games because they're afraid they might lose and might not go to a BCS game. We're not thinking that way. I think there are way more positives about it than possible negatives. If we were scared about all that, we'd never play anybody."
The Sooners, who lost in the BCS championship game to Florida last January, return reigning Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford, projected by some to be the No. 1 pick in next April's NFL draft, as well as a host of other future NFL players.
"When you get the opportunity to play one of the best teams in the country in the Dallas Cowboys' beautiful new stadium — in, really, the inaugural college game there — we're not walking away from that," Holmoe said of the Sept. 5 showdown. "I think our team really understands what they're in for. They respect Oklahoma a great deal. It's just a great game for us. The Cowboys' new stadium is unbelievable. This is the Taj Mahal of football stadiums around the world — or sporting venues, for that matter. You don't have the opportunity to play many games like this. You pass on a game like this, you may not get another one."
Holmoe became BYU's AD in 2005, just months after Mendenhall was promoted from defensive coordinator to head coach. At the time, the Cougars were coming off of three straight losing seasons. But over the past three years, BYU has posted a 32-7 record under Mendenhall.
"I don't think I would have (scheduled this game) four or five years ago," Holmoe said. "I said at the time, when we ended up playing a couple of I-AA teams, that we needed to do that. We weren't quite strong enough to play a game like that and, regardless of the outcome, continue to go forward. This is a game we can get a lot out of it. It can be a real big-time boost for our program. I think we're in a position now where we can play this game. That's why we took it on. Bronco and I feel this program is ready for this game."
Of course, there's a financial benefit to playing Oklahoma — according to the Dallas Morning News, BYU will earn about $1.5 million.
And, as it turns out, this is a matchup of two Top 25 teams, with the Sooners receiving a No. 3 ranking in the preseason Associated Press poll and the Cougars landing at No. 20.
"It's a fantastic opportunity that our team has earned the right to play in," Mendenhall said. "I viewed it as a great reward to allow our team to play in that. We were selected for the game as one of only five or six teams that have won 10 games the past three years. So that matchup was set and I think our team deserved a chance to play in that game. I think they're looking forward to it and it will be a lifetime experience for all of us. We intend to play well to represent our school and our league."
Indeed, months after the Mountain West Conference placed three teams in the final Top-25 poll at the end of the 2008 season, the Cougars will be carrying the league banner against Oklahoma.
Holmoe is comfortable with the idea of putting BYU on a prominent, national stage.
"Overall, it's great for our program. Great game, great team, great venue, great exposure. We have fans down in the Dallas area. We're going to have 15,000-plus fans down there," Holmoe said. "We have good players, a lot of players that, in my opinion, are All-Americans. We're a pretty strong team. Are we the best team in the country? No. But we're a very good team. I don't think there's a team in the country that we wouldn't play. I wouldn't play four non-conference games against teams like Oklahoma in one year, but we're playing Florida State (Sept. 19 in Provo) and Oklahoma this year, two perennial power teams. It's a tough schedule."