Athletic director Tom Holmoe promised BYU’s first two years of independence would be a real scramble, but he’d get a handle on scheduling as a lone wolf by the third year.
Well, this is BYU’s third season as an independent after leaving the Mountain West Conference to carve out a schedule using ESPN as a partner. How did Holmoe do?
Allow him a long, loud howl.
Considering he’s had to re-do several contracts when potential opponents backed out, the Cougars’ 2013 schedule is impressive. Remember, both Washington State and Hawaii agreed to play. Early in BYU's independence so did ASU and Washington — then all changed their minds.
It is interesting that in three cases, coaches with ties to BYU (Mike Leach, Steve Sarkisian and Norm Chow) had their schools cancel series with the Cougars.
In college football, rescheduling such breakdowns in the course of one year isn’t as hard as it used to be, but it is a major hassle. Compare it to a movie script writer who has to do major rewrites while in production, then a producer comes in and tells you to change two or three plot lines and characters. Not easy.
Consider that most teams do not want to play an out-of-league opponent in November when a league race is going down to the wire, yet, if you are Holmoe, you’ve got to find teams, sign them, and hope they won’t all be road games. Consider that the MWC appears to still have its boycott of BYU in place for departing.
Holmoe put together an interesting, difficult, very challenging set of games and produced a home schedule with November dates that are digestible and, if successful, keep the Cougars on the radar. The placement of a finale-like road game to Nevada, hometown of All-America linebacker Kyle Van Noy, was a nice touch.
Holmoe did this after BYU’s administration took BYU athletics off a cliff into an unknown landing in 2010. The Cougars are not Notre Dame, an independent with an open invitation to roam coast to coast at the behest of collegedom. But BYU does have a brand and it can bargain.
Still, if you are an athletic director staring at an empty calendar, and your chief rival needs to switch dates and then suspend the series after this year, the job of lining up games in this decade has become a Rubik’s Cube.
How much do you give up in terms of home-and-home agreements? How many one-and-done contracts do you accept? How many two-for-one pacts do you allow yourself? If you can get Notre Dame lined up, do you basically give whatever you can just for the privilege?
If you take Jeff Sagarin’s computer rankings as a base for a study, and use his ratings from the 2012 season, BYU’s 2013 schedule would nearly compare with the simple average of a Big Ten Conference schedule if you eliminated Idaho State.
The simple average of the Big Ten as a league in 2012 has a rating of 75.05 by Sagarin. BYU’s 2013 schedule is filled with teams who, if you take their 2012 rating as an average for 2013, is 71.02. But this figure jumps to 74.44 without Idaho State, which had an extremely low rating in 2012 of 33.42.
The lowest Sagarin strength of schedule ratings in the Big Ten during the 2012 season were Minnesota (70.9), Penn State (70.54), Ohio State (70.34) and Indiana (70.76).
When you consider Holmoe didn’t have a conference to schedule eight to 10 games for him, it is admirable, if not impressive, that he chiseled out this kind of slate for the coming season. A challenge that brings Texas, Georgia Tech, Utah and Boise State to Provo and road trips to Wisconsin, Notre Dame, Virginia and Houston.
That’s tough. It isn’t a Pac-12 or Big 12 caliber schedule, if you take Sagarin’s 2012 ratings, but it is close enough to gain respectability in the polls if BYU can chalk up wins, and it certainly meets one of the reasons BYU made the jump to independence: exposure.
This is a schedule that includes seven 2012 bowl teams and four teams that will likely be ranked in preseason polls, led by Notre Dame, Texas, Wisconsin and Boise State. The USU Aggies could also sneak in come this August or early July when college football magazines hit the stands.
As it turned out, the Cougar rating by Sagarin after the 2012 bowl season was No. 26 at 80.26. This climbed because of BYU’s eight wins and a schedule that turned out to be decent with five teams that finished in the final top 25 rankings (Notre Dame fourth, USU 16th, Boise State 18th, Oregon State 20th and San Jose State 21st).
In the end, Holmoe must credit ESPN for using its influence. He must also thank some stand-up programs: the folks at Notre Dame, Texas and even Utah State.
Wisconsin, as it turns out, was really a schedule donut.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.