Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
BYU fans cheer during the game as BYU and Notre Dame play Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012 in South Bend.
What has really become an important part of all this is how well ESPN is connected, and how people want to play games on their networks. Our ability to have those games at home and tell teams they can play us on ESPN is invaluable. —Duff Tittle, BYU associate athletics director

SALT LAKE CITY — Remember the girl in school that nobody dated? Pigtails, braces, zero makeup. Tended to keep to herself. Then you saw her five years later and …

People were lining up for dates.

That seems to be what’s happened with BYU lately. Three years ago, when the Cougars announced they were going independent in football, there was widespread speculation they wouldn’t have much on their dance card. Competition was becoming so difficult that teams weren’t likely to risk non-conference losses to BYU.

But the fact BYU has added Utah to its 2017 and 2018 schedules is the latest indication something is working. Though the Cougars still have challenges booking home games in November, the picture is improving. Early on it seemed the big conferences would commandeer their teams in the late season, leaving the Cougars to play Idaho and New Mexico State.

Maybe that was a hasty assumption.

Wisconsin and USC aren’t exactly thrift-store bargains.

In that sense, the Cougars are becoming a nice diversion for big conference teams. Apparently the enticement of playing BYU on an ESPN station, plus strength of schedule considerations, has caused even snobby conferences to lighten up. Check it out: USC, Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Utah — and those are just some November opponents.

Meanwhile, Nebraska, Virginia, Texas, Michigan, Georgia Tech and West Virginia are earlier-season BYU games. Stanford is apparently planning a series with the Cougars, too, though dates haven’t been set.

How did the Cougars work this out?

They applied a little makeup.

TV makeup, that is.

“What has really become an important part of all this is how well ESPN is connected, and how people want to play games on their networks,” said associate athletics director Duff Tittle. “Our ability to have those games at home and tell teams they can play us on ESPN is invaluable.”

That’s an oft-repeated story, but Cougar athletics director Tom Holmoe has said not even he fully anticipated the scheduling power of ESPN. Seems that when the “Worldwide Leader in Sports” proposes a game, conferences take note.

With a new playoff system coming, strength of schedule could become a bigger factor, too.

Scheduling will never be a picnic for a team with no conference affiliation. Getting meaningful late-season opponents to Provo remains Holmoe’s biggest chore. Of all the aforementioned BCS opponents, only four are committed to playing BYU in November — Utah, Notre Dame, USC and Wisconsin — none of which are at LaVell Edwards Stadium. The only November home games BYU has officially set are this year’s game against Idaho State, next year against Southern Mississippi and 2014 and 2015 games against UNLV.

At the same time, few figured the conferences would become so accommodating. The Cougars have games scheduled against the ACC (Georgia Tech, Virginia), Big 12 (Texas, West Virginia), Big Ten (Michigan, Wisconsin, Nebraska), Pac-12 (USC, Stanford, Utah, Arizona, Washington State) and Notre Dame.

On BYU media day in June, coach Bronco Mendenhall described the scheduling process as “more difficult than I expected, but now more opportunities than I dreamed of.” Holmoe, who works two or three days a week on scheduling, compared it on Twitter to LDS missionary work, saying that it’s “like missionaries knocking on doors, lots of conversations, not a lot of takers. But when it comes together — awesome!”

Tittle said BYU draws 5,000-6000 supporters at almost any road venue and brought nearly 20,000 to the last game at USC in 2003. In addition, BYU has discussed playing games at international venues.

The fact the Pac-12 has now allowed two of its teams to schedule November dates with BYU says something.

“As you know, the landscape of college football continues to change and things seem easier (to schedule) now. Maybe there will be opportunities in the future …who knows where this is going?” Tittle said. “This certainly feels good.”

It feels like it's emerging from childhood and beginning to blossom.

At which point it’s hard to imagine anyone not taking notice.

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