Should BYU use 2020 fire sale schedule model for future consideration?
BYU is ranked No. 11 in the AP after racing to a 6-0 record with Zach Wilson getting tons of attention. Is this a realistic scheduling model going forward?
The lofty 6-0 start has BYU faithful dreaming and feeling better about football than they have in years.
They’ve got that old feeling of invincibility, highlights galore, a talented quarterback delivering big numbers and collecting national attention. It’s BYU football heaven.
The Cougars have had a greased slide to coast on in this 2020 COVID-19 season, and it brings up a good argument: Is an easy September a more reasonable scheduling plan as an independent, or is it a unreasonable to get this kind of schedule again?
Is being ranked 11th in the Associated Press and No. 12 in the Coaches’ poll a true measurement of Kalani Sitake’s football team heading into November, or is it fool’s gold and rat poison?
Well, those are all good questions.
The fact is, BYU’s scrambling to replace a stout, respectable, tough 2020 original schedule opened the door for a win stream. They still had to travel, still had to block, tackle, pass, catch and run, but it was a far, far more cushy situation than existed midsummer.
It is easy to say BYU should use this scheduling model in the future, to get a few wins under the belt, develop chemistry, confidence, continuity, and perhaps avoid more injuries by having starters walk off the sidelines in the middle of the third quarter.
After all, most all Power Five teams schedule one or two cupcakes to open a season. Utah has a model of playing a couple of easy games and then taking on a more challenging foe before Pac-12 play begins. It’s worked great for Kyle Whittingham, whose teams have run out of the chute 3-0 and ranked in recent years.
No P5 program I could find did what BYU did in 2019 and originally in 2020 by scheduling a month’s worth of P5 opponents at the start of the year. Nobody thought that was a good plan. Well, BYU did exactly that and in 2019 ended up with wins over Tennessee and USC and losses to Washington and Utah. Starting 2-2 is kind of what you’d reasonably expect out of that kind of schedule a year ago.
But 2-2 does not light a fire under the faithful. They tend to focus on the warts over the rainbows. Compare that with today, sitting 6-0 and peeking at the top 10.
So, is there a more reasonable approach for BYU in the future, maybe mix in more palpable opponents with the P5s in September? Perhaps.
But as an independent, the Cougars are heavily tied to their scheduling partner ESPN. So, AD Tom Holmoe has to place a lot of his scheduling tools with ESPN consideration. The giant sports network welds a big carrot when it comes to offering exposure to even P5 programs, who have a lock on big money through league contracts. And most of those programs can fit BYU in before conference play. This is where ESPN can make it happen.
Look no further than the rivalry games with Utah. It is far better for Utah to schedule BYU early than the traditional Thanksgiving time because of its burden to compete in the heat of a Pac-12 schedule. And yes, there are exceptions with those Pac-12 teams, like USC, Notre Dame, etc., in “regular” type seasons. But that’s the norm.
BYU has to take the lead from ESPN as an independent because that is the Cougars’ bread and butter, not just financially, but with exposure.
So far this season, BYU’s exposure has been among the best — if not the best — in the nation due to ESPN and ESPN2 coverage. Saturday’s game against Texas State was on ESPN, as is this weekend’s game with Western Kentucky. The big showdown with Boise State the following week is on Fox Sports 1.
The fact BYU is ranked No. 11 comes with automatics. In the exposure department, it gets daily mentions nationally as to status, history, past game and future matchups. On ESPN’s “SportsCenter,” it gets a regular update and report as a ranked team. On The Associated Press college football roundup, it gets mentioned in the mainstream weekend report and “How they fared” feature that plays prominent in every news outlet in the country, a regular feature in USA Today.
Liberty is also 6-0, just like the Cougars, but they are unranked with a similar schedule. Why? It is BYU’s traditional history and the fact BYU has been on national television in one form or another for two straight months as the Big Ten and Mountain West have been absent week after week.
This is TV exposure Liberty can’t get: BYU’s first six games have been on ESPN, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN2, ESPN and ESPN. Much of the early exposure has been due to a lack of college football programming available and BYU filled that niche.
This 2020 season is as strange as the pandemic we’ve faced. It has allowed BYU to reschedule an easier schedule and they’ve pounded all but one opponent into submission as they should have done and are ranked high.
But this is not a regular type independent season. BYU will never again get a September-October like it just had. Sure, Holmoe could protect a weekend in September here or there with easier opponents than we’ve seen them play from the SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and Big 12. But ESPN has a big say in how that goes and they want matchups and ratings.
BYU’s No. 11?
Enjoy it. They’ve earned it with what they’ve been given.
And you won’t see this kind of schedule again.