PROVO — Past BYU football schedules have been front-loaded, as the independent Cougars have played most of their toughest opponents the first half of the season.

The 2020 schedule, which was released Wednesday a few hours after an announcement came that four games have been added to BYU’s series with Stanford, still includes a challenging start. But the final month is no walk in the park, either.

“If looking at next year’s schedule doesn’t motivate our guys, nothing will. It’s another tough one, but that’s what makes it more fun. We will be ready for it” — BYU coach Kalani Sitake

The schedule in BYU’s 10th season as a college football independent includes three opponents that finished their seasons ranked in the top 25 last season — No. 10 Minnesota, No. 16 Utah and No. 22/23 Boise State — and features six games against Power Five conference teams.

“If looking at next year’s schedule doesn’t motivate our guys, nothing will,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said in December. “It’s another tough one, but that’s what makes it more fun. We will be ready for it.”

Seven opponents played in bowl games, while the 11 Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) teams went a combined 85-56 (.603) last season.

The Cougars begin the season at Utah on the Thursday before Labor Day (Sept. 3), facing the Utes in a season-opener for the second straight season after falling 30-12 last year in Provo.

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The home opener is Sept. 12 in Provo against Michigan State. The Spartans, who were upset 31-14 by BYU in 2016 in East Lansing, will make their first visit to Provo and will become only the second Big Ten opponent to play in LaVell Edwards Stadium, following Wisconsin’s trip in 2017.

BYU finishes the opening month by traveling to Arizona State (Sept. 19) and Minnesota (Sept. 26). It will be the first BYU-ASU matchup since 1998 and the first-ever BYU-Minnesota matchup.

In all, BYU will play against teams from 10 different states and seven conferences — the SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12, American, Mountain West, Big South and Mid-American.

BYU returns to LES for just the second time when it hosts instate rival Utah State on Oct. 2, a Friday, and the start of three straight home games. Missouri visits on Oct. 10, followed by Houston on Oct. 17. 

BYU downed the Aggies 42-14 in Logan last season, but fell 45-20 to USU when it last visited in 2018. Missouri makes its first trip to Provo and will be only the second SEC team to visit LES. Mississippi State played in Provo in 2000 and 2016, winning the first matchup and then losing the latter in double overtime. Houston, though just 4-8 last season, is a perennial contender in the AAC and will be trying for its first win against BYU after falling 33-25 in Provo in 2014 and 47-46 at Reliant Stadium in 2013 as BYU QB Taysom Hill threw for 417 yards and four touchdowns and ran for 128 yards.

Brigham Young Cougars running back Lopini Katoa (4) dives for yardage against San Diego State Aztecs linebacker Caden McDonald (54) and San Diego State Aztecs safety Trenton Thompson (18) at SDCCU Stadium in San Diego on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019.   | Laura Seitz, Deseret News

BYU makes its first trip to DeKalb, Illinois, to face Northern Illinois on Oct. 24, then has a bye before playing at Boise State on Nov. 7.

San Diego State makes its first visit to LES since SDSU and BYU were Mountain West rivals in 2010.

North Alabama will be BYU’s Senior Day opponent on Nov. 21; the Lions, a member of the Big South Conference, went 4-7 last year, their second at the FCS level.

BYU finishes the regular season at Stanford on Nov. 28 to start a new series that was extended to eight games through 2035 on Wednesday. The Cardinal are 2-0 all-time against BYU.

According to BYU’s release, television plans and kickoff times are to be announced, and dates are subject to change to accommodate television coverage plans.

2020 BYU football schedule

Thursday, Sept. 3 — at Utah

Saturday, Sept. 12 — Michigan State

Saturday, Sept. 19 — at Arizona State

Saturday, Sept. 26 — at Minnesota

Friday, Oct. 2 — Utah State

Saturday, Oct. 10 — Missouri

Saturday, Oct. 17 — Houston

Saturday, Oct. 24 — at Northern Illinois

Saturday, Nov. 7 — at Boise State

Saturday Nov. 14 — San Diego State

Saturday, Nov. 21 — North Alabama

Saturday, Nov. 28 — at Stanford