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Could Utah host BYU a few days after Thanksgiving? It’s starting to look possible, Pac-12 willing

If the Utes aren’t able to play at Arizona State on Nov. 28 due to positive COVID-19 tests within the ASU program, Utah could be looking for a non-conference opponent — and rival BYU is available.

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BYU quarterback Zach Wilson outruns a pair of Utah defenders at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019. The previously scheduled game between the two teams was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but there is growing hope among some that a game between the two rivals could be salvaged.

Colter Peterson

Could BYU and Utah end up playing each other in this pandemic-altered college football season after all?

Don’t laugh. It is still very much a long shot, but the possibility exists that the rivalry game — which was originally scheduled to be played Sept. 3 at Rice-Eccles Stadium before the Pac-12 said its teams would only play league games this year — could be played on Nov. 28.

Here’s how:

Utah is scheduled to travel to Tempe, Arizona, to take on the Arizona State Sun Devils on Nov. 28. That game, however, could be in jeopardy because of the high number of positive COVID-19 cases within ASU’s program right now, including coach Herm Edwards. Arizona State’s game against Colorado that was set for this Saturday at Folsom Field in Boulder was canceled Sunday by the Pac-12 because ASU will not have enough scholarship players available to meet the conference’s 53-player minimum.

Reports out of Tempe indicate the outbreak is severe and could keep the Sun Devils out of action for several more weeks.

Of course, Utah wasn’t able to play its last two scheduled games, against Colorado and UCLA, for the same reason. On Tuesday, Utes coach Kyle Whittingham said things are “trending in the right direction” for Utah’s game Saturday against No. 20 USC at Rice-Eccles Stadium (8:30 p.m., ESPN).

Meanwhile, No. 8 BYU (8-0) hasn’t been shy about saying it would like to add a few more games to its schedule. After Saturday’s glorified scrimmage against North Alabama (1 p.m., BYUtv) at LaVell Edwards Stadium, BYU doesn’t have a game scheduled until Dec. 12 against San Diego State.

Stop, you say. Didn’t the Pac-12 announce back in July that its teams would only play conference games in this shortened, delayed season?

Yes, but on Sunday night a Pac-12 official left the door open to take back that proclamation after the league saw one-third of its games canceled the first two weeks.

“This whole season is different. My feelings are that we are going to be ready to play every week. That’s what I am going to prep our team to be. Regardless if we have a game scheduled that weekend or not, we will be ready for a game every weekend.” — BYU football coach Kalani Sitake

Pac-12 Associate Commissioner for Football Operations Merton Hanks, the former San Francisco 49ers great, told ESPN’s Kyle Bonagura the league “will certainly take a look, I’d imagine,” at allowing some nonconference games.

Whittingham was asked Tuesday about the Utes still playing a game Nov. 28 if ASU can’t go.

“I don’t think that would be up to us at all,” he said. “It would be up to the conference. We’d like to play, that’s the bottom line. You would have to have another Pac-12 team that’s in the same boat. It’s scheduled out. Everybody’s got opponents for the next five weeks. It would have to be a situation where somebody else had a cancelation as well and it matched up on your schedule. That would be at the conference level, something they would decide.”

Later, Whittingham stressed that Utah “has to get games in” and would be willing to go to some extraordinary measures to play.

“So, as long as it is not a health or safety factor for our players, we are good to go,” he said. “This is a unique year with unique circumstances. You have to be ready to adapt and make changes.”

There was even talk late Sunday night that 2-0 Colorado might be willing to buy out North Alabama on BYU’s schedule this week so it could play the Cougars, but BYU coach Kalani Sitake shot down that notion in his weekly press briefing Monday afternoon.

The idea got life after CU coach Karl Dorrell told ESPN’s Bonagura that he would rather play a nonconference game on short notice than no game at all this week.

Enter a possible BYU-Utah showdown.

It is all still highly speculative at this point — nobody official from either school has even publicly acknowledged the possibility. Sources within BYU’s program say it really isn’t on the Cougars’ radar at this point.

BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe made an appearance on BYUtv’s BYU Sports Nation show Tuesday morning to discuss the death of former Cougar great Kyle Morrell, but was not asked about scheduling.

Asked whether he is concerned that BYU could play only two games the last six weeks of the season — which has been pushed back to Dec. 19 for most teams — Sitake reiterated that BYU would like to play 12 games, if possible.

“This whole season is different,” Sitake said. “My feelings are that we are going to be ready to play every week. That’s what I am going to prep our team to be. Regardless if we have a game scheduled that weekend or not, we will be ready for a game every weekend.”

Told about Hanks’ assertion that the Pac-12 might be open to nonleague games, Sitake didn’t rule out a Pac-12 opponent for the Cougars, even if such a game puts their hopes of getting an invitation to a New Year’s Six bowl game in peril.

“For us, if you want to get our best look, I think you have to give us a week of preparation,” Sitake said. “I think it is the right thing to do on both sides. I don’t know how you want to factor all that stuff in, between that and the travel and everything. Tom has asked me to get our team ready to play every week, and that’s what I am going to do. So, if we get any news on anything, then we will go from there.”

A 45-minute drive to Salt Lake City might be the answer.

Another question has to be asked, however. Would BYU be willing to puts its magical season on the line against a team that has defeated it the past nine meetings? It is a classic risk-reward scenario. A loss to the Utes would likely kill the Cougars’ NY6 bowl hopes, but a win over their rivals might propel them into more consideration for the College Football Playoff.

Other possibilities for BYU on Nov. 28 include Army and No. 15 Marshall, which might be more willing to play that date now that its home game this Saturday vs. Charlotte was canceled due to positive cases within Charlotte’s program.