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Undefeated BYU aced its biggest test of the season by waxing Boise State. Now what?

BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe took to Twitter on Saturday to quell rumors and say the Cougars aren’t looking for an opponent this week because they need a bye after playing for seven straight weeks during a pandemic

Brigham Young Cougars wide receiver Neil Pau’u (2) dives into the end zone for a touchdown as BYU and Boise State play a college football game at Albertsons Stadium in Boise on Friday, Nov. 6, 2020. BYU won 51-17.
Brigham Young Cougars wide receiver Neil Pau’u (2) dives into the end zone for a touchdown as BYU and Boise State play a college football game at Albertsons Stadium in Boise on Friday, Nov. 6, 2020. BYU won 51-17.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Even as BYU’s once-revered 2020 football schedule crumbled last summer, athletic director Tom Holmoe kept the faith.

The former Super Bowl champion with the San Francisco 49ers told head coach Kalani Sitake in August to prepare his team to play 12 games, when at the time only three or four dotted the reconstructed schedule.

Eventually, Holmoe got 10 games on the schedule, and BYU has played eight. The undefeated Cougars, who moved up to No. 8 in both major polls on Sunday after thrashing then-No. 21 Boise State 51-17 last Friday, have been prepared as well as could be expected.

Now what?

Will Holmoe find two additional opponents?

Some fans hoped the AD would get one this week, because the Cougars aren’t scheduled to play on Saturday.

Their next game is in two weeks against North Alabama, a Football Championship Subdivision team that fell to 0-3 with a 24-13 loss at Southern Mississippi on Saturday. The Lions conclude their four-game season on Nov. 21 in Provo in a 1 p.m. MST game to be televised by BYUtv.

Hours after Zach Wilson completed 21 of 27 passes for 359 yards and three touchdowns in the dominating win over the Broncos, rumors swirled on the internet that BYU was trying to find an opponent this week, perhaps a Pac-12 team that might not have one due to another team’s inability to play because of COVID-19 concerns.

But Holmoe quelled those rumors Saturday afternoon, taking to Twitter to announce that nothing was in the works.

“Cougar Nation, We’ve just played 7 games in a row. With a game scheduled in 2 weeks, if we add a game this week that would make 9 in a row,” Holmoe tweeted. “Kalani (Sitake) will use the BYE this weekend wisely to strengthen the boys — in every way — for whatever lies ahead. Love your passion!”

Of course, Holmoe is running out of available dates, but some are still in the picture. After the North Alabama visit, BYU has the weekends of Nov. 28 and Dec. 5 free before hosting San Diego State on Dec. 12.

A lot of people would like to see the Cougars play on Thanksgiving, but options are limited. The national exposure the Cougars crave would be huge.

Others are hoping the Sept. 19 game at Army that was postponed because of a small number of positive coronavirus tests within BYU’s program can be rescheduled on Nov. 26 (Thanksgiving), Nov. 27 or Nov. 28.

Army (6-1) dropped from No. 22 to No. 25 in the Coaches Poll on Sunday after not playing last weekend. That’s a disturbing sign for teams such as BYU who aren’t playing every week while others, most notably Pac-12 squads, begin playing.

Another possibility for the Cougars on Nov. 28 is 6-0 Marshall, which has a bye that week. The Thundering Herd walloped UMass 51-10 Saturday and is No. 16 in the AP Top 25 and No. 15 in the Coaches Poll.

“What an absolutely perfect matchup,” columnist Chuck Landon wrote in the Charleston Gazette-Mail last week. “The Thundering Herd needs a game (only eight contests are scheduled) and the Cougars need a game (10 are scheduled). In the world of college football, this is a quintessential perfect storm.”

But is it doable?

Landon notes that it would have to be played in Provo, citing the fact that three other BYU vs. Conference-USA games were played there previously (Louisiana Tech, Western Kentucky, UTSA) this season. But he might be underplaying Marshall’s hand a bit — BYU has shown the willingness to play at Toledo, Northern Illinois and UMass, programs not at the level of Marshall in Huntington, West Virginia. So who knows?

Sitake replied in the affirmative late Friday night when he was asked if he wanted more games on the schedule, especially since the Cougars, and Wilson’s Heisman Trophy hopes, could fall from the nation’s consciousness by playing only one more FBS opponent before the postseason.

“Tom Holmoe is a great athletic director and he’s done a great job at organizing the schedule,” Sitake said. “I think a lot of teams know how to communicate with him. If (a 12-game schedule) works out, then great. If not, then we will just be thankful for what we have. We have a lot of gratitude to him and his staff for getting this schedule going.”

Another school of thought holds that BYU is well on its way to a New Years Six bowl berth if it goes 10-0 and shouldn’t risk that by adding a losable game. Some think a spot in the College Football Playoff is a pipe dream, even if BYU adds a marquee opponent — a long shot, at this point — to boost its strength of schedule and national profile.

For his part, Sitake ignores the speculation and continues to say the goal each week is to improve and get healthy.

“We are just grateful to be playing this game,” he said. “We may have some byes here and there, but we’re going to get better, whether we play a game or not.”

Wilson said he prefers to play as much as possible as well, and why not? He’s been a national media darling during BYU’s eight-game winning streak, but other candidates such as Alabama’s Mac Jones, Ohio State’s Justin Fields and Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence will dominate television screens the rest of November while Wilson’s exposure dries up.

Wilson said the success won’t go to their heads.

“You really gauge (the need for improvement) by watching the film and not looking at the final score,” he said. “There was nothing in this (Boise State) game that we couldn’t learn something from. … Learning from experience is everything. No matter how much you win a game, there’s always something you can learn from, and that’s the message each week.”

The Cougars sustained a few minor injuries against BSU, most notably running back Lopini Katoa, who appeared to have rolled an ankle in the fourth quarter. Sitake does not discuss injuries unless they are season ending, and didn’t have an update on Katoa when asked about the junior after the game.