CONWAY, South Carolina — As most accomplished golf course architects know, all great layouts include an ample amount of risk-reward holes, memorable par-4s and par-5s that reward golfers for taking a chance, but penalize them severely for errant shots.

It is somehow fitting, then, that the New Years Six bowl-hungry BYU Cougars, feeling somewhat disrespected by a 13-member entity known as the College Football Playoff selection committee, find themselves in this golf paradise willing to lay it all on the line for a shot at glory.

A half-hour’s drive away from world famous Myrtle Beach and its array of fabulous courses, but some 2,200 miles from Provo, No. 13-ranked BYU (9-0) will clash with No. 18 Coastal Carolina (9-0) on Saturday in a hastily arranged showdown of unbeatens that the entire college football world is eager to see.

It was just fortuitous how the puzzles all pieced together (and) that it is such a good team that we’re playing.” — BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe

Kickoff is at 3:30 p.m. MST, and the game will be televised by ESPNU. ESPN’s popular “College GameDay” show will emanate from the site Saturday morning, having signed up when Coastal Carolina was slated to host one-loss Liberty, a victim of COVID-19 issues.

In steps BYU, living up to its bold declaration first made months ago that it was willing to play any team, any place, at any time, when its schedule featuring six Power Five opponents was decimated.

“It is an incredible opportunity,” said BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe, architect of the deal — first hatched Wednesday afternoon and finalized Thursday morning — along with ESPN, Coastal Carolina AD Matt Hogue and the Sun Belt Conference. “We were blessed to step into this game. The football gods, or LaVell (Edwards), was shaking things up upstairs. I don’t know what to say.”

Only 5,000 or so spectators will be allowed inside 21,000-seat Brooks Stadium for just the third regular-season or conference championship game pitting 9-0 or better teams since 2000.

And the stakes are high, as can be expected when undefeated teams meet in December, even in this most unusual of seasons ravaged by the pandemic. At No. 13, BYU desperately needs another attention-grabbing win to pop into the top 12 and stay in the conversation for the NY6.

Coastal Carolina is also outside of NY6 range, but has another avenue to a lucrative bowl as the highest-ranked Group of Five champion should No. 7 Cincinnati stumble down the stretch.

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“We have said from the very beginning this year that we want to play games, and I know our guys are excited to have this opportunity to play on Saturday against a great opponent in nationally ranked Coastal Carolina,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said. “This is a really well-coached team with an outstanding quarterback. I know Jamey Chadwell will have his team ready to go, and we’re working hard to prepare to share the field with them. I think we are all grateful for the chance to give the players on both teams another chance to play football this weekend.”

It will be BYU’s first meaningful game in nearly a month. After stomping Boise State 51-17 on Nov. 6, the Cougars had a bye before crushing FBS foe North Alabama 66-14 and then another bye last week when Holmoe tried to land an opponent, but couldn’t.

“Earlier in the year, we kind of foresaw that something like this could happen, not really knowing what it would look like,” Holmoe said Thursday in a Zoom meeting with local and national reporters on the call. “The only reason we have open dates is we couldn’t find games. We found 10 games and that was it, (the) door was closed. … It was just fortuitous how the puzzles all pieced together (and) that it is such a good team that we’re playing.”

Cougars got what they wanted, but what will they do with it Saturday vs. Coastal Carolina?

Maybe too good; although BYU is a 10-point favorite — a point spread that seems high given the Cougars are making the cross-country trip at the 11th hour — BYU offensive lineman James Empey and defensive back Troy Warner said they’ve followed CC’s season and know it has plenty of firepower.

“Coastal Carolina, they are an awesome team,” Empey said. “And they have done a lot of great things this season. You can’t ask for a better opponent than that. Yeah, it is short notice, but whatever. We just want to play.”

Said Warner: “Before the game was even finalized, we were in the film room finding games on them and watching as much film as we could. … They have been doing great things on both sides of the ball, and statistically they’ve been among the best, so it is kinda hard not to take notice.”

Both teams have outstanding quarterbacks.

For BYU, probable NFL first-round draft pick and fringe Heisman Trophy candidate Zach Wilson propels the Cougars. His counterpart Saturday will be Grayson McCall, a dual-threat redshirt freshman who will be the best quarterback the Cougars have faced this season.

Holmoe said he will talk to Hogue when the season is over to discuss the Chanticleers’ return visit to Provo.

A shootout is expected.

BYU averages 47.6 points per game (fourth in the FBS) and Coastal Carolina is averaging 38.7 ppg. BYU has scored more than 40 points in eight of its nine games; no team has scored more than 27 points in a game against the Chants.

So the stage is set. Which team will escape this risk-reward scenario unscathed?

“At the end of the day, we just got to go out there and play our game,” Warner said. “We can’t get too caught up in the (CFP) rankings and that kind of stuff. It could throw us off our game. We just have to go out there and just play our game and dominate on every level. If we do that, (everything else) will take care of itself.”

Cougars on the air

BYU (9-0) at Coastal Carolina (9-0)

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Saturday, 3:30 p.m. MST

Brooks Stadium


Radio: KSL 1160

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