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PROVO — The gimme’s known as New Mexico, UNLV, Wyoming and the WAC dregs have been dumped curbside for the suspense of Wisconsin, Notre Dame, Boise State and Texas.
Rank it among the great trades in sports history.
BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe on Monday unveiled the 2013 football schedule, keeping his promise to make significant improvements over the last two seasons. After two years of playing and beating mostly inferior competition, Holmoe has delivered a serious upgrade in year three of BYU’s unique venture of being an independent.
Holmoe has pulled off a remarkable feat since BYU chose to become an independent in football only months after rival Utah lucked into a Pac-12 invitation. At the time, even as BYU was trading in limited television exposure for the widespread distribution of ESPN, Holmoe asked for two years to put together a competitive schedule.
The 12-game schedule includes fellow independent Notre Dame and teams from eight conferences, including Atlantic Coast (Virginia, Georgia Tech), Big Ten (Wisconsin), Big 12 (Texas), Pac-12 (Utah), Big East (Houston), Conference USA (Middle Tennessee State), Mountain West (Nevada, Boise State) and Big Sky (Idaho State).
“I really like the way this schedule came together,” Holmoe said. “I like the balance of home and away games and the opportunity to play in different regions of the country. It’s one of the best schedules in program history.”
With games against Notre Dame, Wisconsin and Nevada, BYU got the desperately needed improvement for the November portion of the schedule. The only problem comes with the venues. All of those quality games are on the road.
Get used to it, BYU fans.
Few, if any, name programs will want to play in Provo during the last month of the season. With rare exceptions, November is reserved for conference games.
Call it the hazard of being an independent. And it’s all worth it.
Even with a lousy home November schedule, BYU at this point is much better served being an independent as opposed to re-aligning with the Mountain West or some other conference not named the Big 12. The dramatically increased exposure and strong slate of games makes the trade-off acceptable.
But there’s still room for improvement.
To beef up the late-season home schedule, BYU needs to entice Utah State officials to play the burgeoning in-state rivalry in November. Considering BYU’s ability to schedule big-name opponents early in the season, it’s a waste to play the Aggies on the Friday preceding general conference for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
During his tenure as USU’s coach, Gary Andersen was open to pushing the game back several weeks. Always in need of live programming over the long Thanksgiving weekend, ESPN surely would like to broadcast BYU against an improving Utah State.
Although the rivalry wouldn’t match the interest generated from the epic BYU/Utah games, it would still be the biggest game in the state for the next several years. At the rate the programs are going, the Pac-12 game between Utah and Colorado would take a back seat to the Aggies and Cougars.
The Mountain West could provide a potential roadblock, not wanting to assist BYU even indirectly. With Utah State set to join the MWC next season, conference officials and presidents may reject the opportunity to spotlight the Cougars, much like the Pac-12 refusing to grandfather in a BYU/Utah game in late November the way it has for Notre Dame against USC and Stanford.
Obviously for BYU, it’s an idea worth pursuing.
As Holmoe noted, the upcoming schedule ranks among the best in BYU history, an acknowledgement that may not be worth celebrating. Coming off an uninspiring 8-5 season, the Cougars will break in an entirely new offensive coaching staff and a new quarterback.
BYU has been disappointing in two of the last three seasons, resulting in coach Bronco Mendenhall overhauling the coaching staff on offense. Who knows what could happen if the Cougars stumble through a difficult schedule with another disappointing season.
If BYU isn’t good next season, Mendenhall wouldn’t be able to make scapegoats out of several first-year coaches. But that’s a story for another blog, if it even comes to pass.
There’s one more note on scheduling: play Utah every season. Too bad BYU can’t get its way on this.