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Yukai Peng, Deseret News

BYU's ability to add multiple games against Pac-12 opponents — including rival Utah — clears major hurdle, per report

By Sean Walker, KSL.com | Posted - Nov. 18, 2020 at 11:15 a.m.



PROVO — Is BYU's schedule about to be upgraded again?

The Pac-12 could be on the verge of allowing its teams to play nonconference games under the right circumstances, and BYU should be top of that list, according to a report first issued by the San Jose Mercury News.

The league is on the verge of reversing its conference-only scheduling policy for 2020 after athletic directors agreed to allow nonconference games if a league matchup is canceled due to COVID-19 issues, Mercury News newsbreaker Jon Wilner reported Wednesday morning. Multiple other college football reporters, including The Athletic's Bruce Feldman, confirmed the deal, which is still subject to approval from the league's university presidents and chancellors.

If the proposed policy change moves forward, BYU would reasonably be among the first opponents called by Pac-12 schools in the event of a cancellation or coronavirus outbreak — a sort of "break glass in case of emergency" school that could fill an open date on virtually any team's schedule.

The Cougars are scheduled to host FCS foe North Alabama on Saturday (1 p.m. MT, BYUtv) and only have one other game remaining on their 2020 schedule — Dec. 12 against San Diego State, the latest home game in program history. Prior to the season's upheaval amid multiple cancellations due to the pandemic, BYU was scheduled to face three Pac-12 schools in Utah, Arizona State and Stanford.

That leaves open dates the week of Thanksgiving (Nov. 28), Dec. 5 and Dec. 19, the week most conferences are scheduled to play conference championship games. BYU also has the option of rescheduling a postponed road tilt with fellow FBS independent Army; the Black Knights also have a game scheduled Nov. 21 against Georgia Southern before its Commander-in-Chief's Trophy finale Dec. 12 against archrival Navy.

With the Cougars' breakout season — ranked No. 8 in the latest Associated Press Top 25 and USA Today Coaches Poll, with a total offense and total defense ranked in the top-10 nationally, along with several other major statistical category — the FBS independent team from Provo would become an attractive option for virtually any Pac-12 team in need of a game. A win over the program could catapult the league's chances at a College Football Playoff berth, for example, with only No. 11 Oregon in any sort of discussion to vie for one of the four spots alongside powerhouses like Alabama, Notre Dame, Clemson and Ohio State, among others.

BYU running back Lopini Katoa after catching a pass for a touchdown against Navy in Annapolis, Maryland. (Photo: Jaren Wilkey, BYU Photo)

Others have argued that it makes little or no sense to add games to the 2020 schedule; the Cougars are already in prime position for their first New Year's Six bowl appearance since the term became initiated with the CFB Playoff, so long as they finish undefeated — even at 10-0.

So how much time would the Cougars need to add a last-minute scheduling agreement with any of the Pac-12 schools? That likely depends on the team, and certainly travel would dictate preparation, at least within a day or two.

But head coach Kalani Sitake told reporters Monday that his team would be ready with a week's notice — maybe even 4-5 days, in some cases — after being presented with an option similar to UCLA's three-day rescheduling of Cal in the wake of the Bruins' COVID cancellation due to a high number of positive cases at Utah. The Utes canceled their first two games of the year against Arizona and UCLA, and are currently scheduled to open their first of a four-game fall slate against USC on Saturday.

"We don't look past any opponent beyond that week. So for me, get it done as soon as you can so it gives us time," Sitake said. "I watched the Cal-UCLA game on Sunday, and that seemed like a quick turnaround. I think it worked out for both teams … but for us, I think we'd like to have a week of preparation, between that and travel and getting ready to go.

"But Tom's asked me to be ready to play every week, and that's what we're going to do."

The Cougars previously worked on a short week to prepare for a Friday night game against Boise State — a road test with which BYU ran away, 51-17, for its first-ever win on the Blue Turf — in a week made shorter due to the NCAA's recent legislation mandating an off-day on Election Day. Putting in similar work on another short week wouldn't be ideal, but it is possible, senior defensive lineman Zac Dawe admitted.

"Going into the Boise game, we had a short week, and I think four days would be plenty," he said. "One day of pads, one day to walk through and a day to travel. So I think four days would be plenty."

Traditionally, BYU — which does not practice on Sunday due to its affiliation with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — opens the week with film review and workouts Monday, followed by a full game-week installation Tuesday and Wednesday, a lighter practice Thursday, and a formal walk-through of preparations Friday (as well as travel, where needed).

The timeline has been compressed on several occasions, such as when television contracts push a game to Thursday or Friday, but the commonly referred to "installation phase" normally takes at least two days, according to most coaches around college football.

But in the ever-evolving season of 2020 and Holmoe's charge to Sitake that he would prefer to schedule a full 12-game season, anything is possible.

Everyone involved says if the schedule becomes injected with a late facelift, they'll be ready.

"Honestly, we just have to think of ourselves as 0-0," running back Tyler Allgeier said. "Every Monday, coach Grimes says the last game is over so now we start a new week winless."

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