PROVO — Game week is back on for BYU football — at least for one day.
After initially having a second bye week following a 66-14 win over FCS North Alabama, the eighth-ranked Cougars were back on the practice field Monday to prepare for their next opponent.
When will that game be played, though?
The eighth-ranked Cougars have one game remaining on their 2020 schedule, the Dec. 12 season finale against San Diego State, but athletic director Tom Holmoe has said he is open to adding more games during BYU's most successful season since 2001.
Could he reschedule the season finale, instead?
A rescheduling of the game would benefit both teams, after the Aztecs' Mountain West football game against Fresno State was canceled as a result of contact tracing within the Bulldogs' football program. San Diego State initially sought to replace the game with a Pac-12 opponent, according to athletic director John David Wicker, with many assuming Washington or Cal could be available due to conference cancelations.
"We will actively search for a game this weekend because our coaches, student-athletes and staff want to play," Wicker said. "We have reached out to the conference office and the Pac-12 that we are actively looking for a game. We will have to see how testing goes this week for all of the schools in our conference and the Pac-12."
But on Monday, San Diego State coach Brady Hoke admitted that BYU has been among those conversations for a replacement opponent this week.
"I think No. 1, I'm not in the middle of those conversations. But I think our athletic director is going to be very aggressive," Hoke said during a conference call with San Diego media. "As long as the health and safety protocols are going to be met for our players and for our opponent's players, we'll try to play anybody."
Hoke added that he'd prefer to have "at least 2-3 days" to prepare for an opponent, but said most of his team would be staying on campus through the Thanksgiving holiday, with a "team meal" planned together on Thursday. He also said that BYU has been a topic of conversation, but nothing had been decided, to his knowledge.
"I would say there's been a little bit of banter, but nothing that has been taken a whole lot further," Hoke said. "JD is doing those things, and we would look at any opportunity, just so our guys could play."
The movement would allow the Aztecs, who are 3-2 and coming off a 26-21 loss to Nevada, to reopen the weekend of Dec. 12 to reschedule Mountain West games that may later be canceled — including the Bulldogs, if necessary and/or possible. The Mountain West championship game is scheduled for Dec. 19, though Boise State remains the heavy favorite to claim one spot in that game due to its 4-0 record in league play (4-1 overall).
So adding a Mountain West or Pac-12 team is preferable, according to Hoke. But BYU also makes sense.
"I know for a fact that JD is working hard, has been working hard, because of Fresno and the situation they're going through. I think JD has contacted a lot of people," Hoke said. "Obviously, if it could be a Mountain West deal, it would be preferable. But we'll see. I've said this before: we'll play anybody. We just want the opportunities to play. Our guys worked too hard in the offseason, during fall camp, not to have the opportunities to play football games."
Meanwhile, the Cougars returned to the practice field Monday, despite initially being scheduled for a bye week. The team's official BYU football equipment account on Twitter, run by assistant equipment manager Billy Nixon, posted a picture Monday evening that alluded to the upcoming game against the Aztecs with photos of the black helmets the Cougars had previously announced as game-day uniforms for the season finale.
But by moving the date, BYU (9-0) frees up several key weekends down the stretch of the regular season — on Dec. 5, which is also an open date with No. 7 Cincinnati, the lead Group of Five contender for a New Year's Six bowl bid; and Dec. 12, which could be pivotal for upcoming cancelations in several conferences.
BYU had reportedly been approached by Washington to play this weekend after the Huskies' Apple Cup rivalry game was canceled following a slew of positive tests for COVID-19 within Washington State's program. But the game never materialized, with Washington media saying BYU was "resisting" the date.
The reports added that sources within BYU's camp said the Cougars were hoping for a "guarantee" that would transcend Pac-12 protocols, stating a game could be canceled as late as Thursday if another conference opponent was also available to play (a stipulation made more concerning with the added context that Utah's game Sunday against Arizona State still does not have a kickoff time or TV times a week after the Sun Devils canceled a game for COVID-19 reasons).
A statement from Tom Holmoe. pic.twitter.com/NgDp1WrJoK— BYU FOOTBALL (@BYUfootball) November 23, 2020
On Monday, BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe released a statement that, while it did not name Washington or any program in particular, said the Cougars were actively looking to add 1-2 more games to the schedule that would be "for the benefit of both teams."
"We remain open to exploring options to add football games, and have been throughout the season," Holmoe said. "In that exploration process, there are a variety of factors that need to be considered, including location, prep time for the game, the chances of the game being played, the testing protocols that are in play and what the game would do for our resume.
"At this point of the season, having played nine games and being nationally ranked, we are involved in discussions for possible matchups with other teams, on common open dates, for the benefit of both teams."
One reason that the Cougars may be hesitant to add to the schedule is related to the College Football Playoff. The committee is meeting in Texas on Monday and Tuesday, and will release their first rankings Tuesday evening. If the No. 8 Cougars are ranked in a similar spot as their standing in the Associated Press and coaches polls, there could still be an outside chance at the playoff.
Holmoe admitted Saturday on BYUtv that those considerations are part of his side's negotiations.
"I think it has a lot to do with it. So we'll just wait and see," Holmoe said. "It's possible that games will open up next week. The question for our teams is how quickly would you put together a game. There are teams out there scheduling games in 3-4 days; is that good for the team? It's a game … but at this point in time, these games are really starting to count. Every single one of these games really counts now, and you get down to that point where you aren't really going to get to prepare for a team, on the road, or at home? There are a lot of factors, and I'm going to look Kalani in the eye and ask him, 'What do you want to do? What's in the best interest of our team?' That's what we're going to do."
ESPN currently projects the Cougars with a 14% chance of making the playoff. Cincinnati has a 35% chance, which is No. 4 nationally and just ahead of Clemson (though that could change dramatically, especially with the Tigers likely on track for a rematch with undefeated Notre Dame in the ACC championship game).