SALT LAKE CITY — BYU's decision to initially pass on playing Washington on short notice has brought the program an enormous amount of publicity and forced its hand.
Going undefeated through nine games has pushed the Cougars into the national spotlight relative to their worthiness of making a New Year's Six bowl game. The ante was raised immeasurably once BYU declined to play Washington in Seattle over Thanksgiving weekend.
With its schedule lacking star power, all coming against Group of Five teams, BYU had a chance to better prove itself by playing a Power Five team. Once the Cougars said no thanks, critics howled at their refusal.
Brilliant move by BYU, even if it wasn't the original intention or a game is added this weekend.
Almost an afterthought by this time in most seasons, the program has not been in the national football conversation as much since being awarded the national championship in 1984. In this case, even negative attention is good attention.
In part, BYU brought some of the backlash upon itself for bypassing the only chance to date to play a Power Five team. The timing of "play anybody, anywhere" couldn't have been worse, coming on the heels of the Pac-12 losing multiple conference games each week due to COVID issues.
On the day quarterback Zach Wilson boasted about BYU's willingness to schedule up, Washington went looking for an opponent knowing the strong possibilities that COVID-related reasons would cancel the Apple Cup game with Washington State this weekend. Wilson's brash headband with the message "Any team, time or place" drew the wrath of social media once BYU declined the opportunity to test itself against the Huskies.
The miserable timing continued when the BYU football Twitter account sent out a picture of Wilson and his headband, which he wore during last Saturday's beatdown of North Alabama. The caption included the phrase "Any team, any time, any place."
Oops. On second thought, not so much, which had led to BYU getting mocked for bailing on its declaration.
"It's insulting," said Stewart Mandel, college football writer for The Athletic, told The Zone Sports Network.
For those wanting a quick upgrade to the schedule, good news is coming. All the bravado pretty much has forced BYU's hand to add another game.
Even if the reasons for passing on Washington are right, the decision put BYU on notice. At this point, athletic director Tom Holmoe almost absolutely has to go big next month to get BYU in a New Year's bowl. Undefeated Cincinnati, which has Dec. 5 open, or a quality P5 team had better be on deck.
With one game remaining on the schedule, against San Diego State, BYU even at 10-0 is not a lock for a New Year's berth. Big-name programs such as Notre Dame, Florida or Texas A&M may get the nod over the Cougars.
"BYU doesn't have a good schedule, there's no way around it," Mandel said. "They deserve all the accolades in the world for even getting a schedule after everybody dropped out on them, but it is kind of the scraps and leftovers."
Interestingly, in a column he posted last week, CBS Sports college football columnist Dennis Dodd pointed out the schedule isn't as bad as perceived. He wrote BYU's schedule ranked 38th in strength according to NCAA ratings, ahead of Alabama, Miami, Auburn and Texas.
Dodd's position echoed the case BYU coaches have been making this season. In an interview on The Zone Sports Network two weeks ago, passing game coordinator Aaron Roderick said the schedule compared favorably to the teams the program played during his playing time as a BYU receiver in the Western Athletic Conference.
"We hear people say how weak our schedule is or whatever," he said. "I don't like to talk about that because I have too much respect for the game to be disrespectful to the teams we played. I know this, a lot of the teams we played are every bit as good or better as the crappy WAC teams we played when I was a player."