PROVO — BYU offensive lineman James Empey wanted to make one thing clear after the Cougars formalized a top 20 matchup with Coastal Carolina on Thursday.
The Cougars mean it when they say, "Any team, any time, any place."
A week after a heavily reported (and often criticized) failed deal to play Pac-12 foe Washington in Seattle, the No. 8 Cougars (No.13 CFP) will get the chance to back up that claim Saturday on the road against No. 14 Coastal Carolina (3:30 p.m. MST, ESPNU).
BYU isn't ducking anyone as the Cougars travel across the country to face one of only two other 9-0 teams in the country in one of just two games nationally featuring opponents ranked in the AP Top 25.
"We've said from the beginning that we want to play," Empey said. "Whatever people want to say, they can say. We're just super excited about this game and how it came together so quickly.
"What happened in the past doesn't matter no more."
"Fake news," added the eloquent and oft-quoted Troy Warner. BYU is replacing the false narrative of a Duck with the Chanticleers, who are No. 18 in the CFP rankings.
"I just think it's something we didn't really concern ourselves with," Warner said. "Each person in the locker room wants to play any team in the country. We weren't ducking anybody. We want to play with anybody.
"We all saw it as fake news. We know that's not how BYU is run here."
Coastal Carolina (9-0) will be the highest-ranked opponent BYU has faced all year, just ahead of Boise State, which was ranked No. 20 nationally before the Cougars' 51-14 win over the Broncos.
Make no mistake, the Chanticleers are eager to prove themselves as BYU's equal this year. Both schools rank in the top 40 nationally in scoring offense and scoring defense in the Chants' breakthrough season that will include a berth in the Sun Belt title game on Dec. 19.
Historically, the differences between the two schools have been stark, but such is to be expected for a program like Coastal Carolina that started playing football in 2003 and made the jump to the Football Bowl Subdivision in 2015.
This is what makes Saturday's game, which will include ESPN's "College GameDay" in tow, that much more important for the Chanticleers. They'll be hosting their first Top 25 opponent at Brooks Stadium.
"Obviously, we know the brand that BYU has: a tremendous amount of success and respect for the institution," CCU athletic director Matt Hogue said. "People know that name brand very well. For us to have an opportunity to play against them and to showcase to the nation what we feel about our program, because our program is a rising brand in college athletics, as well; it's tremendous to have that opportunity and to play on this stage.
"This is a big part of why we do what we do in this business."
Here are five things you should know about the Chanticleers before Saturday afternoon.
Coastal Carolina is really good
First off, this team is good. Coastal Carolina averages 38.7 points per game and allows just 16.3, the 11tth-best mark nationally.
The Chanticleers have a lot of speed and skill, but they do lack one of BYU's prime advantages: size. Among other undersized players, Coastal Carolina starts a 5-foot-9 fifth-year lineman in center Sam Thompson, who has started all nine games of his senior campaign a year after leading an offense that piled up 400 yards or more of offense five times and converted 23 of 29 fourth-down attempts in 2019.
He may provoke a stark image standing next to BYU's 6-4 nose tackle Khyiris Tonga or 6-4 rush ends Zac Dawe and Alden Tofa. But Thompson has also anchored an offensive line responsible for protecting Grayson McCall, the redshirt freshman who has thrown for 1,747 yards with 20 touchdowns and just one interception.
"We're doing a lot of praying right now, and I know they are, too. 'Cuz they're Mormon," Coastal Carolina head coach Jamey Chadwell said. "They're really good offensively and really good defensively. Their rankings are what they are because they go out and dominate guys.
"They're huge, they're big, and they're physical. That's the biggest challenge is the size that they have and the athletes that they have. But our team is resilient, they were excited about playing Liberty, and I know they're excited about playing BYU."
This season isn't the most successful in Coastal Carolina's athletic history; the Chanticleers won the College World Series in 2016, so nothing short of a national championship will top ever top that. But Coastal is proving to be more than a baseball school, and more than a one-hit-wonder, in Chadwell's third season taking over for former TD Ameritrade CEO Joe Moglia in 2017.
The Chanticleers have the most fun
BYU basketball head coach Mark Pope likes to say that his team has the "best locker room in the country," with post-win Gatorade showers in victory and pranks ranging from the coaches to players to support staff in Provo.
With all due respect to Pope, the Chanticleers' football program, which has been a member of the Football Bowl Subdivision since 2016, presents a viable challenger to that claim.
There's been plenty to celebrate, and every win has had its own unique celebration. Chadwell has an analogy for each game week, and a celebration to match that week has ensued during the Chanticleers' 9-0 season.
Sometimes, that celebration has included an actual broadsword cutting through the air. On another occasion, the Chants staged an incredibly intricate professional wrestling match — including an ode to CCU alum "Stone Cold" Steve Austin.
Coastal Carolina isn't just winning, and in some cases winning big in its most successful season at the FBS level; they're also having fun doing it.
OK, but what the heck is a chanticleer?
A lot of mascots come from a lot of places: a school's history, a sportswriter's tag, or a marketing-based branding exercise, to name a few.
But Coastal Carolina's mascot comes from the most unique place in all of college sports: Chaucer.
The Chanticleer derives from the poet Geoffrey Chaucer's "The Chanticleer and the Fox," a fable in the classic "The Nun's Priest Tales," and was adapted for the university in the early 1960s. Up to that point, Coastal athletics were referred to as "Trojans."
So what is a chanticleer? Here's Chaucer, in his own words, on the rooster "whose crowing there was not equal in all the land."
"His voice was merrier than the merry organ that plays in church, and his crowing from his resting place was more trustworthy than a clock," Chaucer wrote. "His comb was redder than fine coral and turreted like a castle wall, his bill was black and shone like a jet, and his legs and toes were like azure. His nails were whiter than the lily and his feathers were like burnished gold."
Your move, Cosmo.
The Chants' teal field is 🔥
BYU has already played on one visually disruptive football-playing surface: the fabled blue turf in Boise that has also become iconic in the sport, and purely representative of Boise State's brand.
But the Broncos' bastion of blue in Boise isn't the only non-green-colored field in the nation. There's the red turf at Eastern Washington, the purple field of Central Arkansas, and the gray-and-green field of Eastern Michigan that routinely makes ESPN home broadcasts look like a replay of the Tobey Maguire/Reese Witherspoon classic, "Pleasantville."
On Saturday, BYU will be faced with its toughest challenge of the season on another visually stunning masterpiece: the teal field of Coastal Carolina, commonly called the "Surf Turf." The Chanticleers installed the unique turf in 2015, and the all-teal everywhere of the university has inspired the budding national movement that is #TealNation.
And the mullets
Last but not least is the thing that stands out most about Coastal Carolina — and it's not the ranking, the high-powered offense, the one-of-a-kind mascot, or the locker room celebrations.
It's the mullets.
Look up and down the roster, and you'll see a common thread among several key players: business in the front, party in the back.
That's how the Chanticleers define their season — unless, of course, BYU gives them a season-defining win.
"That's news to me," BYU's Warner said. "But more power to them."