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SALT LAKE CITY — As a consequence of BYU's inclusion into the Big 12 for the 2023-24 academic year, the football program will face scheduling difficulties likely requiring wholesale shuffling.
For the last decade, athletic director Tom Holmoe has done a masterful job building a competitive slate of games for a football team that has played as an independent. Big 12 membership will lead to the opposite, with Holmoe figuring out which teams to bump from future schedules.
Going forward, BYU needs to remember prior loyalties. Since going independent in time for the 2011 season, only one team has been a constant.
When Holmoe burned up telephone lines looking for games over the last decade, Utah State always answered the call. For that reason, the Aggies deserve to be on the schedule as a nonconference game.
Yes, we're talking an in-state game taking a higher priority over Utah. Remember, Utah State was there when the Utes were not.
The 13th-ranked Cougars play at Utah State Friday night in front of an expected sold-out stadium. At 3-1, the Aggies are rejuvenated under first-year coach Blake Anderson.
"It's a rivalry game against Utah State in Logan," BYU coach Kalani Sitake said during his weekly press conference on Monday. "We missed it last year (due to COVID issues) so I'm happy we can get it going this year. I have tons of respect for the fan base and the program."
The series between the two teams dates back to 1922, with BYU holding the edge 49-37-3. The Old Wagon Wheel, a trophy awarded to the winner, was created in 1948.
"Everybody has made it really clear to me since day one that I got here that I got to hate BYU. I've gotten the message loud and clear," Anderson said during his weekly interview on The Zone Sports Network.
Since joining the Pac-12 the same time BYU went independent, Utah has blown off the Cougars in favor of a sexier name. The tradition started with then-athletic director Chris Hill and has continued with his successor Mark Harlan, with Holmoe publicly going along with it.
The series took a two-year hiatus during the regular season when Utah scheduled a home-and-home with Michigan, which it beat both times in 2014-15. The Utes will replace BYU with Florida the next two years.
Utah has had a relatively weak nonconference schedule as a Pac-12 member, rarely playing Power Five teams. Considering Michigan was down in 2014, BYU has been the toughest team on Utah's schedule for much of the last decade.
To Harlan's credit, Utah is beefing up the schedule in the coming years. The Big 12's Baylor joins Florida on the 2023 schedule, marking the first time Utah plays two Power Five nonconference opponents in the regular season since joining the Pac-12.
In 2026, Utah is set to play three P5 opponents in BYU, Houston and Arkansas. Houston will join BYU, Cincinnati and Central Florida as new additions to the Big 12.
As part of potential scheduling adjustments, Utah may add a fourth nonconference game in the coming years. The Pac-12 is considering reducing the number of conference games from the current nine to eight.
The amount of conference games the Big 12 will play remains undecided. At this point, subject to negotiations, the other three teams are expected to join the Big 12 in 2024 after leaving the American Athletic Conference.
In regard to dropping teams from the schedule, BYU basically is at the mercy of the Big 12 decisions. More conference games means more work for Holmoe.
When conference play begins in 2023, BYU will have to choose from dumping home games against Tennessee, Boise State, Rice, South Florida, UNLV and Southern Utah. The road games are Virginia, Utah State, Arkansas, Fresno State, Central Florida (which possibly could count as a conference game) and USC.
The opponents change in subsequent seasons but the point of needing to cancel games will continue. BYU has escape clauses in some contracts, if not all, that calls for no financial penalties if the football program joined a P5 conference.