4 Make-or-Break Games in 2012 BYU MUST Win

Alex StrelnikovCorrespondent IIAugust 4, 2012

4 Make-or-Break Games in 2012 BYU MUST Win

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    BYU has a schedule that is notable this year in many respects. First is how hard it is. The second is how soft it is. On the one hand it has Big East, ACC, and Pac-12 teams, and Notre Dame. Though not in a conference, the mere name Notre Dame says it all.

    The soft games include Idaho, Weber State, New Mexico State, and San Jose State. 

    Then come the middle programs, Washington State, Utah State, Oregon State, and Hawaii. Lowly Utah State gets an upgrade by being in the MWC which moves them from soft to middle.

    There is balance in this schedule that has evolved very well. The hard games are grouped into two two-week stints. First comes Utah and Boise State, both on the road. In late October comes Notre Dame and Georgia Tech, again, both on the road. 

    It is these four road games that set them apart, both in difficulty and who they are. For BYU to be successful in recruiting, exposure, and monetary support it is a must that they come away with at least a split. In the best case, a win in each outing.

    These four games this season are the stand out games that talent around the country will be looking at to make their decision about coming to BYU next year, and the year after, and even the year after that.

    This year and 2013 could be make-or-break years for BYU in the exposure and notoriety they are seeking. Win, and they gain all of the things they want independence to give them. Lose and they reap the negatives of everything the naysayers have warned about.

    Because of that, they become larger than they should be in importance and become the four make-or-break games of 2012. If BYU loses these four games collectively it could put the program back in the MWC.

    Following is my assessment of the big four games.

Notre Dame

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    A win at Notre Dame any time, any year, any decade is a note worthy accomplishment. The history, the pageantry, the tradition, the press, media hype and of course, the exposure. There are not many athletes who do not know about Notre Dame, certainly none that play football or who want to play college football. 

    Notre Dame is the pinnacle of success and fame. To go to Notre Dame and play in that stadium is in itself an honor and one of the great thrills for any athlete. There are few venues as inspiring and overwhelming. The Big-10 has Michigan, Penn State, Ohio State and even Wisconsin. But the nation has Notre Dame. 

    There are no movies about Camp Randall Stadium or its coach at Wisconsin, let alone bio-pics about their players played by a future president of the United States. Notre Dame has several.

    The reasons are long as to the impact of playing at Notre Dame, and to just show up and play there will have an impact, win or lose, on recruiting and credibility. It is a great honor to have the contract BYU has for six games, and potentially more. 

    Now, with that all said, what needs to be accomplished is not just showing up, but beating them. Notre Dame is creeping into some early polls, a place Graham Watson decries when talking about Notre Dame troubles at the undecided quarterback position, and a star end Aaron Lynch leaving for South Florida.

    Still, the Irish are a threat with tight end Tyler Eifert and RB Cierre Wood who made the Doak Walker watch list along with BYU RB Michael Alisa.

    If BYU can pressure the new quarterback and take away these two threats, they just might pull off a “New Holy War” miracle of its own. College Football Live have the Irish ranked at #24. If BYU can stifle the Irish it will certainly earn the respect Coach Mendenhall is seeking, no matter the record at the end of the year for Notre Dame.

    BYU’s offense is blessed to return a good group, while the Irish lost five of its top seven tacklers. The downside of that statistic is that BYU will be playing the Irish late in the season and by then the replacements should be fully entrenched and seasoned. 

    BYU will be on national TV featuring its presence as well as talent. If Riley Nelson is healthy he may present a problem to the Irish if the O-line can help and stem the pressure. If Riley has a good day, and the BYU O-line can hold up, BYU might be able to come away with a win.

    The impact will be felt in every living room of every young man BYU is recruiting, and every office of every university BYU is seeking home-and-home games with. This is the key game of the year for BYU, and it is just that big that all eyes will be on it, and how well BYU plays.

Utah

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    If BYU is to be a true independent and slog through collegiate athletics in football alone then they need to beat not only other independents but teams that bring with them the credibility and prestige of being an independent.  

    Utah, to be successful in the long run, needed to get out of the MWC and get into a real conference where the money is big enough to offset the decreasing revenues in state coffers. Utah needed the Pac-12 and will thrive because they made the leap.

    I hope they go 11-1 and meet Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

    There are two reasons for independence. Number one is, you don’t need a conference to be successful. The second is, you can’t get into a conference because no one wants you. That is the case with Idaho and New Mexico State right now. It may well be the fate that the WAC has to drop down and become an FBS conference and take some of the Big Sky members away from them to survive.

    BYU is not in that situation. They have teams that want to play them, and they don’t need to divide their revenues with a conference. BYU first emerged in the collegiate football world with a Top 20 rankings finish in 1977.

    Since then BYU has flirted with being one of the top finishing programs in the country, ending up in the final Top 25 poll 18 times from 1977 to 2011. Utah in the same period has been ranked at the end of the season only six times, and Notre Dame 16 according to www.collegefootballpoll.com.

    For BYU they need to prove they don’t need a conference to be successful in the same way Notre Dame has been. One of the keys is finishing every year, or most every year, in the Top 25 at the end of the season.  

    Another is to play quality games during the season against opponents who are big enough and famous enough to get the school the exposure needed. Notre Dame does that, Utah does not necessarily do that, Georgia Tech does. Utah however brings other things to the table that BYU must overcome.

    For BYU to keep a hold of this next step of “being like Notre Dame” they need to beat Notre Dame, but they also then need to follow it up by beating the emerging teams in top conferences like Utah. 

    Utah also represents “past business” that needs to take care of. If you can’t overcome Utah, how do you plan to take on Alabama, or Michigan, or Wisconsin? You have to take care of business in your back yard before you go out hunting for the bears in the cold cruel world. 

    If BYU beats Notre Dame and then loses to Utah, it takes away from Notre Dame and its importance. Notre Dame wants BYU to go 11-1,  not 9-3 or 8-4. If BYU were to beat Notre Dame, and then lose every game thereafter it would not make the Irish look like much beating BYU. If however BYU goes undefeated and the Irish end up seven and five, then the win against the Irish goes down as a quality win.

    If they lose to Utah they will fall back into the realm of “don’t they need a conference?” and the second guessers will start pandering. Some may even opine “we need Utah, we aren’t as good as they are.” Some may even look back and envy the MWC. There is no going back, or looking back. 

    BYU needs to put Utah away, no matter how. By a big score, little score, in overtime, on a fumble, an interception, the clock runs out, the band runs across the field and knocks down a Ute sprinting toward the end zone with zero time left on the clock. It doesn’t matter.

    BYU needs to get the monkey off its back and put two quality wins together, one a new rival, one an old rival. The first is the most storied program in the land, the second a member of one of the most storied conferences in the land. 

    Wins at both says BYU can make it in independence today, as well as in the future.

Boise State

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    If BYU were to give up one of the four games it is Boise State it needs to lose to. Boise State will be a natural rival for the future as Utah abandons the rivalry and seeks its own growth by challenging USC and UCLA and renewing rivalries with Arizona, Arizona State and Colorado. 

    Boise State needs a close rivalry that is economically feasible each year to fill its stands with a team that “travels well.” BYU is that natural rival that will travel well year in and year out. More than that, BYU is a rival that Boise State can economically travel to and with the growing LDS population in Idaho that rivalry will be, or should be, a friendly neighbor with great intensity. 

    Notre Dame is too important to let get away. Utah, for different reasons is also too important to let get away. Boise State, for different reasons should not get away, but if you are going to lose one, then let it be this one.

Georgia Tech

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    Mark Schlabach in evaluating LSU in his article “LSU faces smooth road to title game” originally published: May 18, 2012, on ESPN.com ranked Georgia Tech Number 25.

    If this is not just wishful thinking then BYU will be facing a quality ranked opponent of a Top 25 team for a second time in the year. The big southern market should get national attention. The Georgia Tech game comes after the Utah, Boise State and Notre Dame games. 

    Georgia Tech is the last of the hard games BYU will play and if BYU has won the previous three critical games, along with the middle of the pack games, they could be ranked in the Top 15. The remaining schedule will do nothing to enhance their rankings by wins over inferior teams.

    If Georgia Tech has taken care of business they could be 6-1 or 5-2 having lost only to 16th ranked Clemson  and 23rd ranked Virginia Tech (in the same poll). This could be another marquee game where BYU comes in ranked facing a ranked opponent on national or regional TV and is able to establish a sound footing for recruiting in a major section of the country for football players.

    It also could be a game that could propel BYU into the Top 10 if Georgia Tech is having a good enough year. If BYU can create a a wide enough spread in the score, they could get the kind of recognition they are seeking. Michael Alisa will need two rushing TDs, Ross Apo will need at least one, perhaps two, receiving TDs, and Riley Nelson will need to scramble for only 25 yards, with no sacks.

    A loss at Georgia Tech opens the door to “how good is BYU really” and no matter how badly BYU beats its remaining three opponents, they will not recover this year.

    The Georgia Tech game is in essence the conference championship game for BYU. The remaining three games are the workouts for the back-up quarterbacks to ascend to a starting job next year and the primer game for the Poinsettia Bowl. 

    If BYU beats Georgia Tech, and has won the previous three other big games, BYU will not be invited to the BCS, even if unbeaten. But it will be invited to a bowl with a higher payout and more prestige than the Poinsettia Bowl. The money of that bowl game could contribute substantially economically for the athletic department this year. 

    Beating Georgia Teach, along with the others, is a payday that BYU needs to maintain independence and go forward competing for recruits against teams like Wisconsin, Utah, USC, UCLA, Washington, Texas and others.

    These four games will be as critical to BYU as much as BYU beating number 3 Oklahoma in 2009, number one Miami in 1990, or SMU in the Holiday Bowl in 1980.

     

    These games are as big as each of those, and they are all in this year.