Notre Dame is the holy grail. The recent agreement with the Atlantic Coast Conference is further evidence that they swing the biggest bat in college football. Brigham Young University is the little brother, seeking to build its own brand and establish a presence that amplifies the needed exposure not only for the University, but for the mission of the Latter-day Saints church.
To cut to the chase, those three things are:
1. Increase exposure
2. Win games
3. Play a higher brand of team
The mission of the church focuses on three things.
1. An eye to eternal existence with God and preparation to live in heaven
2. Family unity that crosses generations
3. Create exposure that allows the church to expand its message of faith in Christ
How can those two lists converge by using the vehicle of football? Let’s examine what needs to be done.
The key word is exposure. Wisconsin, Nebraska, Notre Dame and Texas all provide exposure. Losing to Utah does not provide the kind of exposure BYU wants, and needs.
Without exposure, teams will not want to play BYU. BYU has to be a brand that every team wants to be associated with. Notre Dame can open its phone lines and have any Football Bowl Subdivision or Football Championsip Subdivision team in the nation willing to make a deal to play them.
Tradition, history and the exposure Notre Dame brings to any game is enviable for any team and all want to have that kind of association. BYU needs to excel to the point that they stand at least as the second choice in that line. Right now, there are many other teams standing in that line ahead of BYU.
Another team standing close to Notre Dame is Alabama. While constrained by its association with the Southeastern Conference, Alabama is close to Notre Dame. Other teams that stand in that line of exposure excellence are Texas, USC, Michigan, Ohio State, Oregon and Oklahoma. The list doesn't stop there, it is a long one and BYU's place in that line is way down that list.
Ultimately, BYU needs to stand side by side with Notre Dame, and one day, stand in first place and exceed Notre Dame’s ability to attract quality opponents. Otherwise, BYU will be just one more team from the mountain west seeking to pay for its football program. Not the team that is gaining the exposure wanted to increase the visibility and favorable impression of the LDS church.
To get the kind of exposure that the teams I have mentioned have, BYU needs to do the things they have done, win games. Some reading this will say: “duh, who doesn’t know that?" Lavell Edwards knew the magic formula for winning games.
To win games he had to play a different kind of football. He didn’t have the 5-star, 4-star or even 3-star athletes the other teams had. BYU is in a similar situation today, though doing marginally better. Instead he devised, along with many assistant coaches, game plans and an offense that changed collegiate football and some say aided in the development of the west coach offense.
In the game in Salt Lake City on Saturday—when BYU played Utah—every BYU fan wondered what happened to that offense. Where was the playbook Lavell developed?
What Lavell Edwards knew and we all know, is that to attract the best players you had to win games with the players you have. Exposure comes incrementally. You win a game, get ranked, the press talks about you, and players want to play for a team that is consistently ranked and consistently in the news.
If BYU had won the game with Utah on Saturday it could be ranked as high as 21st or 22nd. The goal of playing Notre Dame with both teams being ranked would have been on target. With that occurring, the ESPN television show College Gameday would certainly be on hand and there would be talk of a "new Holy War", the old one with Utah having faded into history.
That kind of television exposure is exactly what BYU needs to have. When College Gameday features your school and team it reaches every high school football player's living room, iPad, iPhone and other electronic media. It is the ultimate in the kind of exposure BYU wants, and needs, to be successful.
To get that kind of exposure, BYU needed to win the game with Utah.
BYU v. Oklahoma, Texas Stadium, 2009
Teams want to play good teams. The Oklahoma Sooners played BYU in the Texas Stadium in 2009. All three elements of what I am talking about came together. A quality team, great exposure and BYU won.
That game is the blueprint for what BYU needs to do.
I don’t mean to be insulting, but how many SEC, Big Ten, Big 12 or Big East teams have called up Utah State, Idaho or Fresno State and begged them to come play them? Now put the shoe on the other foot. How many of the teams in those conferences have gotten a call and been begged for a home-and-home game from other FCS and FBS teams?
Teams want to play good teams in order to build their exposure, brand and aid in recruiting. It is a vicious cycle: To win you need the best players, to get the best players you have to win. And there is one more element to that equation. You have to win against quality teams. Beating Weber State was nice, but ho-hum, who cares. BYU has six ho-hum games on its schedule this year. A ho-hum game is a game against a team that isn't in one of the big five conferences.
Notre Dame recognized that and that is why they have aligned in football with the ACC for a guaranteed five games a year. Beating a team in any of the Automatic Qualifying conferences, even Minnesota, Villanova or Ol' Miss at least puts you in the same league as the teams that also play them every year.
For BYU to be successful, it needs a schedule like the one next year every year. To get that, you need the kind of exposure those teams want. Here is another catch-22. To get the big five conferences to play in your house, you need to beat high quality teams so ESPN will carry your game on TV, which gives you exposure, which makes players want to play for you, which… are you getting it?
Henry Russell “Red” Sanders the UCLA football coach told a group:
"Men, I'll be honest. Winning isn't everything," then following a long pause, "Men, it's the only thing!" The year was 1950.
When asked about the UCLA-USC rivalry he said, "it's not a matter of life and death, it's more important than that!"
It’s time for BYU to get that kind of perspective. Utah obviously has it, winning eight of the last 11 games it has played. BYU needs to realize that exposure comes from winning, and the better teams will beat a path to their door if they are winning. The performance Saturday in Salt Lake was a manifest lack of understanding of those facts.
The players were not prepared with the right offense. The right players were not on the field, and the right plays were not called. That is what beat BYU—not the interceptions, fumbles and penalties.
What beat BYU was a lack of spirit that said, “beating Utah is not a matter of life or death, it is more important than that,” combined with the spirit of Red Sanders, let us remember his words:
“Men, I'll be honest. Winning isn't everything, men, it's the only thing!"
Here is that Russell Sanders quote.