3-Year Look at BYU Football Schedule
2012 was an immense disappointment for BYU football fans.
It was supposed to be the year for senior Riley Nelson, and the school had a schedule as good as any outside the Top 10 teams in the country. The biggest disappointment this year was, of course, the loss to Utah. At least the 5-7 Utes didn't just run away with the game by 40 points, and BYU made it look respectable by the final score.
Following Utah, the losses at Boise State and San Jose State really stung a team that could have won both of those games. The loss to Oregon State was the giveaway. The game showed that BYU just wasn't in it. It was the game that, had BYU been coached to its potential, would have been the lone loss on a stellar year proving to football fans everywhere BYU deserves the respect its fans think it does.
The loss to Notre Dame is understandable as it is the No. 1 team in the country and is going to play for the national championship. Let it be clearly said that, had BYU coaching been just 30 yards more efficient and that one interception was done by an ailing QB, Notre Dame would not be playing for the national championship.
The pain and suffering of an underperforming BYU for 2012 is almost over. With Lark at the helm, BYU can be expected to beat San Diego State in the Poinsettia Bowl. With Nelson at the helm, BYU will play an inspired defensive game due to the run defense scheme Bronco employs, and will lose in a close one.
2012 is the year that was. It is a shame James Lark will not be there for the next three years to prove he deserved to be a starter instead of Riley Nelson. The man who will get his opportunity for the next three years will be Taysom Hill. He will face the best competition BYU has ever played against.
Let's look ahead at the next three years.
2013: The Year That Could Decide Bronco's Coaching Fate
Goal #1 Add More Games
BYU currently has an 11-game schedule. The first goal for 2013 is that BYU needs to add two more games. Playing Hawaii allows BYU a 13-game schedule and they should definitely take advantage of the opportunity to get on ESPN or other network exposure, even if it is BYUtv.
Currently BYU has only five home games and needs at least a sixth. If BYU is looking for "exposure" then it needs to have as many games in as many places against as many teams as it can. That spells a magic number of 13 or, if a winning season, spells 14 games.
Goal #2 Get In Shape
If the first thing BYU needs to do is add two teams to its schedule, the second is to get the team into condition to play those 14 games. The game at San Jose State and New Mexico State showed BYU was flat and out of shape, long a criticism by this author for the last three years of BYU teams.
What BYU Should Not Do
The third thing BYU needs to do is something they should not do. They should not schedule a FCS team. There are enough soft teams like Idaho, New Mexico State and teams in the Sun Belt and C-USA to practice on that an FCS team is unnecessary.
BYU should be able to schedule Idaho and New Mexico State to a 3-1 or even 4-1 home and away agreement. With those two programs suffering they might be able to simply state if they want a game with BYU then they have to come to Cougar Stadium and play.
The advantages of that is self-manifest if the coaches will just use it, i.e., give second-string players the opportunity to get experience and playing time. Had that been done James Lark would have started against Weber State and Taysom Hill against Hawaii. For the following three games against Utah State, Oregon State and Notre Dame BYU would have had options other than an ailing injured inaccurate Riley Nelson.
Depth Critical to Success
2013 will need depth to compete effectively against that schedule. Playing Idaho and New Mexico State early at home would give BYU a seven-game home schedule and two early games to give the offense a chance to mature without a big-time team in their face.
That said, let's look at the schedule.
Balance in Strength of Schedule Should Produce a Winning Season
BYU faces two Big East, two ACC, two MWC, one Big 12, one Pac-12, one Sun Belt, one Big 10 and one independent Notre Dame. Considering the other conferences that schedule is very similar in difficulty to any in the Big 10, Pac-12, ACC and harder than any in the Big East or the remaining conferences. Two more games against ACC- or Big East-level opponents would up the strength of that schedule that could be recognized as national ranking worthy if BYU can just win.
Virginia had a tough 2012 with loses to teams not ACC-calibre. BYU should be able to take advantage of Virginia as Taysom Hill gains his legs. It is a pity James Lark won't be there to start and transition Hill into the game. A redshirt year when Jake Heaps was flirting with BYU might have solved that problem.
But that is yet another coaching management problem that is in the past. Ammon Olsen will have to step in and create the balance needed, or Jason Munns. Munns will be a senior, and yet another great talent will be going to waste potentially.
Texas at 8-3, with Kansas State to go, had a solid year but gave up a lot of points to Ole Miss, Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Baylor. They also scored a lot of points against New Mexico, Ole Miss, Oklahoma State, West Virginia, Baylor and 31 and 33 against Texas Tech and Iowa State, respectively. The bottom line—Texas is vulnerable with a strong BYU defense and a capable offense.
At this time a bye week gives BYU time to prepare for a home game against Utah. Utah was lousy in 2012, having learned the Pac-12 spanks you if you are not prepared to play big-time football. Colorado learned that as well and Coach Embree learned that lesson immediately. The game with Utah in 2012 showed they are vulnerable and with the loss of their star defensive player will be more so when Utah faces BYU in Provo, Utah.
Utah State could well prove to be a harder game to win than Utah. Chuckie Keeton did everything this year we all hoped Riley Nelson would do. At 10-2, with a bowl game to come, Utah State will be feeling its oats when BYU travels to Logan, Utah. A bye week ahead of the game should allow BYU to get ready for the new amended "holy war."
Three Games to Success and Prominence
The following three games against Georgia Tech, at Houston and Boise State should determine if BYU will have another rough year, have a winning season or move to national rankings. Those three games will have BYU proving itself as all three are winnable.
Another bye at this time allows BYU to prepare for Wisconsin. This might be the Oregon State game of 2013. Wisconsin will be ready for BYU, but having gone through the meat of its season by that point with games against Ohio State, Northwestern, Iowa, Arizona State and Purdue, they might just be beat up enough for BYU to steal one.
At this time, don't look for that to happen. The BYU offense is just not ready for Wisconsin yet. Perhaps Jeff Tedford could come in and get the BYU offense ready for 2013, but don't count on him showing up.
Three Wins Come With an Upset
The remaining three games against Middle Tennessee, Notre Dame and Hawaii are all winnable as well. Manti Te'o will be in the NFL sacking quarterbacks, and though favored for a good season again, Notre Dame will have faced a grueling schedule of Michigan, Purdue, Michigan State, Oklahoma, Arizona State, USC, Air Force, Navy and Pittsburgh before BYU comes to town. Look for an upset as Taysom Hill at this point should be into the full offense and mobile. This could be the game that redeems a disappointing season for BYU, or propels them into the top 10.
The game against Hawaii will be ugly and high scoring, but be a good primer to a bowl game.
2014: The Year That Can Determine If BYU Will Maintain Independence
2014, with only 10 games scheduled so far, has a very soft schedule. 2014 has the opportunity for BYU behind Taysom Hill and the emerging talent to go undefeated.
At this point, a visit to Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin will start the season and then the hard games after that, Virginia, Houston and Utah State will be in Provo. Another potential, Hawaii, will also be in Provo. Norm Chow may have been down in 2012, but he won't be down for long and by 2014 he could provide the most entertaining game of the year in Provo.
Southern Road Games
Road games against UCF and Texas will be the hard games. The road game against Middle Tennessee is a great exposure game, but there could have more BYU fans in the stadium than Blue Raider fans. Just a few short years ago Middle Tennessee was giving away tickets and T-shirts to bribe fans to come to the game to meet a 10,000 minimum threshold to maintain FBS status. Things haven't changed dramatically in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
Scheduling Not Complete
The challenge for 2014 will be scheduling three more quality teams to establish the strength of schedule to meet the potential success of 2013. If 2013 turns out to be a fiasco, 2014 will need to be a soft schedule year for the new coach. Bronco will not be able to survive a disastrous 2013 like he had in 2012, and quality teams looking to up its strength of schedule with at-large teams won't consider BYU a boost to their opportunity to get a quality win if BYU continues to hover at 7-5 and 6-6 or even 8-4.
Winning Builds Success
Winning builds any program or is that too obvious to say? BYU needs to be at 11-2, 10-3 and 12-1 for the next two years to gain the respect it needs to maintain independence. If BYU can't recover its dominant winning ways and "air BYU" tradition, BYU may be looking for admission to the MWC, Sun Belt or C-USA.
Don't count on it though. Independence is here to stay and BYU will have to make its way in independence because BYU isn't going to give up BYUtv and the exposure that resource can provide in worldwide outreach. 2014 is the year BYU makes independence work or Mendenhall will be looking for a new job.
2015: The Year BYU Comes of Age
BYU needs five more teams to round out the schedule for 2015. The good news is that BYU will be playing Michigan, Nebraska and Cincinnati in 2015. The reason that is such good news is exposure. The weak link in the present schedule is UNLV.
Teams Being Overlooked
Really? One of the teams that BYU left the MWC in the hopes to avoid, they turn around and schedule? How about Sacramento State? There is no exposure or recruiting in Las Vegas and it certainly is not a great place to travel to. BYU should have scheduled almost anyone other than UNLV.
UNLV isn't much more than a Big Sky team and there are many Big Sky teams that would hand UNLV their hat and a kick in the pants to go along with it. UNLV this year lost to Northern Arizona and in 2011 lost to the Southern Utah Thunderbirds 41-16. They have had three seasons at 2-10 or 2-11. In the last five years they are 16-45. Attendance at Sam Boyd Stadium is consistently low.
UNLV isn't exposure, it is putting your head in the desert sand.
What about Texas State, Troy, Arkansas State and Memphis?
There are many teams looking to fill their schedule. Why isn't BYU chasing them? There is hope. 2015 is far enough away that, with success in 2013 and 2014, BYU will be able to schedule Pac-12 and other worthy opponents from the big five conferences.
As conferences are making the moves toward the status of Big 4, things will change dramatically over the next three years. Perhaps BYU will be invited into the Pac-16 or even Big 12. Both conferences will need the quality of BYU when that expansion happens. Not even Notre Dame will be able to hold out when the "Big 4" conferences make the move to 16 teams.
BYU and Notre Dame Future Linked
The only thing that will allow BYU and Notre Dame to survive in that day is an expanded playoff system to eight teams with at least one of them being an at large bid. That will happen only with intervention by either Senator Hatch or President Obama, or both, as they both join efforts to bring about a more equitable search for a true national champion in NCAA football.
In any scenario, 2015 will be the key make-or-break year for BYU as an independent. Let's hope they are successful enough in 2013 and 2014 that the good teams, and conferences, will want to play BYU as much as they do Notre Dame. BYU has two years to prove they can play with the big boys.