BYU Cougars: The Five Most Critical "Other" Games This Week

Brian NelsonCorrespondent ISeptember 11, 2009

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 05:  Quarterback Max Hall #15 of the Brigham Young Cougars drops back to pass against the Oklahoma Sooners at Cowboys Stadium on September 5, 2009 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

The BCS is a crazy animal.

It has completely convoluted fan, media and coaching behavior with its intricate web of relationships, perceptions and dependencies.

Coaches run up scores to impress pollsters.

Refs are accused of altering games to secure at-large BCS berths.

Coaches fighting to hide their ballots from the public.

But the strangest of them all is the love-fest it now creates between once-bitter rivals.

Decades of rancor and animosity vanished.

Could you imagine Palestinians cheering for the Israeli soccer team?

Brown's fans hoisting Roethlisberger on their shoulders?

Boston fans popping champagne after a Yankees playoff win?

The list could go on, but the irony of the hated BCS is that it brings enemies together.

Cougars celebrating after a Utah win in the Sugar Bowl. Utes high fiving after Oklahoma succumbs to BYU.


This crazy BCS system and its over-emphasis on preseason pole positions, conference affiliation, strength of schedule, who have you played, who have they played, margin of victory, etc., can be overhwhelming.

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And confusing.

Can't it ever just be about who is the best team?

No, for whatever reason it can't. So it's all a dog and pony show to the pollsters and the computers who decide the outcomes.

As a result, everyone you play, or are going to play, becomes part of your grooming display. They become your best friends.

It has completely altered rooting behavior.

Engendering a new kind of spectatorship that favors the rational over the emotional.

Now fans, coaches, players have a methodical preference for who they cheer for:

  1. Favorite team
  2. Conference member
  3. Non-conference opponent (past and future)
  4. Whoever's playing the guys ranked in front of us

It's strange behavior. It's why you see LSU and Auburn fans at the Alabama Sugar Bowl.

But now we know why it's so easy to get teams to shake hands after the game. They're now BFF's!

I wouldn't be surprised if coaches offered tips on future opponents, game plans, etc.

Could you picture Bronco Mendenhall to Stoops after the game:

"Bob, great game. Give my best to Sam. We sure wish him a speedy recovery. By the way, I'd run a cover-two mixed in with some corner blitzes on Colt McCoy, he seems to favor the..."

It's why the Boise State Bronco's probably wish they hadn't taunted LeGarrette Blount. Because their best opponent just lost their best player, for the year.

And the Bronco's really, really need Oregon to make some noise in the Pac-10.

It's even more critical for the non-BCS. Who need every win to count. Every opponent to look their sharpest.

That said, the Cougars began a remarkable quest last week in their surprising upset over Oklahoma.

Despite the BCSPN spin and over-emphasis on Bradford's injury, BYU looked terrific.

They forced the then-Bradford-led Sooner offense to three consecutive three-and-outs.

They slowed two of the best backs in the country in DeMarco Murray and Chris Brown.

Kariya looked solid chewing up tough yardage up the middle. Hall looked poised and in control. Pitta was clutch. 

In short, the Cougars were balanced. On both sides of the ball. Running and throwing. Coaching and executing.

With a few major exceptions on special teams, the Cougars looked like an elite college team.

And they got noticed.

This week's headlines and side stories have paid plenty of praise to the Cougars, the rising MWC and the prospects of a National Title game invite.

But don't go printing off any shirts yet.

The Cougars will need a lot of help. Much of which will be out of their control and off their own field of play.

They need the Sooners, Seminoles, Frogs and Utes to be dominant, win big games and most of all, to stay ranked.

On that note, let's track the top five games each week, away from the Cougar field of play, that figure to have the greatest impact on the Y's fate.

1. Air Force at Minnesota

The Falcons looked almost too good last week as they disposed of Nicholls State 72-0.

While most Mountain West fans will just brush that off as an easy win over a 1-AA opponent, they shouldn't be too vocal, folks from Iowa or the ACC might get offended.

Minnesota looked very sound last week coming off an overtime victory at Syracuse.

Hard to tell whether Syracuse is that improved with Paulus running point or if the Gophers are just as bad.

Either way, this is a big game for the MWC. With the triumvirate of Utah, TCU and BYU looking as good as any in the country, the MWC needs solid wins over BCS from the mid-tier.

Just like Colorado State over Colorado last week.

It's the mid-tier that several pollsters including Jeff Sagarin, place particular emphasis on while evaluating the strength of a conference.

Another mid-tier win for the MWC over a mid-tier BCS opponent would send a strong message. Especially in a year where every MWC vs. BCS performance will be magnified.

Minnesota is a great match-up. First, the Gophers are beatable.

Air Force's well-executed triple option is so difficult to stop. Especially the first time you see it.

Second, Minnesota is good. Their throwback, pro-style offense is sure to do some damage in the Big Ten throughout the season.

2. Idaho State at Oklahoma/Jacksonville State at Florida State 

These off-the-field games for the Cougars.

Not because of their win/loss component. We all have a good idea how that will turn out.

But it gives BYU's best out-of-conference opponents a chance to regroup from week one losses and log in easy, convincing victories

This is particularly true for Oklahoma. The Sooners need to show success with Freshman Landry Jones under center. 

While many Cougar fans may have been disappointed in Miami's win over Florida State Monday night, there's still opportunity for redemption.

Oklahoma plays Miami Oct. 3 and has a chance now to beat a well-respected, ranked ACC team.

And if Florida State plays well in conference play, they could still earn a rematch against the Hurricanes in the ACC championship game.

3. USC at Ohio State

BYU doesn't have a dog in this race. Not directly.

What's important is that these two play each other. Someone has to lose. And inherently, BYU will take one step closer to the top five.

This is precious real estate. Especially at this time in the season and especially for the Cougars. Last year, the Cougars peaked out at number seven.

Even when they won, seven seemed to be their glass ceiling.

The win over Oklahoma and a win over Florida State (if BYU pulls it off) should be strong enough to  breakthrough the glass.

BYU will need both to play well though.

4. Oregon State at UNLV

While this game may draw several parallels to last year's upset by UNLV over Arizona State, I'm not so optimistic this year.

Last year's upset said as much about the Sun Devils as it did for the Rebels.

The Beavers are for real. I believe them to be the most underrated team in the country.

Once Coach Riley handed the offense over to Quizz Rodgers, Oregon State went on to win seven straight Pac-10 games.

Including the famed upset over USC.

This is team is explosive so long as Quizz is healthy and in the backfield.

Even though this game will be played in Vegas, and UNLV is a much improved this year, an upset seems out of reach.

Although the impact it could have, especially with the Pac-10 seemingly wide open this year at the top, would be tremendous.

5. Tulsa at New Mexico

This is the classic win-win game for the Cougars.

A New Mexico win would be yet another great conference win over a top non-conference opponent.

A Tulsa win, and the Golden Hurricane would be 2-0, with two good road wins, heading into next week's match-up at Oklahoma.

A chance for the Cougars BFF Oklahoma to garner an impressive win.

Honorable Mention: Texas at Wyoming, TCU at Virginia and Utah at San Jose State.

While I don't expect any big upsets in any of these games, any surprising outcome could have a major impact on the Cougs.

TCU playing in Charlottesville should be on the list but after the Cavaliers lost to William & Mary, it's no longer significant.

Except that it is MWC vs. ACC.This win can be big if BYU can go on to beat Florida State and TCU can go on to beat Clemson (who looked great last night).

A 3-0 record against the ACC would be a huge statement for the MWC.