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Ranking BYU Football’s 2020 Opponents From Easiest To Hardest

Photo Courtesy of BYU Photo/Jaren Wilkey

PROVO, Utahย – It feels like a line that is pulled out every year, but the 2020 BYU football schedule might be one of the toughest in the program’s history.

BYU’s 10th schedule as an FBS Independent features six Power 5 programs, tied for the most Power 5/BCS teams the program has ever had in a given year (2013). Plus the likes of UMass, Liberty, and New Mexico State are nowhere to be found on this schedule. So the automatic wins that usually fill the November slate to ease the Cougars into bowl eligibility make this as challenging of a schedule as BYU will have ever faced.

From easiest (No. 12) to hardest (No. 1), here are the Cougar Tracks rankings for BYU’s 2020 opponents this fall. (Assuming the season will be played on time and in its entirety.)

12. North Alabama

November 21st in Provo

North Alabama’s appearance on the schedule marks the 14th season all-time that BYU has had an FCS (Football Championship Subdivision) team. Nobody wants the FCS games except the FCS team who cashes in the big payday. But that’s part of life as an Independent program not named Notre Dame.

The Lions were 4-7 last year. Barring a historically bad offense –I’m looking at you 2017– BYU will cruise to an easy win in this game like they always do against FCS teams.

11. Northern Illinois

October 24th at Bridgeview, Illinois

The guilty weeknight pleasure of college football degenerates everywhere, #MACtion, hasn’t been kind to BYU as of late. The past two seasons have seen BYU lose a game to a school from the MAC. One of those losses took place in Provo against this Northern Illinois program by a score of 7-6 in 2018.

The Huskies are in rebuild mode under head coach Thomas Hammock who enters his second season. After a 5-7 debut campaign, Hammock’s 2020 squad looked to be led by a pair of talented seniors along the defensive line in Jack Heflin and Matt Lorbeck. But both transferred to Iowa and will play for the Hawkeyes this fall as grad transfers.

10. Utah State

October 2nd in Provo (Friday)

Two years ago, Utah State had an argument as the state of Utah’s best football team after posting an 11-2 record. Fast forward to now Gary Andersen’s program prepares for life without Jordan Love at quarterback after an underwhelming 7-6 record last season.

Henrry Colombi looks to be the starting quarterback to fill the shoes left by Love. He will be tested by the time the Aggies face BYU as two of their first three games are against Power 5 opponents in Washington State and Washington.

Both programs know the personnel really well as they cross paths a lot on the recruiting trail, so this should be another good battle for the Old Wagon Wheel. But BYU has an opportunity to reassert dominance in the rivalry, something that had evaded them for a few years.

9. San Diego State

November 14th in Provo

With Brady Hoke back on the sidelines as the head coach of San Diego State, flashbacks to BYU’s final years of the Mountain West instantly creep into my mind. That’s a distant memory to this crop of BYU football players. What’s fresh on their mind will likely be a case of revenge.

Last year, BYU closed out the regular season with a disappointing loss to the Aztecs on Montezuma Mesa by a score of 13-3.

BYU offensive coaches last year praised how talented SDSU’s defense was comparing them to the likes of Washington’s defensive front. SDSU’s defense expects to be nasty again with a trio of defensive linemen returning to form one of the best defensive fronts out west.

8. Michigan State

September 12th in Provo

The last time BYU faced Michigan State was in 2016. Leading up to the start of that season, the Spartans were viewed as a Top-10 program fresh off their appearance in the College Football Playoff. Now Sparty prepares for a 2020 season where everything is close to being new amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mel Tucker steps in for Mark Dantonio, who departs East Lansing as the Spartans winningest coach of all-time. MSU ponied up for $5.5 million per year to pull Tucker away from Colorado and as we gear up for the month of July, Tucker has yet to conduct a practice with his team.

No clear-cut starter at quarterback leads many to believe that the Spartans will hang their hat on the defensive side of the ball as Tucker brings back Scottie Hazelton as defensive coordinator.

7. Houston

October 16th in Provo (Friday)

The battle of the Cougars returns to BYU’s schedule for the first time since 2014. Last year, Houston finished 4-8 in Dana Holgorsen’s first year as head coach. After starting the season 1-3, Holgorsen took an unconventional approach by giving upperclassmen the opportunity to redshirt, utilizing the NCAA’s four-game redshirt rule.

That could pay off this year and lead to a quick turnaround as the Coogs return 16 starters including quarterback Clayton Tune who stepped in after D’Eriq King decided to redshirt and transferred to Miami this off-season.

By season’s end, Houston could end up being one of the better teams BYU faces in 2020. But for now, we will keep them near the middle of the pack.

6. Stanford

November 28th at Stanford

Last year, Stanford took a surprising step back going 4-8 on the season. The Cardinal faced 11 Power 5 programs a season ago, so how much of the dip was a byproduct of the difficult schedule?

We’ll find out this season as Davis Mills steps in as the clear-cut starter at quarterback now that K.J. Costello has transferred to Mississippi State. Mills has the potential to be the best QB the Cardinal have had since Kevin Hogan.

A lot of local presence from the state of Utah is dotted on the Cardinal roster headlined by Timpview’s Gabe Reid who returns as a starting outside linebacker. Former Brighton standout Simi Fehoko appears ready for a breakout year in his sophomore season and Bountiful’s Houston Heimuli is Stanford’s starting fullback.

5. Missouri

October 10th in Provo

After an underwhelming 6-6 season that left the Tigers out of the postseason due to a bowl ban, Missouri parted ways with Barry Odom and hired Appalachian State’s Eliah Drinkwitz as their new head coach.

Drinkwitz led App State to a 13-1 record last season and they had a high-flying spread offense. TCU transfer Shawn Robinson appears to be the favorite to start at QB to lead Drinkwitz’s offensive attack.

Missouri’s defense will be one of the best BYU faces this year, as was the case the last time these two teams met in 2015 in Kansas City. Linebacker Nick Bolton and defensive tackle Kobie Whiteside are some of the best the SEC has this fall on defense.

4. Utah

September 3rd in Salt Lake City (Thursday)

Utah finished last season with an 11-3 record behind a group of seniors that had the Utes knocking on the door of the College Football Playoff. Now new faces will have to emerge for the Utes, particularly on the defensive side of the ball as only two starters return.

Adding Maxs Tupai back to the program was a big boost as he projects to be a starting defensive end along with former BYU signee Mika Tafua who’s become an All-Pac-12 player for the Utes.

The biggest questions are at quarterback and in the secondary. True freshman Clark Phillips III appears ready to take on the spot Jaylon Johnson leaves behind at cornerback, but how does the rest of the secondary personnel shake out? At quarterback, South Carolina grad transfer Jake Bentley battles former Texas Longhorn Cam Rising for the starting role.

3. Arizona State

September 19th in Tempe

The Herm Edwards era has gone better than anyone expected in Tempe and now the Sun Devils are ready to potentially win the Pac-12 South.

Sophomore quarterback Jayden Daniels is one of the best quarterbacks in college football this year after a freshman season where he led ASU to an upset win over Pac-12 Champ Oregon last November.

New coordinators are in the mix down in desert as Zak Hill comes from Boise State to be ASU’s new OC. Then former Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis teams up with former New York Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce as Co-Defensive Coordinators.

The Sun Devils might be the fastest team BYU faces in 2020. With the way Edwards and his staff are recruiting in California, bright days are ahead for the Sun Devils and it’s not just because of the year-round sunshine.

2. Boise State

November 6th in Boise (Friday)

BYU handed Boise State their lone regular-season loss last year. The upset win by the Cougars prevented Boise State from a New Year’s Six bowl game appearance as the Group of 5 representative.

Winning in Provo against Boise State is one thing, but winning on the blue turf is a much more difficult challenge. BYU is winless all-time against the Broncos in Boise.

Last year, BYU didn’t face Boise quarterback Hank Bachmeier who was out with an injury. Bachmeier enters his sophomore season after throwing for 1,879 yards in his true freshman campaign.

There are question marks surrounding Boise’s trenches after losing Mountain West Conference sack leader Curtis Weaver, but the Broncos are still in a position to potentially navigate their schedule undefeated and be in position for a New Year’s Six bowl game.

1. Minnesota

September 26th in Minneapolis

When the home-and-home series with Minnesota, nobody envisioned the Gophers would be one of the best teams BYU faces in a given year. But PJ Fleck rowed his boat from Kalamazoo, Michigan to Minneapolis and has turned Minnesota football into one of the best teams in the Big Ten West.

After an 11-win season in 2019, the most wins a Gopher squad has produced since 1904, Minnesota looks to reload with junior quarterback Tanner Morgan. Morgan is a name who could potentially rise up 2021 NFL Draft boards with a big season this fall.

Morgan’s top target to throw to is junior wide receiver Rashod Bateman. Bateman was a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award last year and had an eye-popping 20.3 yards per catch which led to a lot of “Ski-U-Mah” chants from Gopher fans.

The defense loses Antoine Winfield Jr., the heart and soul from last year’s team, but five starters return highlighted by senior Coney Durr.

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12-3 pm) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter:ย @Mitch_Harper.

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