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What Might BYU’s Football Schedule Look Like If Leagues Go To Conference-Only Setup?

PROVO, Utah – This week has been one of the toughest for college sports since it all shut down back in March. The Ivy League punted on the football season until further notice. Stanford announced it was cutting 11 athletic teams and Ohio State had to shutdown voluntary workouts due to a COVID-19 outbreak on campus.

Then on top of that, reports started to surface that the Big Ten and Pac-12 are considering a Conference-Only schedule.  Thus getting rid of non-conference games in 2020. That was actually decent news because some football is better than no football.

But for BYU, an FBS Independent, that has nearly half of its 2020 football schedule against teams in the Pac-12 and Big Ten, that might be as bad as shutting the whole thing down.

Time is ticking. Decisions are going to be made as soon as this week for Power 5 conferences with school presidents hopping on Zoom calls around the country.

So it got me thinking what would BYU Football’s schedule look like in 2020 amid a landscape of conference-only schedules?

Possibility No. 1: Find Power 5 replacements for canceled games against Pac-12 and Big Ten teams

We have yet to hear any word on what the SEC, ACC, Big 12, and Notre Dame are going to potentially do this fall. If those leagues move forward with playing a full 12-game schedule that includes non-conference games they will need to fill the gaps left by Pac-12 and Big Ten teams as well.

As an Independent, BYU cherishes the opportunities to face Power 5 opponents. So the first thought would be to replace lost games against P5’s with other P5’s who suddenly are in need of games.

Here is the list of SEC, ACC, Big 12 teams, and Notre Dame that would be impacted by Big Ten and the Pac-12 going to a Conference-Only format and the dates they would need games. This scenario would work for BYU assuming Group of 5 conferences continue to try and make a full 12-game football schedule work.

Sept. 5th: TCU, Oklahoma State, Alabama

Sept. 12th: Iowa State, Virginia Tech, Syracuse

Sept. 19th: West Virginia, Texas Tech, Texas A&M

Sept. 26th: Miami, Boston College

Oct. 3rd, Oct. 10th & Nov. 28th: Notre Dame

Notre Dame is interesting because the Irish owe BYU a game still from the three-game series that was announced a decade ago. But has no date coming in the near future. Lining up the Irish on November 28th would be ideal. But does travel over two time zones work amid a Pandemic? That’s an issue with all of the programs on the above list. Extensive travel would take place to pull off games against these teams.

Possibility No. 2: BYU falls under the “Plus-One” exception

The Pac-12 Hotline’s Jon Wilner reported this week that anonymous sources have been telling him multiple Power 5 leagues are considering a “Nine-Plus-One schedule.” Nine conference games plus a game against a team from the FCS or Group of 5 ranks. Notre Dame’s Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick also discussed the “Plus-One” as a possibility in a media availability back in May.

BYU is not in the Power 5 but is viewed as a Power 5 opponent by the SEC, ACC, and Big Ten. The Pac-12 has never classified BYU as a Power 5 opponent in regards to non-conference scheduling. If this “Plus-One” situation happens, it could work nicely for BYU.

Would Utah opt for a rivalry game against BYU or a matchup with FCS Montana State? I think the answer is easy there. But Utah would have to make that decision. Stanford’s non-conference features William & Mary, Notre Dame, and BYU. The Irish would probably get a Plus-One exception because they are Notre Dame, but would the Cardinal rather have a home game against BYU or William & Mary?

Getting the “Plus-One” exception would be huge for the BYU football schedule and trying to navigate these unprecedented times.

Possibility No. 3: Form a partnership with the MWC for one year

That sentence probably makes fans of both BYU and schools in the MWC cringe. But amid a Pandemic, anything is on the table, right? The move for conference-only schedules has to be based around limiting travel outside regional footprints. If not, why are leagues considering this conference-only stuff?

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So to adhere to the regional travel, the MWC brings in BYU for a year giving each team the opportunity to play a full 12-game schedule. BYU already has three games scheduled against teams in the MWC for the 2020 season in Boise State, Utah State, and San Diego State.

The one hiccup to this hypothetical scenario could possibly be TV. Where have I heard that before? The MWC this fall begins a six-year agreement with Fox Sports. BYU is set to begin a new TV deal with ESPN. The Cougars would never divert from College Football’s top network in ESPN. College sports have already become made-for-TV spectacles in recent years but they will hold even greater significance on the tube if fans are not allowed to attend. So it’s something to consider.

But logistically, BYU and the MWC for a year would make a lot of sense.

For those wondering, the American Athletic Conference (AAC) televises its games on ESPN networks.

Possibility No. 4: All Power 5 and Group of 5 leagues go with Conference-Only schedules leaving Independents to play each other

It’s the scenario no BYU fan wants to hear. But again, during unprecedented times like this, nobody can rule it out. Notre Dame is going to have its six games at least with the ACC. That’s going to be played no matter what. So the thought of Notre Dame being left with nothing on their schedule is unlikely. For BYU and other Independents, it’s more plausible because they don’t have a built-in scheduling agreement with another conference.

Along with BYU and Notre Dame, there are five additional FBS Independent programs. Back in April, CBS’ Dennis Dodd reported that Independent programs had conversations about facing off against one another in a “conference-only scenario.” Logistically, none of the teams in the Independent ranks are close to BYU except New Mexico State. Everyone else is out on the east coast which includes Army West Point, Liberty, UMass, and newest Independent UConn joining the mix.

The thought of two games against New Mexico State doesn’t get anyone excited but it’s better than nothing. If this Independent schedule scenario happened, games against regional FCS programs would have to also be considered to fill the gaps in BYU’s schedule. Dixie State, Southern Utah, Idaho State, and Weber State would make a lot of sense and those teams would probably be willing to come to Provo for a quality game even if it’s a cheaper price tag than previous years.

Possibility No. 5: The 2020 BYU Football Schedule plays out as scheduled

The scenario we all want to see is all 12 of BYU’s originally scheduled games on the 2020 schedule to be played. But that optimistic outlook for that to happen is feeling less likely with each passing day. But we will keep hope alive until we are told otherwise.

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: @Mitch_Harper.

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