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Way-Too-Early Look At 2021 BYU Football Schedule

USC appears on the BYU football schedule once again in 2021. The two programs met in 2019 where BYU won in Overtime. (BYU Photo/Jaren Wilkey)

PROVO, Utah – After a unique year impacted by COVID-19, the BYU football schedule gets back to what Cougar fans have grown accustomed to during Independence, a lot of Power 5 teams.

The 2021 BYU football schedule features seven teams from power conferences with three making trips to Provo.

Way-Too-Early look at the 2021 BYU football schedule

Within those games against Power 5 teams, BYU will face some familiar faces in former head coach Bronco Mendenhall and former offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes.

Let’s keep our fingers crossed that this slate of games isn’t impacted by COVID-19, because this schedule has a lot of intriguing matchups.

Sept. 2nd (Thurs.) – vs. Arizona (Las Vegas)

Opening a season against Arizona has become a common occurrence in the Kalani Sitake era. This will be the third time under Sitake that BYU has opened a season against the Wildcats. As was the case in 2018, Arizona breaks in a new head coach.

Kevin Sumlin is out. New England Patriots quarterback coach Jedd Fisch is in.

Fisch inherits an Arizona program that finished 2020 with an 0-5 record, and they closed out the abbreviated season with a 70-7 loss to rival Arizona State in the Territorial Cup game.

The Wildcats field zero players on the Pac-12’s All-Conference teams to conclude 2020. This is a big rebuild job for Fisch in Tucson that is going to take time.

If fans are allowed to attend Allegiant Stadium in September, expect a large contingent of BYU fans. BYU has a strong following in Las Vegas and they always come in large numbers for the Cougars.

Sept. 11th – Utah

BYU will look to end their nine-game losing streak against the Utes in their 2021 home opener.

Utah was a young team in 2020 that closed the year on a high note, winning their last three games. The defense was stout as we’ve always grown to expect from Kyle Whittingham’s program putting together the 11th best run defense in college football. There’s excitement with that side of the ball for Utah as star linebacker Devin Lloyd announced he’s coming back in 2021.

Emotions will be high for the Utah football program in 2021 after the tragic passing of Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Ty Jordan, who died one week after toting the rock for 154 yards in a win over Washington State.

Offensively is where the questions will lie for the Utes in 2021. At quarterback, Cam Rising won the job in 2020 but suffered a season-ending injury during his first start against USC. Jake Bentley entered the transfer portal (South Alabama) after a season that showed why Rising won the job originally. The Utes hit the transfer portal to stock up the depth at QB, adding four-year Baylor starter Charlier Brewer and former four-star recruit at Texas Ja’Quinden Jackson. Heralded high school prospect Peter Costelli will also matriculate into the Utes program this year.

The Utes also added Oklahoma transfer, T.J. Pledger, out of the Transfer Portal. Pledger will have the opportunity to compete for the starting running back spot.

Sept. 18th – Arizona State

The last time Arizona State was on the BYU football schedule was back in 1998. This also coincides with the last time the Sun Devils made a trip to Provo. The former WAC rivals were supposed to meet in Tempe in 2020, but that was canceled due to COVID-19. The Sun Devils only played four games in 2020, posting a 2-2 record.

Quarterback Jayden Daniels will be one of the best signal-callers BYU faces in 2021. Herm Edwards has built the Sun Devils into a contender in the Pac-12, but the challenge now is can they break through and be in the same tier as USC and Oregon?

BYU and Arizona State have met 27 times, with the Sun Devils holding a 20-7 on the Cougars.

Sept. 24th (Friday) – USF

One of the head-scratching losses during the Kalani Sitake era came against USF in Tampa two years ago. BYU started Jaren Hall at quarterback in that game. Hall left early due to a concussion then Baylor Romney tried to lead a comeback, but the Cougars couldn’t get it done, giving the Bulls a 27-23 upset victory.

Former Texas head man Charlie Strong coached that USF team. The Bulls fired Strong after the 2019 season and hired former Clemson Co-Offensive Coordinator Jeff Scott. Scott and USF struggled in year one this past fall, going winless against FBS competition.

This will be USF’s first trip ever to Provo. And the first trip to the state of Utah since 2001, when they faced the Utes in Salt Lake City just four years after their first season as a football program.

Oct. 1st (Friday) – at Utah State

Utah State’s impressive 11-2 season in 2018 feels like a lifetime ago after everything the Aggies have gone through as a program since then. Gary Andersen was dismissed early into the abbreviated 2020 season, and in is Blake Anderson who put together a winning record in seven years at Arkansas State. Anderson was 51-37 with the Red Wolves.

Anderson inherits a program that was 1-5 this past season and finished near the bottom of the Mountain West Conference in many statistical categories. One of the top priorities will be to find a quarterback. Andrew Peasley and Cooper Legas were part of the program last season. Coming from Jonesboro with Anderson is redshirt junior Logan Bonner, who started in all 11 games this past season for the Red Wolves.

Oct. 9th – Boise State

Revenge will be on the mind of Boise State when they roll into Provo on October 9th. BYU has defeated Boise the past two years, and the win on the Blue Turf was one of the worst losses the Broncos have suffered on The Blue in more than 20 years.

After going 5-2 and losing in the Mountain West Championship Game, head coach Bryan Harsin departed to take the Auburn job. After a long coaching search, the Broncos hired a Boise State family member in Oregon defensive coordinator Andy Avalos.

Avalos’ Oregon defense in 2019 was ninth in scoring defense and then 59th in 2020 with a pair of Pac-12 Championships. The former Boise State linebacker played for the Broncos when BYU and BSU squared off for the first time in 2003 and 2004.

Oct. 16th – at Baylor

This game got a lot more intriguing after both offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes and offensive line coach Eric Mateos left BYU to take the same positions on Dave Aranda’s Baylor staff. BYU and Baylor haven’t met since the Cougars 1984 National Championship season.

This matchup also marks BYU’s first game against a Big 12 team since the Cougars won at Texas in 2014.

In Dave Aranda’s first year as the head coach at Baylor, the Bears posted a 2-7 record in 2020.

Oct. 23rd – at Washington State

BYU and Washington State were originally supposed to play in Pullman in 2019, but the game was pushed back to the 2021 season. This will be the fifth meeting between the two programs, and it’s the first time they’ve met on the Palouse.

The previous three meetings Washington State appeared on the BYU football schedule were in Provo, with the most recent meeting coming in 2012.

BYU is familiar with Washington State head coach Nick Rolovich. Rolovich was previously at Hawaii, where BYU faced his Rainbow Warrior squads three consecutive years from 2017-2019, posting a 2-1 record.

Wazzu will have an intriguing quarterback battle with returning starter Jayde de Laura and Tennessee transfer Jarrett Guarantano joining the Cougs. Guarantano was the starting quarterback for Tennessee in BYU’s win over the Vols in 2019.

Whichever player is the starting quarterback will have a talented running back to hand the ball off to in Max Borghi who is returning in 2021.

Oct. 30th – Virginia

Former BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall makes his first trip back to Provo since becoming the Cavaliers head coach. During his time at BYU, Mendenhall won 99 games with the Cougars in 11 years as head coach from 2005-2015.

When Mendenhall took the Virginia job in 2015, he stated he never wanted to face BYU as a coach because of the emotions and love he has for BYU and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Originally this game was supposed to be played in 2019. It was pushed back to 2021, with BYU receiving an additional home game against the Cavaliers.

Mendenhall has built up the Cavaliers to be a consistent player in the postseason. He has a 30-32 record through his first five years, including an ACC Coastal title in 2019 and a New Year’s Six bowl appearance.

Since Mendenhall has been at U.Va, he’s had talented quarterbacks in Kurt Benkert and Bryce Perkins. He has another gifted signal-caller in Brennan Armstrong, who passed for 2,117 yards and ran for 552 in his first year as the full-time starter.

Nov. 13th – Idaho State

The Bengals from Pocatello have always been a program willing to step in and scratch BYU’s back to fill the gaps of an Independent BYU football schedule. This will be the fourth time BYU plays Idaho State since Independence began in 2011. The average margin of victory in the previous three games has been by 43 points.

Idaho State will be playing a spring season with the rest of the Big Sky beginning in February.

Nov. 20th – at Georgia Southern

There’s usually one game on BYU’s schedule each year during Independence that has Cougar fans saying, “BYU is traveling, where?” That would be this game in 2021. BYU will make a trip to Statesboro, Georgia, to face the Georgia Southern Eagles for the first time in program history.

The Eagles will make a return trip to Provo in 2024. Georgia Southern was a good team in 2020, posting an 8-5 record and champions of the New Orleans Bowl. Since making the jump from the FCS, where they were a powerhouse program, to the FBS in 2014, Georgia Southern has posted five winning seasons and has won three bowl games.

Georgia Southern was No. 6 in rushing offense in 2020, executing their triple-option attack that has given opponents headaches for years. BYU defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki got his first taste of the triple-option against Navy and Coastal Carolina this past year, holding both teams under their season averages.

Nov. 27th – at USC

BYU makes its first trip to the LA Coliseum to face USC since 2003 when they faced the eventual Co-National Champions that season. The last time BYU and USC met was in 2019, and the Cougars, led by Zach Wilson, upset the nationally-ranked Trojans in overtime.

USC won the Pac-12 South division but came up short on their home field in the Pac-12 Championship Game against fill-in team Oregon. Head coach Clay Helton always seems to have a warm seat around Heritage Hall, but he’s done a great job this past recruiting cycle bringing in another elite crop of talent to Troy.

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 p.m., KSL Newsradio). Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper and the KSL Sports app.

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