Aug 30, 2012; Provo, UT, USA; A general view of Lavell Edwards Stadium before a game between the Washington State Cougars and Brigham Young Cougars. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

BYU's Football Future in the College Football Playoff Era

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The times they are a changing in College Football.  Where will BYU fit in this new era of the sport?

In the early 90’s the Big 8 Conference was looking to expand their league to at least 12 teams to get a championship game like their rivals in the SEC already had.

The Big 8 reached out to the powers of the Southwest Conference, Texas & Texas A&M, to join the league. Both those schools were in along with Texas Tech. The 12th member was up for grabs however. SMU, Houston, TCU, & Rice were all too small for the Big 8 folks, and those schools also had several NCAA sanctions in their past. So for the 12th spot it came down to religious schools: Baylor and BYU.

BYU was the front-runner to join the new 12-team league. There was a desire to add a new footprint geographically, and add another football powerhouse to a league that was already going to bolster Nebraska, Oklahoma, Colorado (they used to be great), and Texas. Bring in BYU, who was just 10 years removed from a national championship, and you have a league that will have ABC & ESPN clamoring for a record breaking TV deal.

BYU’s moment was finally here. The program that had dominated the WAC for decades was now going to join the big boys. That was until Texas state Governor, Ann Richards intervened and swung her political sword to get alma mater Baylor in to the Big XII.

The lasting impacts from that political move are still being felt 18 years later.

Looking at present day, in only year four of independence it feels like BYU is already entering yet another new era. The much discussed news of the ACC & SEC deciding to not give BYU an exception in the power five scheduling rule those leagues are placing on their member schools is putting the Cougars out on their own college football island. An island that no one knows where or how it’ll end.

Since BYU announced independence in 2010, I felt this was the perfect move for the football program, and the institution as a whole. Lets face it BYU is different. We all know it. Independence is ideal for Brigham Young, but three seasons in, and a new post-season structure in place for college football, things are changing. BYU’s creative niche is looking like a dead end to getting access to the levels BYU wants. The Cougars hand is starting to be dealt for them.

Is it the end of the world that BYU isn’t part of the scheduling exception from the ACC or SEC? No it’s not when you simply take a historical look at how many games BYU plays against members from those leagues. But it goes beyond just games in this case. Perception is the issue here. The league with the most powerful voice in the game, Mike Slive and the ESS-EEE-SEE (SEC) are basically saying BYU isn’t good enough. Like Dennis Dodd from CBS Sports said, BYU has been “branded”. It’s not a branding you are proud of like Oregon is with Nike. It’s the type of branding you see Steve-O, from Jackass, getting a cow branding on his ass. Nobody wants that.

Why would anyone question the SEC? Why would the selection committee look at BYU in the same regard as teams in the Pac-12 or Big Ten? It’s been set that BYU isn’t on par with the other elite programs in the sport.   The bar has been set now.

Perception will always rule the roost in college football. Look at Notre Dame. In the last 25 years what has Notre Dame honestly done? But growing up we’ve always been told the Fighting Irish were not only good, but great. The movie Rudy was amazing, but after that what have the Irish done to conjure up the hype they receive? All I can think of is the beat down Alabama imposed on the Irish, and a fake Internet girlfriend hoax that led to an undeserving LDS linebacker getting an invite to New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist. But because anyone over the age of 50 (which is every conference commissioner or power broker in college sports) remembers the glory days of the domers, the Irish will get a pass at every turn of this realignment & power five non-sense.

Since the power brokers were probably not watching the Holiday Bowls BYU was participating in on the Mizlou Network back in the 80’s, BYU doesn’t have the cache to pull down an exception from these leagues. Those four horsemen though! Maybe if all this was taking place 20 years from now BYU would have a fighting chance of being at the big boys table for once At that time the Cougars would have 60 years of successful football under their belt.   The power players in the game 20 years from now would probably be people that have always respected BYU as a solid football program for their entire lives. We will never know.   But we will always know perception is very important in big time world of college football.

So with this new branding, how does it impact BYU’s scheduling efforts? ESPN can only do so much when it comes to getting games for the Cougars. If BYU ever wants to play a SEC or ACC team again, plan on it being on the road. What’s the benefit to a program that has historically never traveled outside the southeast to go west and play a team in BYU that could possibly beat you? Keep in mind, this wouldn’t be a loss that people would say, kudos to you for traveling out there and putting up a fight. Getting blown out by Taysom Hill and BYU last season didn’t give Texas any props from the national pundits for taking a chance on traveling to Provo. It led to a defensive coordinator being fired, and the final straw that broke the camels back on the Mack Brown era in Austin.

Scheduling is going to continue to be a battle for BYU. From sources close to the program, I know BYU was in talks with ACC member Clemson, and SEC member Auburn about potential home-and-home deals that would have started after the 2020 season. How will those talks go now with these new scheduling rules in place for those teams? Clemson and Auburn have to go get a power five team now. Does BYU sound as attractive as before when you are already playing eight to nine difficult games? We will see.

BYU has to sell ESPN to these power five schools that they will get a guaranteed primetime ESPN network slot. With most of these programs being relegated to little seen conference networks, a nationally televised ESPN or ESPN2 telecast still holds some weight for people.

But where do we go from here? We know BYU’s odds are stacked against them. But honestly when have the odds been in BYU’s favor? This is a program built on a solid foundation of hard work, and defying the naysayers. Nothing comes easy for BYU, and honestly I don’t think they would want it any other way. BYU has the leaders in place to handle this. Athletic Director Tom Holmoe tweeted to fans that scheduling was heading in a positive manner. Holmoe has been the perfect man to lead BYU in this independent phase. He’s always been someone that preaches “hard is good”. He believes in that. So needless to say, he has a hard gig right now. But he’s right for this position.

Along with Holmoe, Kevin J. Worthen is a great president who has a background in athletics. That’s important. You want people in place that understand the importance of athletics at a major university. Jeffrey R. Holland and Rex E. Lee knew that very well, and those two oversaw some of the most successful runs in BYU Football history while they were the school presidents.

In my opinion it’s power five or bust for BYU. You can’t go back to the Mountain West. No way. Who’s to say the stubborn Mountain West Commissioner, Craig Thompson, would take BYU back? He single handily demolished the WAC and Karl Benson’s job to try and get back at BYU for opting to be an independent. “Hair”, as he is more commonly referred to in these parts would still open his arms to BYU most likely if the Cougars came calling, but behind the scenes BYU’s relationship with many of the presidents and athletic directors in the Mountain West Conference is toxic. Those schools hate BYU, and honestly BYU doesn’t view them very highly either. Just look at BYU’s future schedules. The games BYU has scheduled against MWC teams right now were not schools in the MWC during BYU’s days in the league. UNLV is the lone exception but the Rebs weren’t a conference running mate with BYU for 45+ years like the New Mexico’s, Colorado State’s, and Air Force’s of the world. The Rebs also know that BYU is the only program that can fill up Sam Boyd Stadium a.k.a. LaVell Edwards Stadium South. So UNLV is of course going to work with BYU.

The American Athletic Conference on the other hand is interesting to me. Not necessarily for full membership, but a partnership like Notre Dame currently has with the ACC. This new College Football Playoff system wasn’t going to grant the Irish access to the New Year’s Day bowl games. A drastic change compared to the BCS era where the Irish only needed nine wins to qualify for a BCS game. Notre Dame knew they needed a scheduling agreement with a major league to solidify their status in the new playoff system. With five games annually against ACC teams, the Irish now have access to the Orange Bowl a maximum of two times every 12 years. The American doesn’t have a lock to a specific bowl like the ACC does, but the AAC is contracted with the Playoff as part of the “other” leagues. Highest ranked team from the league of misfit schools (as the power five leagues pretty much want to call them) will get an automatic bid to a New Year’s Day bowl game. That auto-bid will pretty much always go to a school in the Mountain West or American without a doubt.

It would be a crying shame if BYU had an 11-1 season to ultimately get passed up for a New Year’s Day game by some Conference-USA squad who went 10-2. But since that Conference USA team would be the highest rated squad amongst the other leagues, they get that automatic bid. That would be an injustice.

The American Conference has clearly shown an interest to work with BYU. The Cougars have three games with members of the AAC in 2014, and a bowl matchup in the inaugural Miami Beach Bowl against an AAC squad at the end of this season. AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco has even said that the AAC and BYU already have a “quasi-alliance”.

An alliance with the AAC could be a valuable option for BYU. The fact that Notre Dame who have always prided themselves on being independent bowed down to a league for security shows you what the landscape of the sport is right now. BYU is the last true independent. Yeah Army is independent too, but the Black Knights and BYU aren’t shooting for the same objectives here. The Black Knights know their place in the college football world. BYU sadly, does not still despite all their tradition and success.

If BYU hopes to get in the power five conferences, they have to sell themselves as a football-only member. I just don’t see a situation where BYU gets all their sports into a power five league. BYU would be fine with that honestly. For all the jokes that have been made about the West Coast Conference over the past few years, BYU is very happy with being in that league for hoops and the Olympic sports. BYU values the fact that every member in the WCC is a religious-based institution. The relationship with school presidents and AD’s in the WCC is basically everything the Mountain West wasn’t. BYU likes that, and they respect those schools.

BYU as a football-only member is an attractive option for power five leagues. BYU would require less money for the TV contracts, and you don’t have to deal with the scheduling headache BYU might cause in hoops and Olympic sports. The no Sunday rule is discussed a lot, but in football it’s a non-issue. But for hoops and Olympic sports, it can be a bit of a problem, as TV networks continue to seek programming seven days a week to fill up schedules. I just don’t believe BYU has the luxury of a power five league taking them on a whim as a football-only member like some would suggest.

Like it was 18 years ago, it’ll come back to the Big XII as BYU’s ticket to the big time. The key for BYU is if the other power leagues get upset with the fact that the Big XII is not playing by the same rules as the others. Lets face it, team #5 a.k.a. the team that gets left out of the Playoff, will probably be an SEC team who played a gauntlet of a schedule but they eventually lost in a conference championship game. Costing them their spot in the playoff. You know bedlam would ensue with the SEC putting pressure on Big XII Commissioner, Bob Bowlsby to start playing on the same ground as the others.

Lets face it, the SEC saved the Big XII when they looked to be heading for extinction after they signed a long-term agreement to play in a champions bowl between each other. The wrench for BYU could be that the NCAA allows leagues to host a title game with only 10 members. But I still struggle to see the other four leagues being okay with the Big XII not playing by the same rules as them (12+ members, divisions, and championship games).

For those of you still holding out hope for the Pac-12, it’s not happening. Religion and the lack of a worthy 14th team will always prevent BYU from being in that league. Is it logical? Of course not. Sport Magazine said BYU needed to head west to the Pac-10 back in 1985, but the C.S.I. (Common Sense Index; thanks to Jimmy Dykes during 10 p.m. Big Monday ESPN games for that nugget) doesn’t always come in to play with these decisions.

Winning is the only thing BYU can control at this point. Will it solve all of the Cougars problems? No it won’t like some would believe. If winning was all that mattered Rutgers wouldn’t be in the Big Ten, and Boise State would be the crown jewel of the Pac-12. Also, BYU’s been one of the top five teams over the past 40 years in wins. Where has that put them? Probably wouldn’t be in this predicament that they are in now if it was all based on the win-loss record. But of course, winning won’t hurt the cause. And maybe just maybe, this news of being told you’re not good enough gives BYU that chip on their shoulder that they’ve been lacking.

Each system, and each decade, BYU has shook the college football world in someway to bring change into the sport at different points in history. But will all the shaking from college football today make the Cougars a history lesson in the future of this sport?

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