College football has undergone major changes in the last few years, leaving BYU between the Big 12 and a hard place.
The revamping of conferences, along with the implementation of a new playoff series, provide BYU with some hard decisions to make as far as where it fits in.
“The last three years have seen tremendous changes in the college football landscape,” said BYU Associate Athletic Director Duff Tittle. “We’re constantly watching that landscape and seeing what people are saying and making sure we understand the issues and what’s happening out there.”
BYU is currently Independent, straddling the line between national prominence and mid-major status. Wondering whether they could join the ranks of the SEC, playing downs with National Champions or if they will have to continue to avoid being forced back in the Mountain West Conference, the Cougars have many options.
BYU Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall made one of those options clear while talking to the Austin American-Statesman.
“We would love to be in the Big 12,” Mendenhall said. “I would love to be a member of that conference. I think that would make a lot of sense.”
With no conference to vouch for the program, BYU must define itself in the ever-changing landscape of college football.
ESPN college football analyst Trevor Matich narrows down three scenarios BYU could find in its list of options for the upcoming season.
Everything stays as it is
When the SEC voiced that it did not see BYU as a “power” conference opponent, many analysts took the news as BYU being told that the SEC is going to stick to picking on competitors their own size.
So they may just go about it the old-fashioned way.
“If BYU is still able to schedule Power 5 conference opponents they will not have automatic access to bowls if they’re ranked,” Matich said. “But they would have access to the top four.”
If this interesting scenario creates an “all or nothing” deal for BYU the team could find itself filling slots in prominent bowl games.
Matich continues, “And because it’s four instead of two it actually makes the path a bit smoother for the Cougars and a National Championship run.”
Rejoining the Mountain West
This is not what BYU fans want to hear.
Unfortunately there are talks within the Power 5 conferences that suggest they will only schedule other Power 5 non-conference games.
This situation would take BYU out of any consideration for a prominent bowl, much less a national title. The weak schedule that would result would never gain the momentum to vault the team onto the national stage.
“If that’s the case BYU’s out. That’s it,” Matich said. “They’d probably rejoin the Mountain West and go from there. There’s not much else you can do.”
Fans around the country do not have to be too afraid though, as this scenario is the least likely. Only time can really tell, as change is a constant in college football.
BYU joins a Power 5 conference
Utah, Colorado and TCU all joined a Power 5 conference. So why not BYU?
In the world of college football you can’t simply be the best; you must beat the best. A team could claim the spot as the best football team in the nation, but unless it plays and wins against other top programs it means nothing.
If BYU wants to set itself up as an elite, national program it must compete with other elite programs day in and day out.
If Mendenhall has anything to say about it, the most likely option is the Big 12 expanding to 12 teams, BYU holding one of those spots.
Currently, the Big 12 is not looking to expand, but “It’s in the Big 12’s interest to expand with BYU,” Matich said.
With only 10 teams in their conference and no conference championship, the Big 12 is at risk of losing a tie-breaker when it comes to playoff placement against a different conference team that has played in an additional conference championship game — giving that team the benefit of the doubt.
Scheduling isn’t the only benefit BYU would provide for the Big 12. BYU’s audience stretches way beyond Provo, as its national audience includes members of the LDS Church.
“They don’t just have a regional following,” Matich said. “You’ve got fans from Seattle to Los Angeles and from Miami to Boston that are interested in watching BYU play. And so it expands the Big 12’s platform when they play BYU.”
If this scenario ends up panning out, the pay out would extend to both BYU and the Big 12.
Until then, BYU has to keep playing and, above all else, keep winning.