BYU must win in Charlottesville

Geoff Burke

In 2013, BYU will face what is arguably the toughest schedule in program history. To be successful, the Cougars can't afford to stumble in the season opener vs. Virginia.

The 2013 season is one that BYU fans have been looking forward to since the Cougars made the move to become a college football independent.

BYU's 2013 campaign will feature six opponents from BCS conferences, including several of college football's most storied programs. It will also include a few top mid-major teams and match-ups that will take the Cougars all over the country.

BYU Athletic Director, Tom Holmoe, has delivered the kind of schedule that gives BYU the opportunity to make noise on a national stage. Now the Cougars better be ready to come out and play.

In order to have a successful season and end the year in the Top 25, BYU needs to get to at least nine wins. BYU's opponents can be broken down into the following tiers, based on the difficulty of the match-up:

Tier 1: Boise State, Notre Dame, Texas, and Wisconsin

Tier 2: Georgia Tech, Nevada, Utah, Utah State, Virginia

Tier 3: Idaho State, Houston, Middle Tennessee State

Tier 1 opponents are BYU's marquee opponents, top 25 caliber teams that will be difficult match-ups regardless of how BYU fares this season. Tier 2 opponents are college football's middle of the road teams. BYU should beat Tier 2 teams if they play well this year, but if they struggle instead, Tier 2 teams will be difficult. Tier 3 teams are not hyped to challenge. From the minds of fans: BYU has no business losing to these teams even if they under-perform this season (though we've been surprised before).

The best path to a nine-win season for BYU would be to win all games with Tier 2 and 3 opponents and then get one win against the Tier 1 opponents. If BYU were to lose to a Tier 2 opponent, they would need a second win against a Tier 1 - making the path to nine wins more difficult.

That brings us to this weeks match-up with Virginia. How BYU performs against Virginia will reveal a lot about how well we can expect the Cougars to do this year. A loss in Virginia this week would be devastating for the Cougars, putting them in a hole they cannot afford to be in to start the season. Considering the opponents BYU will play in the weeks following Virginia, a loss in Charlottesville would leave the Cougars margin for error at next to none. BYU will follow their trip to Virginia with a tough test at home against Texas in Week 2. Following a bye week, the Cougars then play two rivalries in their next three games facing Utah on August 21st and Utah State on October 4th. Based on the nature of those rivalries, the Utes and Aggies should be considered BYU's most challenging Tier 2 opponents.

The good news is BYU should have no problems winning in Charlottesville. Playing in the ACC, Virginia does have talent on its roster, but should still be vulnerable coming off a disappointing 4-8 finish last season. BYU has the personnel to exploit the weaknesses in Mike London's Cavaliers and come away victorious. If they cannot, it's going to be a long year for the Cougars.

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