The importance of scheduling was pushed way up the ladder when BYU announced football independence. Rightfully so, putting together a compelling schedule becomes at least a little more important when the ability to compete for a conference championship is removed.
BYU hand-wringers have obsessed with the strength of schedule ever since, and despite forewarning from athletic director Tom Holmoe that the first two seasons would include a fair deal of stop-gaps on the schedule, some fans grow ever-concerned and critical of the football slate. For some reason, this sentiment has been given laser-like focus on the month of November -- even though "Independent Novembers" are likely to be very similar to pre-Independent Novembers.
It is true that Novembers in 2011 and 2012 leave something to be desired. Nobody can argue that point. Even as I expect the situation to improve, these Novembers are hard to get through, even if we all keep Holmoe's forewarning in mind (though it seems many of us can't seem to do so).
But Independence has done a funny thing to BYU fan. It seems BYU fan expects a compelling juggernaut most every week, and who the Cougars play in November is the rallying point. Have Independent Novembers really been totally worse?
A little bit. But tons worse? Not by a long shot.
In fact, the main reason Novembers seem so much worse is the fact that by decree of the almighty Larry Scott, BYU can't play Utah in that month anymore. Other than that, it's a whole lot of "meh" in both eras.
Anecdotal consensus is that BYU is definitely better off as an independent over what was available in the MWC -- just that the November schedule has suffered or taken a step back. But once Utah departed to the Pac 12, playing the Utes in November was not going to happen regardless of where BYU called home.
So with that in mind, in the Bronco Mendenhall non-independent era (2005-2010), BYU's November opponents were 130-144 (.474). Remove Utah from that equation, and BYU November opponents were a measly 73-124 (.371).
On the Independent side, I have taken the actual 2011 Independent November, and copied opponent records to 2012 under the assumption BYU's 2012 opponent performance will be static. In that scenario, the November record of BYU opponents for the first two years of Independence would be 17-45 (.274). Worse, yes. A lot worse, no -- again, keeping in mind the two-year stop-gap forewarning.
Of the pre-Independent years, BYU played only 1 November home game once (2005), and played more than 2 November home games only once (2007). Usually, the Cougars were playing 2 home games in November.
Some pre-Independent Novembers were AWFUL. In 2005, BYU traveled to UNLV and Wyoming (combined 6-16) before hosting Utah (7-5) for an opponent win percentage of .382. In 2010, even with Utah's 10-3 record, BYU's opponent win percentage in November was .320. Remove Utah, and the Cougars faced off against three teams with a combined 6-31 record that November. Thrilling.
Many have said -- including a fan on Twitter who replied to some of my teaser stats for this article -- that these games against dumpster fires were compelling because they were part of a conference race. I can't get on board with that, because I'd be lying. I can't say I was intently watching the Cougars in 2009 when they traveled to Laramie with a conference title still in reach. Wyoming even qualified for a bowl that year, but was I engaged? No. I sat with my friends and BS'd about all things football while keeping an eye on the game just to see how much BYU would score. (It was 52-0, if you don't remember). That week, it didn't matter what BYU's conference affiliation was -- I was bored as hell, and was putting up with Wyoming to get to a better game, same as I did with Idaho as I waited for BYU to get to its bowl game.
In fairness, it wasn't always as bad as 2005 and 2010. The best November in the pre-Independence Bronco era was easily 2008. Utah finished 13-0. Even without Utah, BYU's opponents were 8-5 Air Force, 7-6 Colorado State, and 2-10 SDSU. Pretty solid.
So going forward, you don't think BYU could play one dumpster fire, one average team, and one solid team each November like we saw in 2008, the best November slate BYU saw in the era under consideration? (It seems apparent that BYU will always have a bye in November.) Again, Utah was never going to be an option even if BYU wasn't Independent. Sure, it sucks. But don't blame that part of your missing fan identity on Independence and Tom Holmoe.
It's fair to examine what BYU has on tap moving forward as well -- the two-year stop-gap forewarning does expire in 2013. Mr. Holmoe will have had time to get better games on the schedule. The Cougars do have one November game scheduled in each of the 2013-14-15 seasons:
2013: at Notre Dame. Yes, you are playing Notre Dame in November. You can't make that out to not be a big deal when Notre Dame is who we seem to always be measuring ourselves against these days.
2014: Southern Mississippi. Announcements like that may not move your meter, but the Golden Eagles haven't had a losing season since 1993 (!). This easily falls on the "above-average" side of the ledger.
2015: at Hawaii -- An admitted wild card. The Warriors could be a 3-9, 6-6, or a 9-3 type team.
So with what little we know of the future, do Novembers as an Independent really look that bad? If BYU can get just one of a team like Notre Dame, Boise State, or Southern Miss each November, the month will be no different than Novembers in the pre-independent era. (If any BYU administrators happen to be reading this -- it would help to at least throw us a bone and make some announcements. Put our hearts at ease as much as you can!)
Perhaps our far-flung hopes of putting together a beast of a schedule every year have been shot down, something we might have hoped for when Independence was announced. But it's time to stop pretending we're being robbed of something when November comes around -- at least until we actually know more about future schedules.