During the last four years we have seen BYU clash with some high profile teams to kick off the first three games of the season. We’ve seen the Cougars line up against the likes of Oklahoma, Florida State, Washington, Ole Miss, and several other BCS caliber programs to start off recent seasons. This year’s schedule will be no different, as BYU will begin their 3rd year of Independence with match-ups against Virginia, Texas, and Utah.
So how have the Cougars fared against these types of programs? During the first 3 games of the season from 2008-2012, BYU has posted a combined record of 6-6. This is nothing to be ashamed of, as the Cougars have shown, at the very least, that they can hold their own against these types of teams in recent years. But it’s also nothing to write home about. In order for BYU to achieve some of its more lofty goals that have been mentioned by Coach Mendenhall, and to have that special season they have been on the verge of having for a handful of years, they simply cannot afford to have another mediocre start to the season.
Those first few games can greatly impact the duration of a season. We saw this last year with the University of Utah. They lost the first game of the season against Utah State. That was a loss they couldn’t afford to have against a difficult schedule last year. It really set the tone for the remainder of their season, as they had their first losing season in a decade, and ended up under-performing for the remainder of the season.
The good news is that there is no reason to believe the Cougars can’t start off their 2013 campaign with a 3-0 record. A flawless start to the first quarter of the season, against 3 BCS Conference opponents, would go a long way in launching BYU into the national spotlight and a top 25 ranking. It would harvest some confidence in the team, coaching staff, and fan base; confidence which will be pivotal as the Cougars head into the bulk of their schedule.
With fall all but upon us, and the official start of another highly anticipated college football season just days away, let’s briefly consider what’s working with and against BYU in each of these 3 crucial games to begin their season, as well as a brief history of each of these match-ups.
BYU and Virginia have a very short history with each other. They have met a total of 3 times, with Virginia leading the series 2-1; the most recent result being BYU’s lone victory, 38-35, in 2000. BYU has an all-time record of 3-8 against the ACC. Virginia enters 2013 coming off of a losing season, their 4th in the last 5 years. This being the case, Virginia Coach Mike London knows he is on the hot seat. If 2013 proves to be another losing season for the Cavaliers, we can expect him to get the boot. Aware of this, Coach London and his team know they cannot afford a slow start to their season. With their first 2 games being against BYU and Oregon, the Cavaliers can’t be overlooked; rather, they should be expected to come out of the gates with guns blazing.
But the Cougars have 5 starters returning to what was the nation’s 3rd best defense last year, and a healthy quarterback to lead a group of talented and experienced receivers. Led by pre-season All-American LB Kyle Van Noy, along with QB Taysom Hill, (the Mormon Manziel), BYU should be able to safely handle whatever Virginia throws at them.
BYU is 10-12 all-time against the Big 12, with a 2-1 record against Texas. You can be assured that the gut-wrenching 17-16 loss in Austin back in 2011 is still fresh on the minds of the Cougars. With that as motivation, as well as knowing they are playing under the lights on ESPN2 with a raucous crowd of 65,000 rallying behind them, I don’t know if you can draw up a scenario which would give BYU a better shot at pulling off a victory against Texas this season. With the stars aligned for BYU, it will be up to them to execute an effective game plan against a Texas team that will no-doubt come ready to play, featuring a roster with some of the best athletes in college football. With all of that said, it is safe to assume that BYU has as much of a chance of winning that game as Texas does.
With 13 of the last 16 games between BYU and Utah being decided by a touchdown or less, any attempts to predict the details of the Holy War, let alone the outcome, are futile. Here is what we do know: BYU can’t be happy. They have lost 3 in a row, 4 of the last 5, and 8 of the last 11. This can’t sit well with the Cougars, especially knowing that this is their last chance to knock off the Utes for several years. With that in mind, Utah will enter the BYU game coming off of a tough game the previous week against a dangerous Oregon State team, a team that will require all of Utah’s attention and energy. Compare this to the fact that BYU will have two weeks to prepare for the Utes, having a bye the week before the rivalry game. If BYU can enter the Utah game fully rested, with 2 weeks to prepare, and carrying the momentum of a victory over Texas, who doesn’t like BYU’s chances in the Holy War?
So there you have it. BYU fans should be nothing but optimistic about the potential outcome of these first three games. Their two biggest challenges through this stretch will most likely end up being Texas and Utah, and so having a Week 1 game against Virginia will be a great opportunity to get out those "first game jitters." Is beginning the season with a 3-0 record impossible? Not at all.
Keep in mind, if BYU were to lose any of these first three games, its no reason to throw in the towel or give up on the season. There will still be plenty of football to be played this fall. But escaping the first quarter of their schedule with a 3-0 record will be the key to BYU having a special season. Their margin of error is so slim, especially with midseason matchups looming against Utah State, Georgia Tech, Boise State, Wisconsin, and Notre Dame. Having a flawless record entering that segment of the schedule will give the Cougars some much needed breathing room.