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Ahead of Big 12 Era, BYU Should Rethink Rivalry Schedule

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With a full slate of Big 12 games facing BYU football in 2023, BYU needs to re-think their strategy for scheduling their biggest rivals.

BYU v Utah State Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images

With news coming down that BYU is joining the Big 12 Conference in 2023, their schedules will look very different moving forward.

The Big 12 will likely require BYU to play 9 conference games every season, as it does now for its current members. This leaves room for three games outside their conference slate each year. The Cougars happen to have three rivals who they play on a consistent basis- Utah, Utah State, and Boise State.

With BYU’s new standing as a conference member once again, it begs the question-what do they do with their games against their three rivals?

Straight off the bat, playing all three every year along with nine Big 12 Conference games sounds exhausting. Frankly, that is not a recipe for success moving forward. Also, it’s boring.

Plus, it gives BYU virtually no wiggle room for other marquee matchups such as Notre Dame in Las Vegas or scheduling other Power 5 teams from the ACC, Big 10, or SEC. Additionally, as a Power 5 school getting prepped for a rigorous schedule, it may behoove the program to schedule an FCS opponent early in the season as a tune-up.

For example, TCU just thrashed Duquesne 45-3 and Baylor is scheduled to play Texas Southern this weekend.

The Big 12 may partner with another Power 5 conference for a scheduling agreement. This would require BYU to reserve one of their non-conference slots for a game with that conference.

In essence, it’s unrealistic to think BYU can continue playing all three of Utah, Utah State, and Boise State each and every year. So what do they do?

It would be a bummer to cut ties with the Utes. The Deseret Duel has been a staple for northern Utah since they began routinely playing one another in 1922. Plenty of history, bad blood, and incredible games have transpired in those 100 years. Plus, having Utah in the PAC 12 and BYU in the Big 12 makes this a Power 5 matchup that is appealing on a national scale.

However, both programs seemed to have grown apart and are on different paths, like that longtime childhood friend you occasionally meet up with when you are in town. It’s not unheard of to have two Power 5 schools so close in geography basically ignore each other’s existence. Texas and Texas A&M stopped playing when the Aggies fled to the SEC, after decades of fierce competition. It has been over a decade since former Big 12 rivals Nebraska and Oklahoma have met on the field.

Do the two sides dare call the rivalry off? There are plenty of heated rivalries that are played out of conference. Florida/Florida State, Clemson/South Carolina, Georgia/Georgia Tech, Notre Dame/USC, Iowa/Iowa State are a few examples of Power 5 teams from different conferences making it work. More likely BYU and Utah opt for that solution to keep the historic rivalry alive.

Plus, with how much traveling BYU will do in the Big 12, it’s beneficial to play non-conference games closer to Provo, thus limiting travel expenses.

Utah State and Boise State still count as Group of 5 opponents as of now. The Aggies and Cougars trade blows for the Wagon Wheel, having played a total of 89 games in 100 years. Boise State and BYU only recently formed an intense rivalry, first playing in 2003 but only began playing on a yearly basis in 2012.

Seems like the most expendable rivalry game is that against Boise State.

An unlikely but convenient solution would be to alternate between the three each year, or completing cutting ties with one and keeping two as a rotation. That is easier said than done, but don’t count the magician, Tom Holmoe, out of finding unique solutions.

Perhaps the Cougars look at their rivals just north in Salt Lake City as a model for how to move forward with scheduling. Utah plays three non-conference games. Historically, they are an FCS tune-up, followed by a winnable game against a Group of 5 program, and one rival (usually BYU). For example, this year, they opened the season against Weber State and then after playing BYU this weekend, they travel to play San Diego State before starting PAC 12 Conference games. That seems like a recipe for success and also opens up slots for a variety of games.

However it happens, there is no plausible way BYU can keep all three on the schedule every year. Something has got to give.