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Which Games Should BYU Keep on Their 2023 Schedule Ahead of Big 12 Play?

With several opponents still on the 2023 slate, BYU will need to make some decisions on who to eliminate to make room for Big 12 conference foes.

NCAA Football: Brigham Young at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

BYU is headed to the Big 12, starting in the fall of 2023. It’s fun to keep saying that, as it is something BYU fans have dreamed of for decades.

Being independent for the last 11 seasons, the Cougars have piled up plenty of game contracts with programs scattered across the United States. The Big 12 is yet to decide whether to play eight conference games, like the ACC and SEC or nine games, like the current Big 12, as well as the Big 10 and PAC-12. Either way, BYU has some serious whittling to do to their future slates.

For this exercise, let’s keep the conference slate at nine games, since that is where the Big 12 currently is at and they may want to squeeze as many games in as possible while Oklahoma and Texas overlap with BYU and the other incoming teams.

This leaves BYU with three openings for non-conference games.

BYU has already canceled their agreement for a return trip to Virginia that was originally slated for 2023, after the Cavaliers came to Provo this season. Here is a look at the games that are still scheduled for 2023, per FBSchedules.com. +

Let’s assume that UCF will remain on the slate as part of the Big 12 schedule, making one less headache for the conference schedule makers.

Another disclaimer- Boise State Athletic Director Jeramiah Dickey mentioned during a Twitter Q&A session on Tuesday that the series between BYU and Boise State is likely going to take a break following their 2022 matchup. This puts their series situation as murky at best entering BYU’s Big 12 era. It looks as if BYU and Boise State are taking a break, a la Ross and Rachel from Friends.

Here are three games BYU should keep to best set themselves up for success in their initial year playing in the Big 12.

Tennessee Volunteers

BYU got an SEC team to sign off on coming to Provo. That does not happen often, in fact, it has only happened twice, both times being Mississippi State, most recently in 2016. The Volunteers are probably a bigger brand than the Bulldogs and the intrigue for this game would be massive. Plus, you know Vols fans want revenge for how things went down at Rocky Top in 2019. Zach Wilson and the Cougars pulled the rug right out from under Tennessee, winning in overtime.

Anytime you get to host an SEC team, you take it, no questions asked. They are the biggest brand and biggest cash cow in all of college football. Having the Vols take the field in their iconic orange and white at LaVell Edwards Stadium would be a sight to behold. This is almost guaranteed to get one of the primetime TV channel and time slots of that weekend.

UNLV Rebels

For those waiting for Utah State to appear on this list, you won’t find them. I personally believe BYU and Utah State should take a break. The matchup is no longer beneficial to BYU, being in a Power 5 conference, especially in 2023 when they are slated to head to Logan. That environment is testy and heated, especially as Utah State annoyingly put the student section mere feet from the visiting sidelines, which resulted in some shenanigans during the 2021 matchup. Plus, be it on purpose or sheer, dumb, rotten luck, BYU tends to suffer at least one devastating, sometimes season-altering injury every time they play the Aggies, especially in Logan. For 2023, they should pass on USU, especially since it’s a road game.

Enter UNLV. The Cougars would do well to continue to schedule winnable Group of 5 matchups, to ease the burden of a heavy conference schedule and hopefully add a win to the grand total, in hopes of earning a New Year’s Six bowl bid. UNLV offers a somewhat local option, with plenty of BYU fans and players from the Las Vegas area. A possible future home-and-home series with the Rebels would be exciting, given that their new home stadium is the sparkling behemoth of a five-star facility that is Allegiant Stadium, right on the Las Vegas Strip. Maintaining the relationship with UNLV might result in more future road games at that spectacular venue, a place where BYU fans would flock to. Plus, the Rebels should remain a very beatable opponent serving as a lighter load than another Power 5 game or bitter rival.

Southern Utah Thunderbirds

Let’s think about this for a minute. Entering the Big 12 means BYU will be officially a Power 5 school. What do Power 5 schools do? They schedule an FCS school as a warm up or as a mid-season respite from their brutal conference schedule. People may point and scoff, but last time we checked, the teams consistently winning national championships are scheduling an FCS team each year with regularity. 2021 national champion Georgia smashed Charleston Southern 56-7 between road games against Tennessee and Georgia Tech this year.

Alabama put a hurting on Mercer. Future Big 12 foe Oklahoma State opened the season against Missouri State. Big 12 champion Baylor beat Texas Southern 66-7. Utah has played Weber State or Idaho State in three of the last four years. Need I go on?

BYU needs to schedule an FCS team every year to allow players to heal up and younger players a chance to get live-game action. Otherwise, they will play a brutal Power 5-level schedule with no breaks. We have all seen how BYU, like most teams, wears down at the end of the year after a tough, bruising schedule. That will happen every single year in the Big 12. The Cougars will be vying for a conference championship and it does them absolutely no good to get themselves beat up and battered by playing three top-tier, out-of-conference opponents. They need to schedule a cupcake, plain and simple.

Southern Utah is the perfect candidate, as an in-state team. Plenty of BYU players have southern Utah ties and the meeting is mutually beneficial, as SUU will get a handsome payday for their troubles.

BYU should rotate between local FCS schools like SUU, Weber State, Dixie State, and Idaho State in the future.

What about the other teams not listed? Keeping two SEC teams on the schedule, one being on the road at Arkansas, would not be wise. If BYU is trying to balance a solid schedule with winning enough games to earn a NY6 bowl, having two tough SEC teams on the slate is not setting the program up for success.

I mentioned my thoughts on why the Cougars should pass on their trip to Logan.

UNLV is a more appealing Group of 5 opponent than Rice or Fresno State, given the geography and history.

With BYU headed to the Big 12, they no longer need the PAC-12 to constantly boost their schedule, thus games against USC and other PAC-12 foes should be sparse. Plus, BYU proved their superiority over that conference in 2021, with an emphatic 5-0 record.