Like this season, BYU's 2016 slate is full of heavyweight games, including a few in Provo. The Cougars have home games scheduled against UCLA and Mississippi State, neutral site battles against Arizona and West Virginia, and road games against Utah, Boise State, and Michigan State. That's a hell of a schedule, especially for a team that will be replacing their star QB, RB, and others.
But it also isn't a finished schedule, and finalizing that slate got a little more complicated with the announcement that Southern Mississippi, who was scheduled to make an all-important late November trip to Provo, won't be playing the Cougars in 2016, so they can accommodate a game against Kentucky.
The great FBSchedules tells us that BYU currently has nine scheduled games with dates for 2016, meaning the Cougars need to pick up three more. With a little bit of detective work and knowledge of how schedules are typically assembled, we can make some educated guesses about how the rest of the slate might break down. To make those projections, I'm working from the following set of assumptions.
* BYU will need a minimum of six home games a season, both to give themselves a chance competitively, and also to meet their budgetary requirements. Since the Cougars already have six games scheduled away from Provo (four true road games, two neutral sites), I'm assuming the remaining three games will all be in Provo. FBSchedules says that BYU is slated to play UNLV on the road in either 2016 or 2017. Because BYU needs the home games, I am assuming the Cougars do not play the Rebels next season. Of course, the Cougars also already have six road games in 2017, so....maybe that contract gets amended somewhere.
* Given the bulk of Power Five and high caliber Group of Five candidates on this schedule, and BYU's roster situation in 2016, it would be surprising if one of the remaining games was for a major program, unless the Cougars moved somebody else off the slate. It is most likely that the remaining games will come from a Group of Five conference, or an FCS squad.
* BYU is unlikely to get a one-off game, given their historical scheduling trends, and the costs of doing so (the going rate for such a game would likely be at least $400,000).
Based on that, it would appear that BYU has four weeks without a game. Those are:
Saturday, Oct. 1
Saturday, Oct. 29
Saturday Nov. 5
Saturday Nov 19.
Now, of those four weeks, one of them will need to be an open week. I suspect that scheduling will play a role there, and Saturday, Oct 1. would be a very logical place for a bye week given the Cougars will face four Power 5 teams in a row before that, and will have two in a row right after.
One of those weeks can be taken by UMass, which is scheduled to play at BYU in 2016, with a TBA date. The Minutemen will also be independents in 2016, and only matches up with BYU for one open date, Nov. 19. It would make the most sense to slot UMass there.
Finally, the Cougars have played at least one FCS team every season since going independent, and I wouldn't expect that to change in 2015. I've previously written about why this isn't so bad, and while it may be a bit of a drag to face UMass (who will suck) and an FCS team at home during the same year...fans also get an SEC team and UCLA, so don't complain that much. BYU could get an FCS team to come to Provo just about any week of the season. If BYU can get two FBS home games, I'm sure they'll prefer that to an FCS squad, but recent history indicates that isn't likely.
Okay. So what teams make sense, financially, logistically, and competitively?
This would be the easiest solution. BYU gave Tulane a home game in 2009 (the first BYU game I ever saw in person), and could potentially leverage that to get a one-off game in Provo. The American has built a strong scheduling relationship with BYU, and has a conference schedule that allows for teams to play a non-league game in October or November. The 2016 AAC slate isn't out yet, but Tulane only has two non-conference games scheduled for 2016 (UL-Lafayette, and a TBA date at Wake Forest), so they can easily add a drip to Provo there too. The Green Wave should fit right into what BYU would need, competition wise as well. Getting the Green Wave in for that Oct 29 slot makes an awful lot of sense for everybody.
We've been down this road before, as Bronco Mendenhall has made no secret of wanting to schedule a service academy, and would certainly be willing to give the Black Knights a home game in return. Army has been less excited about scheduling the Cougars, but with Notre Dame the only other heavyweight on their 2016 schedule, perhaps adding BYU would be more palatable to a rebuilding Army squad, especially if they could host the Cougars in a few years, once they improve. Army has open dates on Oct 29 and Nov. 19. This is probably less likely than Tulane, but would still make some sense.
UPDATE: Intrepid reader MattBC03 reminds me that Army already has contracted games with Wake Forest, Buffalo and Duke for 2016 that do not have dates yet, meaning that they're actually full unless somebody gets moved. So this isn't so likely.
BYU doesn't typically play MAC teams, although they do a have a future series scheduled with NIU. But a lack of teams with open 2016 dates could cause the Cougars and Bulls to talk. Buffalo only has two games scheduled in 2016 (Army and at Nevada), and while playing a non-conference game in November might be a stretch, the MAC schedule can be tweaked to allow an October date. One thing to consider here is that BYU has tried to schedule Syracuse in an attempt to give their players a chance to see LDS historical sites in upstate New York. Buffalo is only about an hour and a half from Palmyra, which could make it a potential home and home target as well.
BYU, of course, could also shift another previously scheduled game, changing the pool of available teams. Based on what we know now though, my best guess for what remains open on the 2016 BYU schedule would look like this:
Oct. 1 - BYE
Oct. 29 - Tulane
Nov. 5 - FCS team (Idaho State? Weber?)
Nov. 29 - UMass