Over the weekend, I once again saw a discussion about BYU's football schedules in the month of November on Twitter, including a few who insisted BYU's November schedules were "crappy" or "terrible."
I remembered a piece I wrote three years ago examining our collective obsession with how BYU is able to schedule football games in the month of November as an independent.
One of my main conclusions from that piece was that fans, by and large, incorrectly remember how "good" November schedules were prior to independence. They were usually pretty average (at best) to poor (at worst) as BYU would face the dregs of the Mountain West.
"But they were playing for a conference title!" Oh yes, the almighty Mountain West championship. Those are only as important as how long it takes you to figure out/google how many MW trophies BYU has in its possession. (Hint: top 25 finishes are much more important.)
An important caveat which was important to that discussion was how Utah fit. Utah often held a solid record in the pre-independent era, but its absence in independent Novembers is not the doing of BYU's independence. The Cougars would not be playing Utah in November if BYU remained in MWC or went independent.
With that, I wanted to revisit this examination to see what kind of schedules the Cougars ended up facing in independent Novembers post-2012. As I explained in the original piece, 2011-12 were the transitional seasons where BYU had home-homes with WAC teams to help fill out the first couple years of independent schedules, as college football schedules are usually contracted a couple years in advance (at the least).
For comparison's sake, BYU's best schedule in the pre-independent Bronco era (as tallied by winning percentages) was in 2008. Utah finished 13-0, Air Force 8-5, Colorado State 7-6, and SDSU 2-10. That's good for 30-21, a winning percentage of .588.
The worst November in the pre-independent Bronco era was 2010. Even with Utah's 10-3 record, BYU's 2010 November opponents finished 16-34 (.320). BYU fans suffered through consecutive games against UNLV, Colorado State, and New Mexico before the rivalry game came, three opponents who were a combined 6-31. WOOF. Freshman Jake Heaps led BYU to win those three games by an average score of 48-8. THAT WAS SO THRILLING OMG CONFERENCE AFFILIATION FOR LIFE.
In the post-2012 examination of Novembers, it is very important to point out BYU never played a power-5 team in November, good or bad. It was always fellow have-nots from the MW in November. If you value a non-power-5 conference championship race, that fact should negate your sourness toward independent Novembers. If you care little about non-power-5 conference titles (like I do), playing power-5 teams in November is a major plus.
As I examined these post-2012 Novembers, I honestly wasn't sure how to assign value to games against FCS opponents. The quality of FCS teams varies so widely, and many are willing to lose up to 2 games against FBS teams every season, that it's hard to say the win-loss records of FCS teams are valuable to this exercise. So I've excluded their records and will leave it up to you to add them to each year as you qualitatively see fit.
So let's finally dive into the numbers.
at Wisconsin (9-4)
at Notre Dame (9-4)
at Nevada (4-8)
vs. Idaho State (FCS)
TOTAL: 22-16 (.579)
What we saw in 2013 was just about equal to the best pre-independent November under Bronco, winning percentage-wise. I feel comfortable equating 2008 SDSU (2-10) with 2013 Idaho State, the Aztecs were awful that season. But in 2013, BYU played two power-5 opponents. In my view, 2013 was the best November schedule in the Bronco era from a competition standpoint.
vs. UNLV (2-11)
at Cal (5-7)
vs. Savannah State (FCS)
TOTAL: 7-18 (.280)
It's very interesting that the best November possibly in program history was followed by this dud. 2014 was easily the worst November in the Bronco era. Its only saving grace was having a game against a power-5 school, but at 5-7, that is offset in my view by playing Savannah State, one of the worst FCS teams available. Make no mistake, this November stunk.
2015 (using 2014 records)
at San Jose State (3-9)
at Missouri (11-3)
vs. Fresno State (6-7)
at Utah State (10-4)
TOTAL: 30-23 (.566)
I know using 2014 records is somewhat of a fool's errand, but there isn't really any other worthwhile measure to look at this season's upcoming November. But competitively, that's a very, very good November slate if those four team's success carries over. BYU also managed to fill all four weeks, which is something we probably won't see often.
Plus, you have a game in an NFL stadium against an SEC team that went 11-3 last season. Gimme that.
Looking ahead to 2016, BYU will likely have a bye, go on the road to Cincinnati, and host UMass and Utah State. That slate should fall somewhere in between 2013 (great) and 2014 (terrible), though Cinci and Utah State could potentially be 9- or 10-win teams if trends continue.
* * *
So this leaves me wondering, why do fans continue to insist on complaining about November schedules? Even in 2011-12, as my previous article examined, BYU fans weren't really that much worse off. Now that Tom Holmoe has been given time to build his schedules, are we really missing the strings of MWC teams?
The one sticking point: home games. The 2013 and 2015 schedules will feature only one November home game. That only happened once in the MW portion of the Bronco era. The 2014 schedule had two November home games but they were against the two worst opponents of the year.
2016 gives two home games again, but one will be against a bad UMass program. So the kind of taste left in fans' mouths about 2016 home games will depend on how good Utah State is -- but at least there is an in-state flavor to it.
Starting in 2018, BYU will consistently play Pac-12 teams in November.
All totaled, BYU is scheduling Novembers that are pretty good. I can't argue if you want better or more home games (although, why? It's pretty cold, friends). But the quality of competition is rather good.
So, I will echo what I wrote three years ago: It's time to stop pretending we're being robbed of something when November comes around.