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BYU Football: Previewing the 2017 schedule

BYU’s front-loaded schedule offers many intriguing and marquee games.

Southern Utah v BYU

BYU entered the 2016 season with what some considered to be one of the toughest schedules in school history. While BYU did face six P5 teams and a handful of high-caliber G5 teams, the schedule ended up easier than many predicted. Teams such as Arizona (3-9), Michigan State (3-9), and UCLA (4-8) all had uncharacteristically down years.

BYU’s three P5 wins (Arizona, Michigan State and Mississippi State) came against teams with losing records, while two of the three P5 losses came against teams with winning records (West Virginia and Utah). Out of BYU’s nine wins, Toledo and Wyoming were the only two FBS teams with winning records.

All things considered, 9-4 should be considered a good season with a brand new coaching staff. Expectations will certainly be higher in year two with BYU returning and gaining more talent in 2017 (we’ll break down personnel in later articles).

What kind of schedule will the Cougars face in 2017? Here’s a preview of each of the 13 games. Opponents’ 2016 records are noted.

Note: Dates are tentative. Most will stay the same, but some could move from Saturday to Thursday/Friday.

BYU vs. Portland State (3-8), Aug. 26: BYU opens the season in Provo for the first time since 2012 against Washington State, and the first season-opener vs an FCS school since 2008 against Northern Iowa.

Because BYU plays at Hawaii in 2017, the Cougars have an NCAA exception to play 13 games and open their season before the rest of the country. This game and San Jose State-South Florida are the only two games scheduled to be played on this date.

Not only does BYU get a chance to have this day to itself in the college football spotlight, but they will also have a chance to work out some of the kinks before the LSU showdown a week later. Portland State has upset P5 teams in recent years, but had a down year this past season.

BYU vs. LSU (8-4), Sept. 2 (Houston): LSU is good. Like, REALLY good. Next to Alabama and other college football blue bloods, they consistently produce the most NFL talent on an annual basis. LSU’s defense completely shut down Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson in its bowl game.

LSU is the most talented team BYU has played since at least TCU in 2010. BYU does have the benefit of already having a game under its belt before LSU plays one, but this will be an extremely tall task. LSU will be a preseason top 10 or top 15 team. But hey, anybody remember 2009 when BYU beat third-ranked Oklahoma in Dallas? Stranger things have happened.

BYU vs. Utah (9-4), Sept. 9: The Holy War will be played in Provo for the first time since 2013. Utah does lose some key personnel – particularly at running back, along both lines, and in the secondary – but they still have a lot of talent and has won 6 in a row over BYU.

BYU may like its chances considering the aforementioned losses and the game being played in Provo, but Utah no doubt has a mental edge in this game (and probably a talent edge still, to be honest). Until BYU shows it can beat Utah, BYU fans probably shouldn’t be too confident heading into the Holy War.

BYU vs. Wisconsin (11-3), Sept. 16: The Badgers were one of the big surprises of the 2016 season. They made it to the Big 10 championship game and finished in the top 10 of the AP poll. Wisconsin returns many key players from this past season’s team, and despite the game being in Provo, BYU will have its hands full.

After this brutal 3-game stretch, BYU will be entering into what could be a much needed bye.

Sept. 23: BYE WEEK

BYU at Utah State (4-8), Sept. 29: BYU travels to Logan in a General Conference weekend clash. BYU has blown out the Aggies the past two years, and the talent gap doesn’t seem to be getting any smaller. Tanner Mangum was the QB the last time BYU played in Logan, and he should be the QB in BYU’s first road game of the season.

BYU vs. Boise State (10-3), Oct. 7: This annual matchup has become one of the best and most exciting games on BYU’s schedule each season. Since the teams started playing annually in 2012, the home team has won each game.

Boise will lose some great talent on offense: starting running back Jeremy Nichols declared early for the NFL draft, all-time leading receiver Thomas Sperbeck is graduated, and three starters must be replaced along the offensive line.

6 of the Broncos’ 7 leading tacklers have graduated, and the kicker and punter must also both be replaced. BSU does return starting QB Brett Rypien, and the Broncos have a knack of winning 10+ games each season for the past decade.

BYU at Mississippi State (6-7), Oct. 14: A young Bulldog team gave BYU trouble in Provo this past season, and next year in Starksville should provide another good test for the Cougars. MSU returns QB Nick Fitzgerald, who passed for 2,423 yards, rushed for 1,375, and had 37 total touchdowns on the season. Mississippi State returns many key contributors from 2016, so a win in SEC country would be impressive for BYU.

BYU at East Carolina (3-9), Oct. 21: BYU travels east of the Mississippi for the second week in a row. ECU had one of its worst seasons in years, as 8 of the Pirates 9 losses were by double digits. The Pirates lose their starting QB, top WR, and RB from 2016, so 2017 may prove to be another down year for this usually steady team.

BYU vs. San Jose State (4-8), Oct. 28: San Jose State is usually pretty bad, and nothing much should change next season. The Spartans were a 2-point conversion away from upsetting BYU in 2015 in San Jose, but BYU shouldn’t have much trouble beating the Spartans in Provo next season.

BYU at Fresno State (1-11), Nov. 4: The Bulldogs will have a new coach in 2017, as former Cal head coach Jeff Tedford will be roaming the sidelines. FSU was once one of the premier non-P5 schools in the country, but have fallen off a cliff in recent years. Tedford has a long rebuilding job ahead of him, and 2017 may be too soon to put up much of a fight versus BYU.

BYU at UNLV (4-8), Nov. 11: BYU finally returns to Vegas, a place where BYU fans have historically shown up in droves. Tony Sanchez has done a decent job of rebuilding UNLV, and next year could be a season where they are bowl eligible.

UNLV returns a good chunk of its starters from the 2016 season, but until they fix one of the nation’s worst passing attacks, they shouldn’t give BYU too much trouble.

BYU vs UMass (2-10), Nov. 18: BYU has another November matchup with its fellow independent member. BYU crushed the Minutemen 51-9 in 2016, and UMass would be hard pressed to put up much more of fight next season in Provo.

BYU at Hawaii (7-7), Nov. 25: After years of futility, the Warriors finally made and won a bowl game last season. Hawaii returns starting QB Dru Brown and 1,000 yard rusher Diocemy Saint Juste. Also returning is third-leading receiver Dylan Collie, brother of former BYU receiver Austin Collie.

Synopsis

BYU’s 2017 season is front loaded – games 2-7 will determine BYU’s fate. If BYU splits those and goes 3-3, a 10-3 regular season is very attainable. Utah State may the only game BYU is favored in during that 6-game stretch, but only 1 of the other 5 games is a road game.

With the talent BYU has returning and the marquee games on the schedule, BYU could set itself for a special 2017 season if things come together.