Christmas came early for BYU football fans.
Last week, the school announced the Cougars will begin the 2017 season with a home game against Portland State on Aug. 26, 2017. Prior to the announcement, BYU was scheduled to open the season against LSU on Sept. 2 at NRG Stadium, home of the NFL’s Houston Texans.
So why does starting the season against the Vikings (an FCS opponent) actually matter and are there any benefits to a game that BYU should easily win?
Yes, and here are some of the top reasons why.
— BYU Cougars (@BYUCougars) December 5, 2016
1) Bye Week
Let’s face it, when looking at a schedule for the upcoming season, fans are focused on the big-time matchups as well as looking at which teams they’ll get to see in person with their season ticket packages.
Fans also want to watch their team play as much as possible, and when the bye week rolls around, they are either stuck watching their rival play (but they’ll never admit to that), cheer on their next favorite team, or if you are anything like me, you’ll finally get off the couch and start checking off that honey do list.
But bye weeks serve a purpose. It’s a chance for players to get healthy and to get caught up in school. It allows the coaching staff to get out and recruit as well as some extra time to scout out their next opponent. Or if your Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, you’re probably running the chains during a high school football game.
— Mercury News (@mercnews) October 15, 2016
Joking aside, the best case scenario is to have a bye week as close to the middle of the season as possible in order to keep guys fresh and a chance to get guys healthy for the last half of the season.
But because BYU is Independent in football, the Cougars are forced to play a very front-loaded schedule as is the case next year with games against LSU, Utah, and Wisconsin in September.
That’s why the Cougars’ tentative bye week (Sept. 23) — thanks to the Portland State game — is actually the perfect time to have one. After a tough three-game stretch, the Cougars will get a week off before going up against Utah State, Boise State, and Mississippi State before coasting through the rest of the schedule.
In college football, where roughly a quarter of the roster turns over every year, having players suspended for the season opener provides an even bigger challenge, especially if you’re BYU. And with players coming and going from LDS Church missions, the last thing the Cougars need is a bunch of players suspended and missing games.
In 2015, four BYU players were suspended when the Cougars took on Nebraska which also had five players serving suspensions at the time. The game turned out to be one of the most exciting games of the season as BYU came-from-behind to beat the Cornhuskers on a game-winning Hail Mary touchdown pass.
This year, Charleston Southern took the cake as it ended up suspending 32 players — mostly one-game suspensions. While having 32 suspended players isn’t the norm, having a handful of players out in the season opener is.
Scheduling Portland State was another genius move by BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe. If for whatever reason some football players get into some minor trouble (Miami Beach Brawl, etc.), they’ll likely only have to sit out in the season opener (Portland State). And the cherry on top is that LSU’s first game of the season will be against BYU. So if the Tigers have any suspensions, they’ll have to sit against the Cougars.
3) Home Games
Per NCAA rules, BYU is allowed to play an additional game because they play at Hawaii (Nov. 25). On top of that, a new exception was just added this season which will allow teams to play the weekend prior to Labor Day weekend (i.e BYU-PSU).
So give plenty of credit to Holmoe for using this to his advantage.
With the addition of PSU, BYU will now have six home games, six road games and a neutral site game (NRG Stadium).
Let’s face it, most teams could schedule “Bo Diddley Tech” and pack the stadium. And after all the bowl games are over, the start of the college football season won’t be here for another eight months.
But that anticipation is what draws tens of thousands of fans to spring games all across the country.
And while PSU isn’t anything special, the anticipation and excitement leading up to the season is a win-win for BYU. Fans will likely see a lot of points on the board while the school adds more revenue to its pocket books with ticket sales, merchandise, concessions, TV, etc.
And with BYU being just one of a few teams that will play in late August, there is a good chance they’ll be playing on national television too with their ESPN partnership.
Don’t forget either that assuming BYU is bowl eligible next year (which it should be), fans will get to see 14 football games next year. And what fan wouldn’t want to see their team play more?
4) Game Experience
We’ve all heard the saying, “practice makes perfect.”
Well, ain’t that the truth.
The first game of the season always brings with it some extra baggage whether it be turnovers, personal fouls, false starts, players running the wrong routes, etc.
Of course, this isn’t anything new because that’s just how the first games of the season go as teams try to iron out all of the kinks.
And while the game speed between LSU and Portland State will certainly be different, getting into the game routine and getting the younger guys some valuable playing experience is an advantage for BYU heading into a September matchup against the Tigers.
5) Strength of Schedule
In the grand scheme of things, playing Portland State isn’t going to hurt BYU’s chances of crashing the College Football Playoff.
Just ask the Washington Huskies who played the Vikings earlier this year and will be taking on Alabama in the semifinal game. If BYU runs the table — which it would likely have to do to earn a playoff spot — playing the Vikings isn’t going to knock them out.
Portland State is also a good FCS program that even knocked off Washington State in 2015 and put up a better fight against the Huskies this year than Oregon, California, and Stanford did.
So with an extra home game and players getting some valuable game experience before playing LSU, Holmoe deserves some love as he’s helped set up a manageable schedule for the Cougars to make some noise in 2017.
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