With college football going to a playoff model in 2014, strength of schedule has become a very hot topic. The Big Ten has sworn off scheduling FCS opponents and will transition to a nine-game conference schedule like the Pac-12 and Big 12. Meanwhile, the SEC and ACC will continue to play eight-game conference schedules for the foreseeable future but have mandated their teams play one Power-Five opponent in non-conference play. For an Independent program like the BYU Cougars, that could be a major problem.
As an Independent, BYU falls outside the Power-Five conferences and would not count as an SEC of ACC school’s non-conference power opponent. That means when teams are looking to fill their schedules down the line, they may avoid the likes of the Cougars, who can be a very tough opponent (ask the Texas Longhorns), if they have to schedule another marquee non-conference game regardless. While there’s something to be said for having a tough schedule, a perfect record at the end of the year goes much farther in naming a national champion than quality losses.
That is likely to exacerbate what is already becoming a difficult schedule to fill out for BYU. Over the last five years, the Cougars have played an average of five power conference opponents. This season, they only have three on the schedule. In 2015, there are currently only two on the schedule. The difficulty of scheduling as an independent has reared its head for BYU as teams in conference races late in the season generally aren’t interested in scheduling a challenging non-conference opponent. That has forced the Cougars to adopt an “anyone, anywhere” mentality when scheduling its football games but that won’t help them make any headway in the college football playoff system if their schedule is rounded out with “weak” competition.
Of course, there is The Exception to the Independent dilemma as the Notre Dame Fighting Irish have never had issues scheduling thanks to their long-standing rivalry games and rich college football tradition. When BYU went Independent, they were likely envisioning becoming the same kind of exception to the college football elitism between the power conferences and the rest of FBS teams but that hasn’t happened. And with the college football playoff causing the Power-Five to tighten up their scheduling, BYU faces an even bigger challenge making it happen going forward.