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Nearly three years later, BYU says football independence a big success
Conference move » Extra exposure makes up for the scheduling problems, AD says.

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Another downside? » If there is another downside to football independence, it could manifest itself if the Cougars put together an undefeated, or one-loss season, and are left out of the four-team College Football Playoff. Most national observers agree that independents Army and BYU will have the most difficult path to the CFP, which begins in 2014.

At a glance

BYU’s recent athletic milestones

Sept. 1, 2010 » BYU president Cecil Samuelson and athletic director Tom Holmoe announce Cougars will go independent in football and place most of their other sports in the West Coast Conference.

July 1, 2011 » BYU officially becomes a member of the WCC.

Dec. 30, 2011 » BYU completes its first season of football independence with a 24-21 win over Tulsa in the Armed Forces Bowl, giving the Cougars a 10-3 record.

March 15, 2012 » BYU’s first basketball season in the WCC ends with an 88-68 loss to Marquette in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Nov. 23, 2012 » BYU’s women’s soccer team wins the WCC title and makes it to the NCAA quarterfinals before falling 2-1 in overtime to eventual champion North Carolina.

Dec. 20, 2012 » BYU defeats former MWC rival San Diego State 23-6 in the Poinsettia Bowl to finish its second season of independence with an 8-5 record.

April 2, 2013 » After its second consecutive third-place finish in the WCC, BYU’s basketball team loses to Baylor 76-70 in the NIT basketball semifinals.

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"It just depends on how good you are," Holmoe said. "And if we are really good, we will get in. If we are pretty good, like maybe two losses, we won’t. Whereas if you are in a Big Five conference, you have the better chance. I am comfortable with that right now. … If we are good enough to go above those conferences, we are in. And that’s how it has been. I don’t really see it any different."

Said Mendenhall, when asked about BYU’s limited access to the BCS, and now the CFP: "Got to be undefeated, which is the same access that we had in the Mountain West. … We won’t be able to win a conference championship game, but I think it is possible. And I like to focus more on what we can do and what we think is possible, rather than what we won’t get. That’s one of the main reasons I chose to stay, is because I think we can do it. When, I don’t know. But our access in eight years I’ve been the coach, I don’t think it has changed."

There are rumblings that a split might be coming to major college football, and Holmoe recently acknowledged the topic was broached, if only briefly, at an athletic directors summit a few months ago.

"Right now, independence works for us. It is good," Holmoe said. "But in the event that there is a split in college football, we have to be with the ones, with the big boys. Right now, as an independent, we are not in [a power conference]. So we are going to do everything that we can to position ourselves for the time when that happens, or if that happens. And that’s important to us, because BYU football is a big part of college football."

Loving, but not dominating, the WCC » Some folks thought BYU would dominate the WCC, which grew to 10 schools earlier this week with the addition of Pacific.

Hasn’t happened.

Sure, the Cougars won the 2012-13 WCC Commissioner’s Cup, awarded to the school with the most success during conference play, after finishing second to the University of San Diego after their inaugural year in the league. But BYU isn’t piling up as many league titles as it did in the MWC.

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The Cougars have finished third twice in the regular season in men’s basketball, and have struggled in the conference tournament.

"I like our relationship with the WCC," Holmoe said. "My assessment is that the top teams in every sport are really good. If you look at every sport, the top team in that sport [in the WCC] is probably in the top 10 [in the country]. Now, the depth doesn’t go all the way down, but it is hard to win championships in the West Coast Conference, because some team, whether it is Gonzaga in basketball or Portland in women’s soccer, or USF in cross-country, and you could go through them all, there is always a really, really tough foe in every sport.

"In the future, the conference will be even better," he continued. "It is an emerging conference. … The RPI in all the sports continues to increase. I think we got there at a great time."

Most fans support move » What do the folks who pay the freight — BYU’s fans across the country — think of the move? Most seem to like it — especially those who don’t reside in the state of Utah and have had the opportunity to see the Cougars play, live or on television, more than ever before.

"As a fan, I am happy with our independence and WCC status," said Jeff Bauserman of Abingdon, Va. "It is head-and-shoulders above being in the MWC. Given our options at the time, I think it was absolutely the best move possible. Having said that, I would be even happier if we were in the Big 12 or Pac-12."

Scott Wallace of Pendleton, Ore., wrote: "I like it a lot. My question is why we didn’t do it sooner."

However, Dave Housley of San Antonio is in the minority.

"Texas Cougar fan here," he wrote. "While it is nice to see them come to the area, no conference affiliation creates too many exhibition-type games — games without meaning and no rivalries with conference foes any more. Conference titles mean something."

Holmoe has heard from a lot of them, via Twitter or email, mostly.

"There are a fair number of fans who don’t like us being independent," he said. "And I think there are a fair number of fans that like us being independent. And there are a large number of fans that follow BYU no matter what."

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