BYU football: Independence means Cougars see the USA
Provo • There’s no conference championship to play for this season, and BYU’s chances of making it to the new four-team College Football Playoff are as likely as a Democrat winning an election in Utah County. Even an undefeated season probably won’t be enough, according to many national college football experts.
But at least the Cougars will see the country in 2014, beginning this weekend when they travel to the Northeast for the first time since 2006 to take on the UConn Huskies on Friday at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Conn.
The Cougars left Provo on a charter flight on Wednesday morning and were scheduled to practice in the Hartford area Wednesday.
They were able to leave a day early because school doesn’t start until next Tuesday, and, after last year’s 19-16 season-opening loss at Virginia, they want more time to get acclimated to East Coast weather. Assuming they win at least six games and become bowl-eligible this season (an easy assumption, given their weakest schedule in four years as an independent), the Cougars will rack up 18,720 frequent-flier miles when all is said and done.
They will travel 14,548 miles during the regular season with trips to Connecticut, Texas, Central Florida, Middle Tennessee State, Boise State and California, and another 4,178 to Florida for the Miami Beach Bowl on Dec. 22.
Only Hawaii and Idaho (which has seven road games) will log more miles, according to BYU’s sports information office.
This is what football independence has wrought, and the Cougars seem to be embracing it.
"As an independent, what I want is to play the best teams, with the most exposure, on the biggest stages — as many as we can play," BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "So we are willing to travel to do it. We are still struggling to get people to come here. They like neutral sites, but coming to Provo isn’t so appealing for them. So under our current circumstances, to play our way into national prominence and consideration under the new alignments, I think it is a necessity."
Certainly, the travel is made easier by the fact that BYU charters every flight; the Cougars almost always are in the air and returning to Provo just hours after the final horn sounds. Junior receiver Mitch Mathews said traveling long distances neither increases nor decreases the opportunity to win. It’s all about the opponent and how the Cougars play, he said.
"I guess the myth is the farther you travel, the harder it is to win, but we want to be able to break that this year," said Mathews, from Beaverton, Ore. "We have accepted the fact that we are independent, and we love it, and we love traveling to different places. … But we have to remember we are going there to play games, and break the myth that the farther we travel, the harder it is to win. So when we go to UCF, when we go to Connecticut, we need to make sure we play our best football."
The trend will continue well into the future, as long as BYU remains independent, although the Cougars aren’t likely to cross the Mississippi River four times in one season again. They will do that this year if they are bowl-eligible.
Next year, their longest trips are to Nebraska and Michigan. In 2016, they are scheduled to play West Virginia at FedEx Field in Landover, Md., and at Cincinnati. In 2017, trips are scheduled to East Carolina and Hawaii.
Quarterback Taysom Hill said the long trips give the Cougars an opportunity to "showcase what we can do" around the country, noting that they played at Virginia, Notre Dame, Wisconsin and Houston last year.
"Obviously, the shorter trips are nicer and easier for us, but we are still getting on the plane and still traveling," Hill said. "A trip is a trip for me. That’s kinda the way I view it."
Running back Adam Hine said every player he’s talked to "loves the challenge" of traveling to the East Coast for games, while receiver Ross Apo said the Cougars’ far-flung schedule should be enticing to recruits. And they don’t have to go to Laramie, Wyo., anymore.
Athletic director Tom Holmoe said he envisioned playing in every time zone in the country every season when BYU announced its independence in 2010.
"We can’t get every game we want, but we can challenge ourselves in a way we really couldn’t when we were in a conference," he said.
Y.’s future road trips
2014 » At UConn, at Texas, at Central Florida, at Boise State, at Middle Tennessee State, at California
2015 » at Nebraska, at UCLA (above), at Michigan, at San Jose State, at UNLV, at Utah State
2016 » vs. Arizona at Glendale, Ariz., at Utah, vs. West Virginia (above) at Landover, Md., at Cincinnati
2017 » at Utah State, at East Carolina, at Fresno State, at Hawaii (above) Note: Only the 2014 and 2015 schedules are complete
BYU at ConnecticutFriday, 5 p.m. MDT
TV » ESPN