Provo • Optimism and enthusiasm reigned at the BYU football program’s media event last summer as the Cougars discussed their 2017 schedule and how they would travel more than 17,500 miles and play in five different time zones.
“It is going to be a blast to take Cougar football all over the place, play in front of our fans all around the country,” quarterback Tanner Mangum said back in June.
Reality set in early Thursday morning, however, as alarm clocks went off around town and the Cougars woke up realizing they were 1-6, on a six-game losing streak for the first time since 1968, and facing an even longer trip than they had been on five days ago.
Less than a week after a jaunt to Starkville, Miss., that covered 2,706 miles roundtrip, the Cougars flew 1,899 miles to Greenville, N.C. on Thursday. They will return via charter flight shortly after Saturday’s 5 p.m. MDT game against also-struggling East Carolina (1-6) at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium to complete the 3,798-mile sojourn.
BYU at East Carolina
Saturday, 5 p.m. MDT
TV • CBSSN
“Whenever we go two time zones away, we try to go a couple days early,” coach Kalani Sitake said Monday, downplaying the stress that another long road trip will put on his beleaguered team. “It will be fun. It won’t be as hot [as Starkville]. We get to see our fans out in that area, and I am very appreciative that we had great fans at the Mississippi State game.
“It is nice to see our fans at different places in the country, so we are looking forward to that,” Sitake continued. “And having our guys regroup and go out a day early might be good for us.”
With six away games and a so-called neutral site game in New Orleans against LSU, BYU will have traveled a whopping 17,246 miles in its seventh-season of football independence when it returns from a regular season-ending trip to Hawaii on Nov. 25.
Nobody is blaming the Cougars’ historically dismal start on their extensive travel — they’ve been as bad offensively at LaVell Edwards Stadium as they’ve been on the road — but it does raise some of the same old questions about the sustainability of football independence moving forward.
It is a big if, but what if BYU was off to an unbeaten start and facing this kind of a quick turnaround? Assuming ECU was not also going through a rare down year and capable of beating a Top-25 team, BYU’s New Year’s Six bowl dreams would be in jeopardy and independence skeptics would be howling.
It probably could be worse. Compared to trips to Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina and Hawaii, BYU’s three other trips in 2017 are relatively short: Logan, Las Vegas and Fresno, Calif.
“We are looking forward to going back East again,” Mangum said Tuesday. “It is beautiful out there. I think it is the first game BYU has ever played in one of the Carolinas, I read somewhere a while back. So it will be cool to go out there and play in that environment.”
The 2017 schedule is similar, travel-wise, to 2014 when BYU traveled 14,956 miles and played at Connecticut, Central Florida, Texas, Boise State, Middle Tennessee State and California. Then the Cougars flew to Miami for a bowl game. They probably won’t have to worry about that this December, likely ending a 12-year bowl streak.
Defensive end Corbin Kaufusi said because the Cougars take charter flights, the excessive travel “is not too bad” and doesn’t take a toll on them physically. For instance, they were back in Provo before sundown last Saturday, thanks to not having to fly commercial.
“Sometimes we like to blame the time differences, and the altitude, and whatnot,” said Kaufusi, who is as familiar with charter travel as much as any Cougar athlete, having spent two seasons playing for the BYU basketball team. “But really it just comes down to playing football. Instead of listening to all those outside noises, we are just playing football.”
Besides, Kaufusi said, long flights enable players to get in some extra sleep, watch game film or a movie or, believe it or not, work on school assignments.
“There is plenty of stuff you could be doing,” he said. “It’s all good.”
BYU will return to Greenville in 2024 and ECU will visit Provo for the second time in 2022, the schools announced Thursday.
Next year, BYU is scheduled to play at Wisconsin and Massachusetts (at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.). The Cougars will travel to Tennessee, Toledo and UMass in 2019 and to Minnesota and Northern Illinois in 2020.
Future lengthy BYU football trips
2018 • at Wisconsin, vs. UMass at Foxborough, Mass.
2019 • at Tennessee, at Toledo, vs. UMass at Foxborough, Mass.
2020 • at Minnesota, at Northern Illinois
2021 • at South Florida, at Baylor
Note: BYU’s 2019-21 schedules are not complete