BYU’s football schedule is in tatters. How do the Cougars plan to replace five lost games?

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) BYU head coach Kalani Sitake gathers his team during the first half of the NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018, at LaVell Edwards stadium in Provo, Utah.

BYU’s 2020 football schedule was absolutely loaded. The Cougars were set to face five Power Five opponents — four consecutive to start the season — including the second game of a home-and-home series against Michigan State in Provo.

The Cougars also had a bowl tie-in for 2020 with ESPN.

But that's all in question now as COVID-19 cases continue to rise throughout the nation.

So far, the Cougars have already lost five of their 12 regular-season opponents. The Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences have announced they will play a conference-only schedule this fall. Gone from BYU’s slate as a result: Utah, Stanford, Arizona State, Minnesota and the Spartans.

Originally scheduled for July 20, BYU has postponed its virtual football media day until further notice — another sign of the pandemic times.

It’s starting to seem like the only options BYU has to salvage a season are to put together a season against other independents (maybe even sprinkle in some FCS opponents) or scrap the season altogether.

Which is exactly what the Cougars are doing.

“BYU is actively working on a variety of scheduling alternatives since the announcements by the Big Ten and Pac-12 to play conference-only games,” associate Athletic Director Duff Tittle said.

As far as the Cougars’ biggest rivalry game, Utah Athletic Director Mark Harlan said the the contract between both schools will resume in 2021.

However, a new option has started to bubble up in the world of college football.

The Athletic Coast Conference is expected to also move to a conference-only schedule. However, ACC Commissioner John Swofford said if all Power Five schools play conference-only schedules, the ACC would assist Notre Dame with as many games as needed, according to Stadium’s Brett McMurphy.

Of course, Notre Dame football joining the ACC would be easier than BYU linking up with a major conference. Notre Dame is already a member of the ACC for every major sport except football and hockey. The Irish already have six ACC teams on their 2020 schedule.

If there is a landing place out there — even temporarily — the Big 12 may be in the best position to help a few football independents, including BYU. While the majority of Power Five conferences have 14 members, the Big 12 is the only P5 with just 10 schools. The thinking goes that, by adding some independents, the Big 12 could avoid a clipped conference-only schedule.

Currently, there are seven FBS independents: Army, BYU, Liberty, New Mexico State, Notre Dame, UConn and UMass. It is fair to assume BYU is talking to some, if not all of them about a fall-back schedule if leagues continue to reduce their schedules to conference games only.

Air travel is another factor here. Reducing it is one of the drivers towards conference-only schedules. Last year, BYU made four trips back east.

While airlines and charter companies — which BYU and other college teams use when they fly — have implemented new safety measures to help battle the spread of the coronavirus, air travel still requires people to spend time in security lines and terminals, which could bring people in close contact with others and frequently touched surfaces.

Social distancing is also difficult on a flights, even with most airlines closing out the middle seat, and could increase risk for exposure.

Of the seven independent programs, only BYU and New Mexico State find themselves in the West, making traveling for an independent-only schedule difficult to work out.

It’ll be difficult for BYU to find its footing while other conferences continue making changes to their own schedules, and as cases continue to rise, but the athletic program will continue to work to find a solution.

“As the landscape continues to change and evolve, we will continue to work with other universities and our partners to create the best possible opportunities for the BYU athletic program, our student-athletes and our loyal fans,” Tittle said.

Stay tuned.