BYU is now the last college football program standing in Utah — and in the West

By Wednesday afternoon, BYU was the lone NCAA football program in the state that hadn’t canceled its 2020 season.

Dixie State announced Wednesday morning it would postpone its 2020 football season to the spring, a day after Utah saw its season canceled when the Pac-12 decided to postpone all sport competitions through the rest of the calendar year.

On Monday, the Mountain West indefinitely postponed all fall sport contests, bringing an end to Utah State football.

Last Friday, both Weber State and Southern Utah announced postponement, with plans to try to play in the spring.

Yet, in Provo, the Cougars are continuing fall camp as usual — albeit with face shields and masks.

Assistant coach Aaron Roderick hadn't even thought about BYU's lone quest in the state to play football when practice wrapped up on Wednesday.

“I’m not really thinking about any other teams or what’s going on anywhere else,” Roderick said. “It doesn’t matter to me. I’m just trying to get our team better and take care of these players and this program, and just follow whatever rules and policies we have.”

(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) BYU opened spring football camp on Monday March 5 in the indoor playing facility with some new offensive coaching staff, like quarterback coach Aaron Roderick.

However, the Mountain West’s decision to not play this fall has one of the biggest impacts on the Cougars’ schedule.

BYU had already lost half its schedule — six games — when Power Five conferences started moving to conference-only schedules. The Pac-12 move cost the Cougars three games, the Big Ten two and SEC one.

Athletic Director Tom Holmoe found a replacement for the season opener (previously Utah) when he quickly booked a game with Navy, but then lost another game (Northern Illinois) when the Mid-American Conference became the first FBS league to postpone the fall season.

The Mountain West cost the Cougars three more of their games, leaving them with three opponents on the 2020 schedule. The MWC decision cost BYU games against two of its biggest rivals — Utah State and Boise State.

The Cougars did add a fourth game back on the schedule Thursday, signing a two-game deal with Troy (Ala.) University. The Cougars and Trojans will play Sept. 26 at LaVell Edwards Stadium. BYU will return the game with a visit to Troy in 2026.

Senior linebacker Zayne Anderson redshirted the 2018 season due to a shoulder injury. After undergoing surgery, Anderson came back to action, only to have his shoulder pop back out early in the season. Luckily, Anderson was granted a medical redshirt.

However, with it being his sixth year back and having overcome surgeries the last couple of years, Anderson wants nothing more than to play this season.

That's why the loss of three Mountain West opponents upset him.

“It’s super frustrating,” Anderson said. “I feel for all those athletes — that could be us any day. It hurts us. We had those three games scheduled and we were looking forward to those. Every day you hear something new and it’s kind of like ‘dang.’”

But while BYU's independence first seemed like an obstacle as leagues started moving to conference-only schedules, it's now served as the Cougars' beacon of hope. They have no one to answer to, but themselves.

“We’re looking forward to the future and we’re lucky to be at BYU and be independent,” Anderson said. “We’re full force and we’re ready to take on anyone. So, that’s our head coach’s mindset and that’s our AD’s mindset. Knowing we have those guys fighting for us, fighting for games, it helps a lot. As a senior coming back, we want to play as much as possible and play as many games as possible.”

Even if the Cougars never get to play a game this fall, they've enjoyed the opportunity to practice so far.

Some teams across the country never even got start spring practices. BYU had six before the pandemic shut them down.

Some never started fall camp. The Cougars started Aug. 4.

Roderick said the staff and players have a great respect for the virus and are operating under the guidelines provided. However, it's also the most fun fall camp Roderick has been a part of.

The quarterback coach said that the pandemic has made him realize how precious any opportunities to play are.

“We’re just taking it one day at a time, enjoying the moment,” Roderick said. “We’re not even really thinking about what’s ahead, other than just enjoying each practice and trying to become a better team for whenever we do play.”

As of Thursday morning, BYU was not only the lone team left in Utah, but now the only team in the West.

Fellow independent New Mexico State postponed its fall season to the spring due to COVID-19 player health and safety concerns — the third independent program to do so. Notre Dame has joined the ACC for a season.

Only three independents, including BYU — Army and Liberty are the others — are left to figure out their season.

However, Roderick believes the team's biggest challenge at the moment is not getting swept up by the constant news about college football and the almost-hourly changes.

“One minute, you think you’re playing, the next minute the whole world’s coming to an end and we’re not playing,” Roderick said. “Right now, we’re not too focused on that. We’re just trying to be the best team we can be. We know we’re going to play football at some point. It might be in four weeks from now. It may be who knows when. But when that time comes, we’re going to be ready to play because we’re taking advantage of every practice we get right now.”