High risk. High reward? BYU takes on Coastal Carolina in battle of football unbeatens.

Coastal Carolina quarterback Grayson McCall (10) scrambles as Appalachian State's Brendan Harrington pursues during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020, in Conway, S.C. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)

Provo • The moment No. 8 BYU got wind of a possible opening to play No. 14 Coastal Carolina, the entire staff started prepping for the game even though No. 25 Liberty was still trying to keep its date with the Chanticleers.

BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe was initially happy for the opportunity the original matchup represented for fellow-independent Liberty, and was just as surprised by anyone else when BYU was able to take the Flames’ place following a COVID-19 surge on the roster.

“When that [Liberty-Coastal Carolina] game was lined up, I thought it was awesome,” Holmoe said. “And then we were blessed to step into that game. The football gods — LaVell [Edwards] was shaking things up upstairs. I don’t know what to say.”

The Cougars had a Chanticleers-focused practice Wednesday, and once more on Thursday after Liberty officially canceled and BYU was able to lock in the game. Getting as much of a head start on Coastal was key considering the short turnaround, but also because of the importance of this game.

The Cougars haven’t played since the initial College Football Playoff rankings were released. The Selection Committee placed BYU much lower than other national rankings, initially placing the Cougars in the No. 14 spot and then moving them up to No. 13 earlier this week. The committee was open about their feelings about BYU — its belief that the Cougars had too weak of a schedule to warrant a higher ranking.

Well, with a Top-20 matchup featured on College GameDay, that will no longer be an excuse.

Being able to climb more than one spot in the CFP rankings gave Holmoe an increased urgency to get this game on the books.

“You want to be able to put yourself, your team in a position to do the best they can,” Holmoe said. “I mean, we’re in a good spot being ranked, but you just want to kind of give your kids every chance they got, every chance they can get.”

The players hope that, with the way BYU was able to put this game together so quickly, college football fans will see that the Cougars don’t duck out of possible games, as people thought about the missed Washington opportunity.

But at the end of the day, the players are only concerned with themselves.

“We said from the beginning that we’ve been wanting to play and, so, whatever people want to say, they can say,” offensive lineman James Empey said. “We’re just excited for this game really, and how it came together on such short notice. When they told the team, everybody was stoked and ready to go. So, we’re just excited to have a game this week and what happened in the past doesn’t matter no more.”

However, the implications of this game will have to be put aside once on the field. The Cougars will need to focus solely on the Chanticleers — a first-time opponent.

It does help that, through the pandemic-forced change of schedule, BYU has already seen two other Sun Belt opponents: Texas State and Troy. The Cougars beat both those opponents by a combined score of 100-21.

The Chanticleers beat Texas State 49-14 on Nov. 28 and will close out the regular season Dec. 12 against Troy.

For now, the Cougars are focused on just getting a win. Then, what happens, happens.

“I think at the end of the day, we just got to go out there and play our game,” senior defensive back Troy Warner. “We can’t get too caught up in that kind of stuff because you never know, it could potentially throw us off our game. So if we just go out there and dominate on every level, I think that will take care of itself.”


At Brooks Stadium, Conway, SC

Kickoff » Saturday, 3:30 p.m. MT


Radio » 1160 AM, 102.7 FM, Sirius 143.

Records » BYU 9-0; CC 9-0

Series » First meeting

About BYU » This will be the Cougars’ second ranked opponent of the season — and once again on the road. BYU played then-No. 21 Boise State last month, but knocked the Broncos out of the rankings with a 51-17 beatdown. … BYU starting quarterback Zach Wilson has thrown for 2,724 yards and 26 touchdowns while completing 74% of his passes. … Junior wide receiver Dax Milne could cross 1,000 receiving yards this season on Saturday as he currently has 906 yards through nine games. ... BYU played on the blue turf at Boise State; on Saturday they’ll play on Brooks Stadium’s teal surface.

About CC » The Chanticleers won the program’s first-ever Sun Belt East Division Championship last week with a 49-14 conference win at Texas State. … QB Grayson McCall has thrown for 1,747 yards and 20 TDs, with just one interception this season. ... Coastal’s current nine-game winning streak this season is the longest single-season winning streak for the Chanticleers since moving to the FBS level in 2017. … The Chanticleers are just 1-3 all-time versus Top 25 FBS opponents.