Is this BYU’s toughest schedule of the independence era? Stacking up this season against the last decade

BYU has the 13th toughest schedule in the country, according to Phil Steele’s metrics.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Christopher Brooks runs the ball during a scrimmage, on day 1 of BYU Football Fall Camp, on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022.

Provo • Kody Epps interjected before the question even finished.

“Dude, this schedule excites me so much,” the wide receiver said on the first day of fall camp. “It is going to be fun. There are some tough games on there but I think we are going to be ready for it.”

The schedule he is referring to is the toughest in the independence era for BYU. By strength of schedule, travel and opponent distribution, the final leg of independence for the Cougars will be the most challenging year since 2009.

By the numbers

BYU has the 13th toughest schedule in the country, according to Phil Steele’s preseason metrics. Steele’s calculations are based mainly on the winning percentages of opponents from the previous season.

BYU’s competitors won an average of 60.8% of their games in 2021. For reference, Navy has the toughest schedule in the country according to Steele. Its opponents won an average of 65% of their games.

In total, BYU’s opponents went 90-63 last year. This was helped by five teams on the schedule that won nine or more games:

• Baylor went 12-2 and won the Sugar Bowl against Ole Miss;

• Oregon went 10-4 and went to the Pac-12 championship game;

• Notre Dame went 11-2 and lost in the Fiesta Bowl;

• Utah State went 11-3 and beat Oregon State in a bowl game;

• Arkansas went 9-4 in the SEC.

BYU has not played a strength of schedule higher than 33rd in the country in the independence era. That was in 2013 when BYU played Utah, Texas, Wisconsin, Washington and Notre Dame in the same season.

Of course, strength of schedule in the preseason can be a misleading statistic. Programs can fluctuate from year to year.

The 2021 season is a good example of that. BYU had seven Power Five teams on the schedule, the most in the independence era. By Steele’s metrics it was set up to have a top 25 schedule, but it ended up with the 63rd toughest strength of schedule in the country.

It turned out that BYU played a down USC and a Virginia team that followed an ACC championship season with just six wins in 2021.

That could happen again in 2022.

On the road again

Other metrics can help determine a truer sense of the strength of the schedule though. One is travel, which is something the College Football Playoff committee does consider when looking at the resume of a given team.

BYU will travel 13,566 miles to complete its calendar. It will head to the east coast twice — once to South Florida on Sept. 3 and again to Liberty on Oct. 22. It will also play at Oregon and on the road in Las Vegas against Notre Dame.

BYU’s longest road trips

1. South Florida — 2,336 miles

2. Liberty — 2,059 miles

3. Oregon — 824 miles

4. Stanford — 805 miles

5. Boise State — 381 miles

The challenge in the travel will be the consistency of it. Unlike years past, when BYU would chunk games at home, this year BYU does not play more than two consecutive weeks at home (in weeks four and five against Wyoming and Utah State).

In 2021, BYU did not play a true road game until Week 5. The year before that, BYU mostly played at home due to COVID. The only time BYU has played this balanced of a travel schedule in the independence era was in 2019. That year BYU never had a three-week home stand and played at USF and UMass in the same season.

No time for rest

The final measure of the strength of schedule is the distribution of the quality of games. BYU does not have an easy stretch at any point this schedule and does not have a bye week until November.

A good indication of the distribution of quality games is that BYU is not favored to win more than two games in a row by ESPN’s FPI.

It will open up two time zones away against USF in Florida. Then it will play No. 10 Baylor at home and No. 12 Oregon on the road.

It comes home to a rivalry game against Utah State before a road game against No. 5 Notre Dame and a return game against No. 23 Arkansas.

Theoretically, BYU will get a break against Liberty and East Carolina. But the Liberty game is in Virginia and East Carolina has sneakily returned quite a bit of production from 2021.

The lone real schedule rest for BYU will come against Utah Tech, the only non-FBS opponent of the slate.