No. 8 BYU could benefit from Pac-12 changes

As the Pac-12 Conference opened the door for its teams to add nonconference games amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the major beneficiary of the change might turn out to be BYU.

The eighth-ranked Cougars are 8-0, don’t belong to a conference and have several open dates before the end of the extended season.

With their late start, the Pac-12 already has lost five contests to the pandemic, and recent spikes in the virus could disrupt additional games. The conference recognized that if its teams are going to be taken seriously around the country, they can’t finish the season having played just a handful of contests.

That’s why the presidents and chancellors announced the policy change Thursday allowing for nonconference opponents.

Somewhat coincidentally, Utah — BYU’s traditional rival less than an hour away — remains the only program from the Power Five conferences yet to play a game. It first two games were canceled when the Utes roster was depleted by the coronavirus. Utah is ready to open the season Saturday night at home against Southern California.

BYU, by contrast, has one of the softest schedules in the country, and upcoming games against North Alabama and Texas State won’t impress pollsters and the New Year’s Six bowls. Despite the perfect record, BYU’s College Football Playoff chances are questionable.

Even if the Cougars win all 10 of their games, voters might not raise them into one of the top four spots that earn playoff berths. However, a couple of wins against Pac-12 teams and they would have a better argument.

“Right now, the question that you ask (is), ‘Can you do more?'” BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe told CBS Sports. “I really don’t know. We’ll try to see what’s out there. The question now would be, ‘Do you want to play a game just to play a game?'”

The Cougars will play Saturday at home against North Alabama, an FCS team, and Dec. 12 at home against San Diego State. They have nothing scheduled for Nov. 28, Dec. 5 and Dec. 19.

Consider that Utah, which was on BYU’s original schedule of cancelled games, has a game scheduled against virus-racked Arizona State on Nov. 28. The Sun Devils also have had extensive COVID-19 problems in recent weeks, and if either Arizona State or Utah were to have a resurgence of the virus in the program, the available team could be a natural opponent for the Cougars.

“Right now, would we play Bemidji State just to play a game? There’s all kinds of things you’ve got to factor,” Holmoe said. “For the right team at the right place at the right time? That’s just our attitude. It’s not anywhere anytime.”

Also, it isn’t quite as simple as telling the two teams to show up Saturday, which is pretty much what happened with Cal and UCLA last week, when both teams lost their opponents to COVID-19 and they were thrown together late in the week.

Several complications could preclude a BYU game against any Pac-12 team. For instance, any available Pac-12 team that needs a game takes precedence over a potential nonconference foe; added games must be Pac-12 home games, the presidents and chancellors decided, in order to reduce further exposure; and BYU notably does not have the same testing protocols in place as the Pac-12 requires. It also doesn’t have the same 53-player roster requirements.

To pull it off, BYU would need to change its testing protocols, even type of tests it administers, and it would need to be done by a third party.