BYU enters Big 12 country to face West Virginia
The drive from Provo, Utah, the home of BYU, to Morgantown, West Virginia, where the West Virginia Mountaineers are from, covers about 1,929 miles.
That is far. In fact, it is farther than the distance between any two teams currently playing in the same Power Five conference by almost 400 miles. In the Pac-12, Washington (Seattle) to Arizona (Tucson, Arizona) is 1,537 miles, if you're scoring at home.
But yet, maybe as soon as next season, the Cougars and Mountaineers could be Big 12 ... rivals?
The Cougars (1-2), who have already played three Pac-12 teams this season, take a swing at the Big 12 on Saturday when they face West Virginia (2-0) - though they won't be making the Provo-to-Morgantown trip.
The game will be played at FedEx Field, home of the Washington Redskins, in Landover, Maryland. It is kind of a neutral site. Proximity favors a heavy Mountaineer presence, but BYU has a national following with its affiliation to the Church of Jesus of Latter-day Saints and fans that are willing to travel great distances to see their team. BYU officials are estimating about 10,000 BYU fans will be in attendance.
That is among the many reasons BYU was one of 11 schools to have a face-to-face interview with Big 12 officials a few weeks back as the conference ponders expansion. The Big 12 has made no commitment to expand. Maybe it will. Maybe it won't. Who really knows?
''I think we need to expand,'' said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, who, along with the other coaches, doesn't get a vote. ''The thing about the BYU-West Virginia thing, it only would be a once-every-four-year game, I would anticipate. I've voiced my opinion. All those are in the hands of the commissioner and then the athletic directors and presidents. They'll get this thing figured out, I'm quite certain.''
West Virginia is already on an island of sorts as a Big 12 member. Iowa State in Ames is closest to Morgantown at 860 miles and Lubbock, Texas, home of Texas Tech, is the farthest at 1,273 miles. What's another 700 miles?
BYU, which competes as an independent in football and has most of its other sports in the West Coast Conference, wants to be in a Power Five conference and makes a good case it could compete in one immediately.
The Cougars opened the season with a victory against Arizona and then lost back-to-back games to Utah and UCLA by a combined four points. The Cougars are 3-2 in their last five against Big 12 opponents and have 21 victories against Power Five schools since 2003, second only to Navy's 22 among non-Power Five schools.
Just as Houston's game against Oklahoma during the opening week of the season was not an audition, this is not a tryout for BYU.
Still, can't hurt to make a good showing.
Things to know about the first meeting between BYU and West Virginia.
TY-ED UP: Already there is some concern among BYU fans about first-year offensive coordinator Ty Detmer, the beloved former BYU player and Heisman Trophy winner. Detmer had never been a college coach before he was hired by new Cougars coach Kalani Sitake, a former teammate of Detmer's.
The Cougars' offense ranks 113th in the nation in yards per play at 4.66.
''We have to find our identity in every phase and have something to hang your hat on,'' said Sitake, also a former BYU player. ''We don't have that offensively right now. When we need to get a play, you usually go to your go-to play and we're still trying to find that. It's way too late going into Game 4 so we need to establish that soon.''
The Cougars will stick with quarterback Taysom Hill , who beat out Tanner Mangum for the job heading into the season.
FAST AND FURIOUS: West Virginia has no such identity issues. The Mountaineers are typical Big 12, up tempo and spread. They are ranked 20th in the country in yards per play at 6.82 yards per play.
Senior Skyler Howard has benefited so far from a group of receivers that is holding onto the ball better than last season.
BYU ROOTS: Holgorsen is part of the Hal Mumme/Mike Leach coaching tree that uses a version of the Air Raid offense, which has some roots that go back to BYU's prolific passing attacks under former coach LaVell Edwards.
''A lot of the principles in the passing game were things that all those great quarterbacks were doing back there for BYU,'' Holgorsen said. ''And we took them and stole them and maintained them to this day.''