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Why BYU isn't 'Ducking' at the Opportunity to Play Washington

Context is important, why BYU isn't avoiding the opportunity to play a P5 opponent on the road.

After one half on Saturday, BYU led North Alabama 42-7 and starting quarterback Zach Wilson's night was over. The game was out of reach and BYU opted to rest their star quarterback for the remainder of the game. While standing on the sidelines during the second half, Wilson wore a headband that read "Any team, any time, any place." 

Zach's message was loud and clear - BYU is willing to play anybody. Some analysts have said that BYU should stick with 10 games and hope their resume earns them a NY6 at-large bid. After all, the Cougars are 9-0 and they have been ranked in the top 10 for a few weeks. It feels like every conversation about BYU, however, includes a disclaimer about BYU's less-than formidable schedule. Despite their dominance this season, some national pundits have discounted the Cougar's success because of their schedule.

However, it's difficult to fault the Cougars for their schedule this season. Before COVID-19, BYU was preparing to play a 2020 schedule that would be one of the most difficult in program history. Its original schedule included three teams (Utah, Arizona State, Stanford) from the Pac-12, two teams (Michigan State, Minnesota) from the Big Ten, and one team (Missouri) from the SEC.

PAC-12 Reverses Decision

BYU scheduling became a hot topic this week when the PAC-12 reversed their decision regarding non-conference games. After banning OOC games earlier this year, the PAC-12 will allow its members to play non-conference opponents if those opponents adhere by the following rules:

  1. The opponent must meet PAC-12 COVID-19 protocols
  2. The games must be home games for the PAC-12 teams and be televised with a PAC-12 TV partner
  3. If a PAC-12 opponent becomes available by the end of day Thursday prior to the game, must pay the available conference opponent

The PAC-12 was off to a bumpy start after multiple games were cancelled due to COVID-19. With few weekends remaining, the reversal was a hail mary attempt by the PAC-12 to allow its members to play as many games as possible. Given BYU's regional connections to the PAC-12, the fact that BYU could use a boost to their resume, and has three of the next four weekends available, the Cougars and the PAC-12 looked like a natural fit. 

Seattle Times Report

On Sunday afternoon, Mike Vorel of the Seattle Times reported that the University of Washington was looking for a game this weekend adding that "BYU is a possibility."

Shortly thereafter, Kyle Bonagura of ESPN reported that "Washington [had] reached out to BYU about scheduling a game for this week, but so far BYU [had] resisted."

That report seemed like a direct contradiction to the message that BYU was sending on Saturday: any team, any time, any place. It sparked tweets from college football writers like this one from Stewart Mandel: 

"See now, *this* is what ducking looks like." - Stewart Mandel

Why BYU is not 'Ducking' Washington

It's important to remember that there are two sides to every story. BYU plays P5 teams on an annual basis. BYU was trying to schedule Alabama when they lost their original schedule. BYU does not shy away from big-time opponents to protect their record. 

Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports reached out to a BYU source who told him "If we can get a game locked in, we want to play."

BYU wanted the game to be guaranteed, but Washington can't technically guarantee a game until Thursday according to PAC-12 rules.

As more information was coming to light, Jake Hatch of the Locked on Cougars podcast reported that Washington's staff was preparing to play Utah this weekend:

Utah is scheduled to play Arizona State this weekend who is dealing with a severe COVID-19 outbreak. Per PAC-12 rules, Washington would have to play the Utes if they became available before the end of the day on Thursday. This is the exact situation that BYU wanted to avoid when they "resisted" Washington's loaded invitation.

Some reports have indicated that BYU is waiting until Tuesday for the inaugural CFP rankings to schedule more games. Those rankings will demonstrate how the CFP values BYU's resume and also indicate BYU's chances to earn a NY6 bid with their existing schedule. Since BYU can't receive a guarantee until Thursday, why wouldn't the Cougars wait until Tuesday to see where they stand in the eyes of the CFP committee?

Given BYU's position, they can be selective about the opponents they play to finish the regular season. The Cougars have their reasons for resisting a game with Washington, but it's not an effort to Washington and preserve their perfect record. That theory goes against everything we know about BYU's scheduling strategy since the Cougars went independent in 2011.