Strictly from a scheduling perspective, no FBS program has been hit harder by the coronavirus pandemic than BYU.
With the Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC all opting for conference-only schedules, six of BYU’s 2020 opponents have been wiped from the slate: Utah, Michigan State, Arizona State, Minnesota, Missouri and Stanford. That group includes all four of the games the Cougars — an FBS independent — had scheduled for the month of September.
But at least one of those slots has now been filled. The school announced Thursday that it will travel to Annapolis, Maryland, to face Navy on Labor Day (Monday, Sept. 7). The game will be a primetime 8 p.m. ET kickoff on ESPN (which lost its anticipated long weekend of college football programming), the first night game on Navy’s campus since 2005. The matchup is also the first part of a home-and-home series for the two programs. Navy will make the return trip to BYU at a later, to-be-determined date.
“We are very excited for the opportunity to play the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis,” said BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe. “It’s always an honor and a privilege to play against a service academy, like we did annually for many years with Air Force.”
The game puts BYU’s schedule up to seven games — at least on paper. In addition to Navy, BYU has previously scheduled games against Utah State (Oct. 2), Houston (Oct. 16), Northern Illinois (Oct. 24), Boise State (Nov. 6), San Diego State (Nov. 14) and North Alabama (Nov. 21).
Utah State, Boise State and San Diego State are all members of the Mountain West, which announced Wednesday that its teams are permitted to play up to two non-conference games. San Diego State athletic director J.D. Wicker said in a radio interview Thursday morning that BYU will be one of SDSU’s non-conference games. Additionally, Utah State said in a release Thursday that it will “tentatively” begin its football season at BYU on Oct. 2 before beginning conference play the next week. Boise State has yet to indicate its non-conference plans.
Houston, as a member of the American Athletic Conference, is permitted to schedule up to four non-conference games, so that seems like good news for BYU. The Mid-American Conference, home of Northern Illinois, has not yet announced its plans for the season. North Alabama is an FCS team out of the Big South Conference, a league proceeding with football as of now.
With its schedule seemingly at seven, BYU said Thursday that it will “continue to announce additional games for the 2020 season as they are finalized.”
Notre Dame-Navy streak ends at 93 consecutive years
BYU’s scheduling issues spell out some of the potential challenges associated with not being in a conference.
Notre Dame, the most prominent independent program, quickly aligned itself with the ACC and will play the 2020 season — if it happens — as a full ACC member eligible for the conference championship. ACC teams are playing 11-game schedules with 10 conference games and one non-league game.
Notre Dame and Navy attempted to work out an arrangement to play in 2020 to keep their long standing rivalry (93 consecutive years) on the schedule, but it never came to fruition. Instead, Notre Dame will host Western Michigan on Sept. 19. There’s a silver lining, though, as Notre Dame and Navy extended their contract to 2032.
"Obviously many will be disappointed that our longstanding competitive streak with Notre Dame will be interrupted due to the scheduling circumstances imposed by the pandemic. However, we have agreed that Navy and Notre Dame will continue as one of college football's longest intersectional matchups through our extension and I appreciate Notre Dame making this a priority," Navy AD Chet Gladchuk said.
What about other independent programs?
Here’s how things stand for the rest of the independent programs:
UConn, entering its first year as an independent after leaving the AAC (primarily for basketball reasons), announced Wednesday that it has canceled its football season, becoming the first FBS program to do so.
“After receiving guidance from state and public health officials and consulting with football student-athletes, we’ve decided that we will not compete on the gridiron this season,” UConn AD David Benedict said. “The safety challenges created by COVID-19 place our football student-athletes at an unacceptable level of risk.”
Army is down to eight scheduled games after UConn’s decision. The Black Knights were scheduled to play the Huskies on the road and had already lost games against Oklahoma, Bucknell and Princeton. Remaining on the Army schedule are Rice, Miami (Ohio), Eastern Michigan, Buffalo, Air Force, Tulane, UMass and Navy. What happens with the MAC will be pivotal for Army.
Liberty also lost UConn from its schedule but got good news Thursday when the full ACC schedule was revealed. Syracuse, Virginia Tech and NC State all have the Flames as their non-conference game. Liberty’s schedule currently sits at 10 games on paper: Western Kentucky, FIU, Bowling Green, ULM, Syracuse, Southern Miss, Virginia Tech, Western Carolina, NC State and UMass. That is, of course, subject to change as Group of Five programs finalize their schedules.
New Mexico State has lost games against UCLA, Florida and Texas Southern so far and will hope to make the cut as the other teams on its original schedule finalize their non-conference schedules. New Mexico State has games scheduled against four Mountain West teams (UTEP, Hawaii, Fresno State, New Mexico), two Sun Belt teams (Texas State, Louisiana) and one team from both Conference USA (UAB) and the MAC (Akron), plus a game against UMass, another independent.
UMass is down to nine games on its schedule having seen contests against UConn, Albany and Auburn canceled. Like New Mexico State, UMass has several Group of Five opponents on its schedule, but has the benefit of three independent teams (New Mexico State, Army and Liberty) to play, too. UMass’ other games are Troy, App State, New Mexico, Temple, Akron and FIU.
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