Does Travel For UCF Give BYU A Bonus Home Field Advantage?

The Brigham Young Cougars will host the UCF Knights Friday night. This will mark the tenth time since 1986 BYU has hosted a team from the eastern United States. A direct flight from Orlando, Florida to Provo, Utah is roughly 1,875 miles and it takes approximately four hours. Playing at home has long been considered an advantage in sports. Is hosting a team that has traveled far an added bonus?

In the table below are the results of from the nine other times BYU has played a team from the east. The W/L column is whether BYU won or lost.

The wins against Miami and Penn State can give the impression that playing teams after they travel all the way to Provo is an advantage. However, BYU is just 5-4 in these games. As the favorite, BYU is 1-2. As the underdog, BYU is 3-2. BYU is 1-0 in games that were a toss up. The sample size makes it hard to draw any clear conclusions.

UCF's history doesn't add much data either. Since becoming a Division I-A team in 1996, UCF has ventured to the Rocky Mountains just twice. In 2001, a 6-5 UCF team lost to a 4-7 Utah State team 30-27. In 2002, a 7-5 UCF team lost to an 8-6 Arizona State team 46-13.
As for using the results of BYU's previous games to analyze Friday's game, there are two ways to approach it. (I don't know enough about the 2001 Utah State team, the 2002 Arizona State, or the 2001 and 2002 UCF teams to use in an analysis of the BYU-UCF match up this Friday.)

From the BYU standpoint, the upcoming game with UCF is most comparable with the 1986 game with Temple and the 1992 game against Penn State. BYU was 2-0. In each of those games, BYU was coming off a big loss the game before. While it is hard to assess how good the 2011 team is at this point, they probably aren’t too far off from the 1986 and 1992 BYU teams.

As far as UCF goes, they are probably most comparable with the 1999 Virginia and the 2009 Florida State teams. BYU was 0-2. Virginia was 2-1 with two wins over bad teams. Their one loss came on the road in week two. Florida State was 1-1 with the loss to an instate rival. Going into the BYU game, they were coming off a win, but it was an ugly win over a FCS team.

One aspect of the games with Florida State and Virginia that played to their advantage was that both the 1999 and 2009 BYU teams were undefeated and nationally ranked going into the game. That provided added motivation and incentive for the Cavaliers and Seminoles, while BYU was overconfident.

The game this Friday against UCF is a rare occasion when BYU hosts a team from the east. BYU has had some big, memorable wins when teams from the east come to Provo. That can give the impression that BYU takes advantage of the long road trip for the traveling team. While, at this point, BYU appears to need every advantage possible to win games, past results don’t indicate that BYU regularly turns that travel burden into an added edge.

UCF, on the other hand, has very little experience playing west of Texas. The Knights have never won in the Rocky Mountains. In the end, it appears that UCF will determine the extent to which the travel issue will have an impact on the outcome of this game.  

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