For years, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish ruled the college football landscape as the kings of media attention and scheduling big games.
The Irish have a national fan base as the most prominent school associated with the Catholic faith. Each year, Notre Dame’s home games are played in front of a national audience on NBC. Even in recent years, as the team has struggled to reach major bowl games, any small piece of news coming out of South Bend has found itself on the ESPN Bottom Line. As a football independent, the Irish are able to schedule games every year against the likes of USC, Stanford, Michigan, Michigan State and Navy. This year they will also face Oklahoma, Miami and our own Brigham Young Cougars.
When you list why Notre Dame is successful as a college football independent, it leads you to wonder if there is any reason why BYU cannot achieve the same status among college football’s powers?Brigham Young became an independent last year, and according to athletic director Tom Holmoe, they became an independent after seeing Notre Dame make it work.
“Notre Dame is important for us because we follow their model,” Holmoe said at BYU’s 2012 media day.
Notre Dame is also important for the Cougars as the college football championship format is about to change.
Over the past months, conference commissioners have met to discuss the four-team playoff that will take place beginning in the 2014 season. The factors a selection committee will use to determine which four teams participate in the playoff will be a team’s win/loss record, its strength of schedule, head-to-head results and whether or not the team was a conference champion.
BYU, however, is not affiliated with a conference in football; therefore, the Cougars cannot win a conference title. Does this worry the Cougars? No. Why not? Because it doesn’t worry their Fighting Irish friends.
Even though the Cougars themselves have not been able to attend these meetings, they feel they have had some voice at them.
“Our good friend Notre Dame was at the table,” said Holmoe.
“We have a good relationship with Notre Dame.” BYU Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall said, “They don’t go to the meetings to represent us, but they know how we feel.”
And Notre Dame doesn’t seem to feel concerned about the lack of a conference hurting their chances.
“Playing a schedule like we do, with five top-15 teams on our schedule, that’s good news for us in the way this has been formatted,” Notre Dame Coach Brian Kelly told ESPN.
ESPN college football analyst Rece Davis feels the same way. Last week on SportsCenter, he told anchor Kevin Negandhi that with the schedule that Notre Dame plays each year, if they go undefeated or have one loss, that is even more impressive than a conference championship.
So what is the key for the Cougars? Continue following Notre Dame’s model and schedule the big games.
“It’s getting better,” Holmoe said of scheduling the big names. “I’d say it’s getting easier.”
It seems like it is. Along with this year’s games against Boise State, Georgia Tech and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish themselves, the Brigham Young Cougars have a very strong future schedule. Texas and Houston will be added to the mix in 2013, Southern Miss in 2014, and Nebraska to open the 2015 season. Holmoe also mentioned he is in the works of scheduling a game with Miami.
The next step is to win those big games.
“Credibility as a football team comes from scheduling tough teams, and usually going on the road and beating them,” Mendenhall said.
One team that BYU could beat this year to earn some credibility is Notre Dame. Beating Notre Dame could lead to more visibility, better scheduling opportunities, and bragging rights as the country’s top college football independent, according to former Cougar and ESPN analyst Trevor Matich.
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