The BYU Cougars released their official 2018 football schedule a few weeks ago. All of the games had been previously announced, and there was no new information with regards to television broadcast plans or kickoff times. Nevertheless, it is still possible to analyze the 2018 slate.
1. September 1, at Arizona
2017 record: 7-6
2018 recruiting ranking (247sports.com): 58
This game has a little deja-vu feel. It was just two years ago that BYU opened the season against Arizona in a neutral site game in Tempe, Arizona. It was BYU head coach Kalani Sitake's first game as head coach. This time around, Arizona will be breaking in a new coach.
A win will feel good, but like 2016, it will be hard to judge how good BYU is after this first game. With BYU breaking in a new offense, this game could end up a lot like that 2016 game: close and low scoring.
2. September 8, Cal
2017 record: 5-7
2018 recruiting ranking: 43
With 17 starters returning, expect Cal to be better than last season. BYU also returns a lot of starters on both sides of the ball. That makes the home opener a good game to evaluate how well the Cougar coaching staff has done this offseason.
Beat Cal, and there is a good chance this team exceeds pre-season expectations (6-6). Lose to Cal, and 2018 will be a test of character similar to 2017 where the Cougars might have to endure a lot of losing before winnable games come. How they weather the storm will decide if they can beat all the lesser opponents and get bowl eligible.
3. September 15, at Wisconsin
2017 record: 13-1
2018 recruiting ranking: 44
This game could be interesting. Ten of the Badgers' 14 returning starters are on offense. Most of the BYU defensive starters return in 2018, and the BYU defensive coaching staff stayed. That Cougar continuity and the chip on the shoulder from last year's embarrassment could lead to BYU, surprisingly, bottling up the Badger's offense. It is also possible that Wisconsin will overlook BYU after easily routing the Cougars in 2017.
No doubt, Wisconsin will reload with talented players on defense, but maybe this game will be early enough in the year they haven't gelled yet. Maybe BYU's different offensive scheme will keep the Badgers guessing enough that the Cougars can score more than expected and be in a position to pull this one out in the end.
4. September 22, McNeese State
2017 record: 9-2
2018 recruiting ranking: 195
Despite their strong 2017 season and BYU's poor season, McNeese State doesn't harbor any fantasies of beating BYU. In the press release for McNeese State's 2018 schedule, the only mention of the BYU game was that it was a "'guarantee' game." In other words, a guaranteed win for BYU and a guaranteed pay check for McNeese State.
The Rowdies head coach flirted with a promotion to be a part of the Florida State coaching staff, but in the end he stayed put. BYU should win, but don't be surprised to see this game be more of a challenge than expected. Kind of like Toledo in 2016 was more competitive than expected. That isn't implying it will come down to a last second field goal, but don't let the name on the jersey fool you. McNeese State has a good thing going. On second thought, UMass beat BYU last year, so if Kalani Sitake hasn't righted the ship the Cougars could be in for a real fight.
5. September 29, at Washington
2017 record: 10-3
2018 recruiting ranking: 13
BYU gave a Chris Petersen coached Boise State team a good beating in 2013, but this Washington team is not like that Boise State squad. Quarterback Jake Browning is a senior. The Huskies have been to the college football playoff (2016) and won 10 games last year. Washington returns nine starters on defense. If BYU hasn't found an offensive identity yet, then this will be a long day.
Husky Stadium if a very difficult place to play. While game four is a nice breather, this game is still coming at the end of a long month for BYU. Three road games and five games total, with just one opponent being clearly inferior, can take a toll on the Cougars. A win might be very unlikely, but BYU can give a sign of where it stands by how competitive it plays.
6. October 5 (Friday), Utah State
2017 record: 6-7
2018 recruiting ranking: 114
BYU should have beat the Aggies last season. Quarterback injuries and a rash of turnovers let the game get away from BYU. The Cougars have not lost back-to-back games to Utah State since the 1970s. Regardless of record, BYU should be hungry for revenge and find a way to get up for this game.
Utah State returns 18 starters, but that shouldn't be enough to get the win in Provo. BYU was the better team last year even with all its weaknesses.
7. October 13, Hawai'i
2017 record: 3-9
2018 recruiting ranking: 95
This is another game BYU should be able to sieze control early with the talent disparity between Hawai'i and the September opponents. A win will help BYU go into the bye week with some momentum.
Hawai'i has to replace its all-time leading rusher, and the reliable Dylan Collie at receiver. Collie could be on the BYU sideline, which would certainly add an interesting wrinkle to the game.
October 20, BYE
8. October 27, Northern Illinois
2017 record: 8-5
2018 recruiting ranking: 91
Northern Illinois isn't what it was just a few years ago, but the 8-5 record last year is evidence that the Huskies are still formidable enough to upend the Cougars if there has been no improvement from last year.
Hopefully, BYU comes into this game with the momentum of winning three of its last four games, and well rested with minimal impact from injury. Not only does BYU have a bye the week before, the Cougars will not be road weary. This is BYU's third consecutive home game.
9. November 3, at Boise State
2017 record: 11-3
2018 recruiting ranking: 56
Boise State manhandled BYU last year, but previous year's results don't reflect the next year's outcome in this series. BYU has had three one-point losses on the blue turf, but never a win.
BYU will be without Fred Warner who returned interceptions for touchdowns each of the last two times BYU went to Boise. Dayan Lake, however, will be back. He had a pick-6 in Boise as a freshman in 2016. It will take some big plays like that to come away victorious.
10. November 10, at UMass (Gillette Staduim)
2017 record: 4-8
2018 recruiting ranking: 117
This is a must win game. After the embarrassing loss in LaVell Edwards Stadium last year, BYU needs to put UMass in its place. BYU also needs to win for bowl eligibility purposes. Even though the Minutemen won last season, there is no justification for a second straight loss to UMass.
Technically, this is a neutral site game at the home of the New England Patriots. Hopefully, the Patriots schedule will allow Kyle Van Noy to run out the alumni flag, and for Harvey Langi and him to hang out on the sidelines and pass on some of that Patriots way magic.
11. November 17, New Mexico State
2017 record: 7-6
2018 recruiting ranking: 125
This should be a nice tune up game, a la SEC style scheduling, before the big rivalry game. BYU enjoyed two easy wins against the Aggies in the first two seasons of independence.
Hopefully, a win in this game gets the Cougars bowl eligible so there isn't any added pressure to the Utah outcome in that respect.
12. November 24, at Utah
2017 record: 7-6
2018 recruiting ranking: 34
This is the first time BYU and Utah have played in November since they left the Mountain West Conference. That may work out in BYU's favor since the last game BYU won was played in November.
With the current state of BYU athletics, the Cougars really need to end the losing streak in football. Having this game at the end of the regular season would add to the positive vibes that a win will generate.
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