Posted by Adam Jacobi
The news that BYU is leaving the Mountain West and going independent in football next season is, to put it mildly, sort of a big deal, and not just for the Stormin' Mormons themselves. BYU's choice of the WCC for all its other sports is yet another blow to the WAC, who had been rumored to be the destination for BYU's other sports. Sure, WAC football wouldn't have been directly affected, but with the conference needing to replace members Nevada and Fresno State, the presence of a high-profile athletic department like BYU's in the other sports would have made the WAC (and, indirectly, its football contingent) more attractive to potential new schools.
But this news really is about BYU, and mainly their liberation from the non-BCS identity that has haunted them since, well, before the BCS even existed. Bitterness over BYU's shared mythical national championship of 1984--featuring a ludicrously easy schedule and capped by a 7-point win over 6-6 Michigan in the Holiday Bowl--has (not unfairly) lingered to this day. Boise State and Utah have faced similar criticisms recently, and those criticisms have only been muted by--as irony would have it--the BCS system's ability to keep them out of national title contention up until now.
By moving to an independent slate, then, BYU can have greater control over its schedule and, more importantly, its television rights/revenue in a crowded but population-light MWC. Whether going independent will have a positive effect on BYU's actual national standing, however, depends on its ability to cultivate long-term scheduling pacts with high-level competition. Notre Dame, Army, and Navy are obvious candidates for yearly play, and we don't see any reason why they can't make a similar deal with Utah.
But past that, whom? BYU managed to spurn both the MWC and WAC with this move, and we can't imagine many schools in those conferences would be eager to schedule a date with the Cougars in the near future. Meanwhile, the Big Ten schools are already upgrading their schedule difficulty by adding Nebraska to the fold (and going to a 9-game conference slate in 2015), and the SEC is allergic to quality non-conference play. We're not saying BYU can't find 12 opponents a year, but they're not picking from a very big pool--especially when it comes to finding quality competition.