PROVO — The reality of late-season scheduling as a football independent is starting to sink in for BYU.
It's November, and the Cougars play only twice this month. There are night games at home against a pair of Western Athletic Conference opponents with a combined record of 5-13. And there are two bye weeks.
"It's going to be really different," said coach Bronco Mendenhall.
Different from what BYU is accustomed to, certainly. In the past, when entering the home stretch of the schedule in November, the Cougars traditionally have faced teams like Colorado State, Wyoming, New Mexico, Air Force, San Diego State, and Utah. Those are familiar foes that BYU had played for decades.
The Cougars, who just finished the first of their two byes, host Idaho Saturday, then have a contest against New Mexico State, with a kickoff at 8:15 p.m, one week later.
BYU hasn't played Idaho since 1955, and the game against New Mexico State will mark the first-ever meeting between the two schools.
Mendenhall noted that he has no history with Idaho, but when he was coaching at New Mexico, New Mexico State was a rival.
"It's kind of fun. You don't know anything about them," Mendenhall said. "But we've had that with Central Florida, San Jose State, Ole Miss and Texas. I kind of like it. Even playing TCU out of conference was different. A lot of people are having a chance to see us play. I think we're playing good football. It's not perfect football, but I think by the time the season's over, that's what people will say and it will prove out that way."
"Usually, we've got Utah at the end of the schedule that we're gearing up for and teams that we've played before," said linebacker Brandon Ogletree. "It's stepping into new territory. I don't think it will be a big deal because we focus on us, the stuff we need to do. It doesn't really matter who we're playing."
But many Cougar fans care about who their team is playing, and they are concerned about the future of November scheduling — particularly now that BYU's traditional rivalry game against Utah in late November is a thing of the past.
What does the future hold?
"Scheduling in November is somewhat problematic because other schools are playing in conference," said BYU associate athletic director Duff Tittle. "But Notre Dame and the service academies have been able to put together schedules. It will take some work. The key in all of it is, people need to give us a little bit of time. We put together this (2011) schedule in three months. As time goes on, our schedules will improve, not only in November, but overall. I think it's going to be pretty good. It's just going to take some time."
Possible November 2012 opponents include Idaho, San Jose State, Hawaii and New Mexico State. In 2013, BYU is scheduled to visit Notre Dame in November.
What is Mendenhall's ideal November schedule?
"I would like to be playing quality teams each and every week with the last game of the season being one that has real significance prior to a bowl game," he said, adding that he understands the difficulty of scheduling teams late in the season.
This year, BYU finishes the regular season at Hawaii, on Dec. 3, a showdown that Mendenhall likes.
"I wanted Hawaii to be the last game of each year," he said. "I thought that would be a nice way to finish, with them coming here or us going there. It doesn't appear now, through conference affiliations, they're going to want that to happen."
So, Mendenhall is making the best of the unusual situation, particularly when it comes to dealing with two byes in four weeks.
"I can see some advantages if we can design it correctly," he said. "I think we'll be very healthy. It's the healthiest our team has been this late in the season, so I think we'll be able to leverage that part. The key will be if it will affect momentum at all. I still think we're improving quite a bit. The key is to sustain that momentum through the byes."
Cougars on the air
Idaho (2-7) at BYU (6-3)
Saturday, 7:15 p.m. MT
LaVell Edwards Stadium, Provo
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @AJeffreyCall