DALLAS — The BYU Cougars certainly have a huge challenge tonight when they square off against national college football power Oklahoma.
But one factor that adds another huge obstacle to this game — other than the Sooners' No. 3 ranking — is the huge obstacle in which the game will be played. Tonight's game will be the first college battle ever contested in the new Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Arlington — a $1.2 billion, 3-million-square-foot domed arena built by Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.
Some feel the stadium might be just as big of an attraction as the game itself for the 80,000-plus fans expected to attend and the millions more who will be watching on national television.
"I think if you look from a business perspective of what the sponsors of this game were after — the best venue and a compelling matchup — I think that's what's happening," BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "The ticket sales are reflective of that. We consider it an honor to play there against a team like Oklahoma but also to be the first college game played in that stadium."
Recognizing the awe factor the mammoth structure might have, however, Mendenhall tried to get a little of sightseeing sideshow out of his players' system on Friday by taking them straight from the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport to the stadium for a tour. That's far from the Cougars' normal road-trip protocol.
"I don't think it was a random selection, I don't think it was an accident that we were picked. I think it came through a lot of hard work and our players ought to be commended for that," Mendenhall said. "That only gets you to the stadium. Now I'd really be hopeful that we play at a manner equal to, if not exceeding, the stage that they're on. That would be saying something considering it's the eighth wonder of the world, or what somebody is calling it."
The players surely recognize the special nature of the game and the arena in which it's being played.
"There's a feel that this isn't an ordinary game," BYU safety Andrew Rich said. "This is our season-opener against one of the elite teams in the country playing in the nicest stadium, arguably, in the world. There is a different feel, no doubt."
The Cougars also acknowledge that it would be easy to get caught up in the distractions the stadium can present.
"It's an amazing stadium. Coach showed us an overview of the stadium. To play in a setting like that, it's just hard to explain. You dream of playing in situations like that. It's a dream come true for a lot of us. There's a lot of us players who are untested and have never played on a stage like that," Rich said.
But even with that said, and knowing the game can be BYU's only focus, the temptation is still there to enjoy the stadium's amenities — like the spanning double-sided video board above the field and the two enormous end-zone video screens.
"I might check myself out a little bit during warm-ups," Rich said. "I don't know what to expect, that thing is so big. Hopefully, if I get a pick, I can check out where the guy is chasing me down from and use it to our advantage."
Everyone, fans included, will pay special attention to the video board — which hangs 90 feet above the field — on punts. It's already come into play during two Cowboys preseason games and could get in the way of Riley Stephenson's towering punts tonight. The roof on BYU's indoor practice facility is 86 feet high, and Stephenson has hit it before, so it's not out of the question. If the video board does get in the way tonight, the officials will do exactly what they'll do when it interferes with a kick in an NFL game — they'll replay the down.
"It's just incredibly big and there's no other place like it in the world," said BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe, who toured the stadium on Friday with 150 Cougar Club and 150 Legacy Club members. "When you are in there, it's the kind of place where you feel like there's just so much more to see. But the players can't worry about that hype and their surroundings because they need to stay focused on the game. They have a game to play. But it's something both teams need to be careful about, so I think it was wise for coach Mendenhall to let the team get that taste of stadium out of the way on Friday."
COWBOY STADIUM FACTS: At more than 660,000 square feet, the domed roof is the largest in the world. The retractable roof, powered by 128 motors, can open or close in 12 minutes. The two-sided video board that spans 90 feet off the artificial turf between the two 20-yard lines weighs 600 tons and is 160 feet wide and 72 feet tall. Two end zone video boards are 53 feet by 30 feet. The 3-million-square-foot structure has 18 elevators, 22 escalators, 824 concession stands, 1,733 toilets and more than 3,000 flat-screen TVs. It seats more than 80,000 and cost nearly $1.2 billion to construct.