Five teams to chase for the 2023 non-conference opener

PROVO, Utah – Tennessee’s decision to opt out of the trip to Provo to play BYU football in 2023 left an opening. An opening that BYU did not expect.

In January, AD Tom Holmoe said BYU was complete with non-conference schedules through 2027. So Holmoe and his department’s task was to “get teams out” rather than add new inventory.

Things are changing in a hurry in college sports. BYU’s first year as a member of the Big 12 will have Holmoe working on the phones again to put a game together, as he has done with so many teams navigating independence.

The good thing for BYU is that if anyone is in charge of making a game, it’s Holmoe. He found a way to cobble together an 11-game schedule amid the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, when nearly everyone was playing conference-only schedules.

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Assuming the Big 12 moves to a nine-game league schedule, finding a non-conference game shouldn’t be as daunting as piecing together the 2020 roster. But it’s still tricky.

Despite 18 months to work, this is considered late in the planning game. Football programs always decide to line up games a decade in advance.

Here are five teams BYU should pursue to fill that vacant spot for the 2023 non-conference schedule.

UNLV

The Rebels have an opening in their non-conference schedule, and they already have six dates lined up at their home in Las Vegas. UNLV was originally scheduled to play Provo on Nov. 4, 2023, before the Cougars were called up to the Big 12 Conference.

It’s an easy travel game for rebels, and if BYU writes a good guaranteed amount, what’s the downside to UNLV?

The only thing that might give the Rebs pause is that their non-conference already includes games against Michigan and Vanderbilt of the Power Five ranks. Would that be too much for a struggling program to tackle in one season? Most likely.

Coastal Carolina

A possible rematch against Coastal Carolina is where things would get juicy. Mules vs. Mormons: II? Let’s go. Trouble is, the Chanticleers already have all of their non-conference dates filled, headlining with a Sept. 2 trip to UCLA.

People like Gridiron’s Dave Brown would have to put different puzzle pieces together to make it happen, but it would be a game with a unique story. A crazy thing to say, considering the Chants have only been playing football since 2003. But that impromptu game in 2020 defined the crazy nature of college football amid COVID-19. So a comeback game to kick off BYU’s new era in the Big 12 would be a fun event.

When BYU Football originally agreed to play Coastal Carolina in 2020, Holmoe got a verbal agreement from Coastal AD Matt Hogue that the Chanticleers would make a return trip to Provo.

Miami

BYU football has a future home-and-away series lined up with the Miami Hurricanes for the 2026 (at Miami) and 2028 (at Provo) seasons. On their schedule, the Canes already have dates filled with non-conference games in 2023 for September 2, 9 and 23. But Miami still needs another non-conference game.

For this to become a reality, it would take heavy work with multiple schedules. Miami has another Power 5 opponent at Texas A&M lined up for September 9, 2023 at Miami Gardens. But looking at Miami’s future non-conference rosters, the Canes regularly play two Power 5 programs out of the ACC.

Find a way to advance the 2028 game in Provo to Sept. 30, 2023, then open against Big 12 opponent Kansas in week one. The Jayhawks don’t have a week one game scheduled at this time, and if you want to make a football game against Kansas interesting, slide it in as the Big 12 opener.

Like the SEC did for Texas A&M when the Aggies joined. SEC schedule officials opened the Aggies with a championship game at College Station against Florida.

Middle Tennessee

Relationships are important when trying to put together a football game. For example, BYU’s Tom Holmoe has a prior history with Middle Tennessee AD Chris Massaro. Additionally, the two programs previously scheduled a home-and-away game against each other for the 2013 and 2014 seasons.

After flirting with a potential move to the MAC, Middle Tennessee is standing firm in Conference-USA. For the 2023 season, the Blue Raiders have only two non-conference games lined up. One of them is a road game against a P5 opponent in Missouri on September 9.

Alabama

Want to dive deep into the life of a Power 5 team? How about participating in the best program in the country, the Alabama Crimson Tide? Nick Saban’s landmark program has an opening date of September 2, 2023.

The two programs almost played each other in 2020 at Jerry’s World in Arlington before the SEC opted to play a conference-only program. BYU coaches were planning a one-week game with the Tide that season. So maybe dust off the old scouting report for a 2023 tilt?

Holmoe has a history with Alabama AD Greg Byrne. The two negotiated the Arizona series in 2013, then had conversations about the BYU/Alabama game reported in 2020.

BYU has always been ready to play the best. They don’t come any better than Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide program.

A trip to Tuscaloosa or a natural site tilt would be an epic stop for BYU players. But on the other hand, the idea of ​​potentially breaking a new QB against Alabama? Would Kalani Sitake step in and curb such a move?

Bonus possibility: Northwestern (In 2018, the Big Ten lined up NU to face Rutgers on 9/2/2023; this could change if the Big Ten drop the divisions.).

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.

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