Whether it’s officially sanctioned or not, each of the five Power 5 conferences count games vs. independent BYU in the same way as those with Notre Dame – as a Power opponent.
It’s a key designation as it means that scheduling a date with the Cougars fulfills league requirements of playing at least one non-conference Power foe. It’s equal to booking a game with Auburn, Oklahoma, UCLA, Michigan State or Louisville. It also means, due to the disparity natural to a sport with 130 teams, that a game vs. BYU is the same as a date with Vanderbilt, Kansas, Cal, Indiana or Wake Forest.
That said, the difference between the performance levels of teams within a Power 5 conference are natural, and expected, and can fluctuate. BYU, and Notre Dame, are exceptional due to their independent status giving them greater scheduling flexibility. Instead of being hamstringed with eight or nine league games – allowing only three or four “other opponents” that are chosen – the Cougars and Irish don’t have a set blueprint.
Notre Dame’s quasi-membership in the ACC makes BYU’s extraordinary status even more noteworthy. Where the Irish play five ACC games per year (plus annual clashes with USC and Stanford), the Cougars don’t have any scheduling restrictions. And they’ve never been a member of a Power league.
The real question is – is it equitable, from a scheduling standpoint, for programs to count BYU as a Power opponent? Furthermore, can a win against the Cougars – as the sole Power non-conference opponent on a team’s resume – be enough to woo the CFB Playoff committee to earn a spot in the bracket?
Or, is booking BYU as the sole non-conference Power opponent in a given season a scheduling loophole?
While there are many ways to attempt to answer this – the fairest is to look at factual data. In this case, it’s wins and losses.
First, look at Notre Dame’s performance against Power 5 opponents over the past five seasons vs. BYU’s.
|Team||vs. Power 5 (2014-18)||Winning %|
Even though they are treated equally as “independent Power opponents,” Power 5 programs are 24% more likely to beat the Cougars than the Irish. The other big take away is that Notre Dame has played 51 Power 5 foes since 2014 vs. BYU’s 23.
Next, here are BYU’s numbers vs. Power 5 foes compared to a handful of upper-level, though not elite, Group of 5 programs that are not universally accepted as Power opponents.
|Team||vs. Power 5 (2014-18)||Winning %|
|San Diego State||4-5||44%|
In this sampling, Power 5 teams are 15% more likely to lose to USF, 11% more likely to lose to Cincinnati, and 5% more likely to fall to San Diego State than to BYU. To put it into further perspective, the Cougars are only 11% better in Power 5 action than Toledo.
The numbers indicate that playing BYU as a “Power” opponent presents a scheduling advantage, even in comparison to non-Power foes who have enjoyed reasonable success.
In 2019, Utah, Tennessee, and Washington will all play the Cougars as their sole non-conference Power opponent. Compare that to teams who share the same conference/division membership: UCLA (from the Pac-12 South) gets Oklahoma, Georgia (from the SEC East) draws Notre Dame, and Cal (from the Pac-12 North) plays at Ole Miss.
For the Utes, BYU has served as their sole non-league Power foe every year since 2016. They’ve gone 25-15 over those three seasons, earned consecutive bowl bids, and enjoyed Top 25 rankings during each campaign, even finishing 2016 at No. 23. They’ve also gone 3-0 vs. BYU during the same time span.
In 2017, Wisconsin had BYU booked as its only non-conference Power opponent. The Badgers beat the Cougars 40-6, part of a 12-win run that landed them in the Big Ten title game and six-points away from the CFB Playoff Bracket. Though they missed out on the big enchilada, they did get to beat (11) Miami Fla. in the Orange Bowl, ultimately finishing No. 7 in the AP, their best mark since 2010.
Mississippi State also had the Cougars as its only non-SEC Power foe in 2017, winning 35-10 in Starkville. Those Bulldogs went 9-4 and finished ranked No. 19 in the final AP, their best mark since 2014.
The bottom line is clear – while BYU is a solid program, it’s certainly not Notre Dame. And while the numbers aren’t conclusive, they indicate that the Cougars are performing below the top-tier Group of 5 programs. Not only does it mean that scheduling BYU is advantageous, it makes it illogical to assert that the Cougars would be a legitimate contender in a Power 5 league.
The flip side of the discussion is the impact this has on BYU. While the Cougars are treated as a “Power” opponent they share none of the benefits of such membership. In other words, if BYU were to run the tables, would it be treated like Notre Dame by the College Football Playoff Committee, or instead like another fellow independent, Army?
The overall fix is for BYU to join a Power 5 conference, giving it not only a clear path to a title, but an opportunity to earn the concrete on-field respect it deserves.
Amy Daughters is a contributor to FBSchedules.com.