Should BYU count as a Power 5 opponent?

By Amy Daughters -

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.

Teamvs. Power 5 (2014-18)Winning %
BYU9-1439%
Notre Dame32-1963%

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.

Teamvs. Power 5 (2014-18)Winning %
BYU9-1439%
USF7-654%
Cincinnati4-450%
San Diego State4-544%
Toledo2-433%

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.

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Comments (20)

What your analysis fails to take into account is that BYU, overall, plays harder Power 5 opponents than the other non-power 5 schools you’re comparing them to. They don’t fatten up on Rutgers, Kansas and Oregon State. They beat Texas at Texas, Nebraska at Nebraska, and Wisconsin at Wisconsin. And at the end of this next season, I hope you revisit this topic and then re-evaluate whether BYU deserves Power 5 status. This year BYU plays Utah, Tennessee, Southern Cal, Washington, Boise State, Utah State, South Florida and Toledo, among others. That schedule is just as tough as, or tougher than, your average Power 5 schedule.

Thanks Scott…you’re kinder than I would have been to Amy’s selective references. If we want to refer to history, BYU owns Texas, 6 out of 7 games played, including the two most recent blowouts in 2013 (550 yards rushing) and 2014 (@ Texas). Whipped UCLA 59-0 (worst loss in UCLA history) in 2009 (date?). They’ve also beaten Oklahoma 2 of 3. Then we have Nebraska @ Nebraska in 2015 and Wisconsin in their own Camp Randall Stadium in 2018….to name a few. BYU, like every program in the nation, has up and down years, but the long history is of a quality backed top tier program, much deserving of P-5 designation and league membership.

Great analysis Amy. However, one important detail left out of this analysis is the records of all Power 5 teams. For instance Kansas, Oregon State, NC State, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Iowa State, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Rutgers, Vanderbilt, Arkansas, etc. I realize each of the teams I mentioned have had an up year here and there, but how are they consistently performing. Why should the teams I mentioned count as Power 5 scheduling requirement.

Additionally, look at the Power 5 schools BYU is scheduling, not many Patsy Fives in their Power 5 repertoire. This year includes Utah, USC, Tennessee, and Washington. 2018 included: Arizona, Cal, Wisconsin, Washington, and Utah (record 2-2). 2017 included: LSU, Wisconsin, Utah, and Mississippi St (record 0-4, also their worst overall season since 1973). 2016 included: Arizona, Utah, UCLA, West Virginia, Michigan State, and Mississippi State (record 3-3 with the three losses coming by a combined 7 points)

BYU has not shied away from the competition. They would fill their entire schedule with Power 5 opponents if those schools would play them mid to late season. As it stands, BYU gets a front-loaded schedule of good Power 5 opponents and then not much afterwards. I agree, the overall fix is for BYU to become part of a Power 5 conference, if only someone would open the door and let them in.

Maybe compare the p5 teams byu plays and if its home field or away vs your comparisons. That may be more helpful. Your assertion is it’s the same, when it’s not. Additionally many p5 schools get to play their conference celler dwellers. Those count as p5 wins – inflating their win/loss records. I appreciate the article, just see some gaps in the logic.

Interesting article and I appreciate the work you put in to get the hard numbers.

The only real problem is your take away is that BYU should join a P5 conference, as if that has ever been an option for them. Their only real shot was the Big XII when they pretended to be auditioning new teams to form an actual 12 for their XII. If BYU is ever given a shot, they will jump into a P5 conference and given a couple years to recruit in it will be competitive at least at the mid-conference level.

Interesting article, but I’d like to suggest a comparison: how did BYU perform against the G5 mentioned in the article?

BYU’s record against Cinncinatti during those 5 years is 2-0, against San Diego State is 1-0, and against Toledo is 1-0. (BYU didn’t play against USF.)

I think that comparison should have been made to help put those programs on a level playing field (pardon the pun).

One other thing I would mention is that the 2017 schedule happened to be the only losing season for BYU over the last decade or more. So, picking out losses that year skews the analysis, as well. I think the other comments on the board reflect that the lower half of most if not all P5 conferences are typically no better than the top half of the G5. I think BYU would probably be a solid mid pack P5 program and could occasionally compete with the top schools given greater access to recruiting and bigger bowl games/money. But, it is speculation. One thing for sure, BYU is choosing to schedule tough schedules which make watching the games a lot of fun, even if it comes with the occasional thumping. Nice to see the school not shying away from competition.

Many valid points made here, but I would definitely like to see a larger sample size in addition to who is each team playing. Obviously Notre Dame is an easier win than BYU. In comparing BYU to the G5 teams mentioned, a different store can emerge when looking at the average win % of the P5 team the year the G5 team played them. The average opponent win % for each G5 team is as follows:

BYU – 56.43%
USF – 49.70% (Highest win % in G5 sample)
Cincinnati – 52.88%
Toledo – 53.25%
San Diego St – 53.45%

Obviously, BYU is playing stronger opponents in more quantity than any of the other G5 programs, and there is definitely a correlation between quality of opponents and win % against those programs. To compare to Notre Dame, their opponent win % is 59.09%.

Would be interesting to compare more G5 programs, and the opponent win % for more P5 programs. That could give more clarity as to where BYU fits in. Are they a full fledged P5 caliber opponent, probably not; but are they the same as a G5, probably not.

Excellent article and extremely objective.

Scott Mitchell makes some good points, but some of his points are view through both, his and my, beloved blue goggles.

I also agree with and like many of the good points made by Bob W, but again, some of his remarks are as seen through those blue goggles that both Scott and I use.

I can find no fault with Soto’s remarks. They all seem reasonable and fair.

I believe that Brian has the only absolute correct evaluation of our situation.

I can find no fault with JB’s comments.

Brandon makes some good points and I won’t argue with any that I may disagree with.

I wish that Amy, would have mentioned the 59 -0 stomping that UCLA got a few years back at BYU.
I wish she would have mentioned the defeat that ND suffered at BYU.
I wish she would have mentioned that in the past we have defeated ranked Texas (3 seasons in a roll),
and in the past we defeated #2 in the Nation Oklahoma,
and I wish she would have mentioned that we defeated ranked Wisconsin at their home,
and that we defeated Arizona in Arizona
and in the past, we have defeated many other wins over P5 teams including but not limited to Arizona St, Oregon St., Washington St, and others.

It should be mentioned that USC must be worried comming this season to BYU. Notre Dame lost when it came to BYU. We are not playing patsies, We are playing ranked teams that fall greatly in the rankings after we beat them.

The fact is that we are still learning how to play vs a full P5 schedule and we are not yet there.

We should be commended for our growth, but at the same time acknowledge that we still program, to have a least a 6-6 season, using enough teams on our schedule ranked 100 or less to ensure that winning season.

We need to accept the fact that P5 Programs play at least 10 P5 teams per season (9+1) = 10

We must accept the fact that we play 4-5 teams and the more P-5 teams we play the more injuries we have and
we do not have the depth that P5 teams have.

I do believe that if we were in a P5 conference, we could attract higher ranked players to come to us and we would have more depth to compete. I also believe that if we had the extra money that P5 teams have, we could hire the more expensive coaches.

I don’t think that we are ready yet to be in a P5 conference, but being in a P5 conference would speed up the process of being ready to be in that conference

Shall we compare BYU to Texas Tech, the team Amy cheers for? In the last 4 seasons Tech’s winning percent against Power 5 teams is 35%. It is important to note that the Red Raiders get the opportunity to play Kansas every season…You know the P5-Big 12 Jayhawks who over the last 4 seasons have compiled a 4-40 record against FBS teams. Not P5 teams, FBS teams. Since we are comparing schedules; The last time the 2 teams faced a common opponent was in 2016 when both teams played West Virginia. BYU lost to WVU by 3 points at FEDEX Field. Tech lost to WVU by 31 points at home. Yet, oddly enough, nobody, anywhere is talking about the legitimacy of Texas Tech as a Power 5 team. A saying about people who live in glass houses throwing stones comes to my mind!

solid points….the last 5 years for BYU are far from good and not even average for BYU and UCF as well as some of the others have had banner years – not really telling the whole story.

We all know P5 is not about wins and loses but rather $$$$$$$. The question is, since each P5 conference has 12 teams…could BYU hang at least in the middle of the conference? Not just in wins and loses but, revenue, attendance, facilities, following (eyeballs for tv)… I believe once you get past the top 3 – 4 teams from each conference, BYU “lives” like a P5 team. Remember, BYU is playing P5 opponents with one hand tied behind their back, without the P5 moniker to recruit or the money to finance the program.

author did a good job on the article but only by using the “cliff notes” of the stats and using them to “fit” the premise of her article. Going 3-0 vs Indiana, Vanderbilt and Oregon St is not the same as 3-0 vs Michigan, USC and Oklahoma, for example — but both count as undefeated against P5 schools.

The only way BYU gets into a Power 5 conference is if Texas and Oklahoma both stay in the Big 12 and those two schools decide they want to add more members. Otherwise, it’s either staying independent, rejoining the MWC, or joining the leftovers of the Big 12 and best of the AAC. It’s a shame because if BYU was further east, they would already be in a Power 5 conference.

BYU’s status as a P5 counter has less to do with their performance –after all Rutgers, Kansas, Vandy and recently Illinois are dreadful year after year in football but count as P5 opponents– than with the need of the P5 conferences to have an Independent or two counting as power schools for their to be enough opponents for their members to meet the SoS requirements.

Sure Cincy, Houston, Boise State and UCF had had good performing teams recently, but so what. There are always a few strong G5 schools.

The reason BYU –and to a lesser extent Liberty– have been able to build schedules with multiple P5 schools (BYU has some schedules coming up with 6 in a year plus strong G5 opponents like Boise State built in) is both their high profile and the ability to schedule early or late in the season.

Notre Dame is not a fair comparison, as they have been considered a power program for well over half a century. They have 7 P5 opponents built in and regularly 9 or 10 every year like every other power school. BYU by comparison is a ‘tweener. G5 schools play 1 or 2 P5 schools, BYU plays 5 or 6. The opportunity is there, but the execution (recruiting and coaching) has been lacking.

Bottom line, the article is off target. It fails to recognize the actual factors in considering BYU’s status. Performance comes and goes at schools; so that cannot be (nor is it) the reason or selection method for counting an opponent for SoS counting.

note: there would also be a problem including conference member schools, in that they are limited to 1 or 2 P5 opponents due to their own built in schedule, and secondly given performances come and go from year to year, it opens a can of worms to let a MWC or AAC school count as “power” for SoS since if one counts why not all from that conference? What is the distinguishing criteria? Last year’s performance? That canb’t work as games are scheduled years in advance.

The article writer needs to think in much more depth the logistics and issues. “Fairness” is a moving target. Game schedulers for 3 or 4 years out need to know today if a game counts for SoS, and a flexible ranking system makes that impossible.

a good question should be is, why is Rutgers considered a P5 program? Illinois shows up every 5 years or , Kansas every 10-15 years, Vanderbilt, great school-but SEC cannon fodder. Rutgers is the worst team in P5.
No history, poor fan support, miserable performance. When they play at home against the Michigans and Ohio States they have less fan support than the visiting team. How long will the Big 10 put up with this wretched program?

The whole concept of “Power 5” teams is silly and artificial. There are a lot of schools in P5 conferences that don’t field Power 5 teams (almost the entire PAC12 comes to mind). Strength of schedule should count more than the number of “Power 5” teams a school plays. You could easily put together a schedule of G5 teams that would be tougher than one made up of the lower tier P5 schools. So, should BYU count as a Power 5 opponent? I think a more relevant question is: should UNC, UCLA, Arizona, Virginia, Kansas, Maryland, Rutgers, etc, etc, etc count as Power 5 opponents?

The Cougars play P5 teams more frequently and have won more games than the other teams in the samples. 23 for BYU vs. 13 for USF. 9 wins vs 7 for USF.

Oh my gosh, is Amy for real? Seriously. Let’s analyze BYU over the past 5 years, the worst 5 year run in 40 years, and use that as a benchmark for the narrative of BYU being in, or competing with, other, so-called, P5 (I use that term with serious amount of pressure against my right cheek) programs.

Ridiculous.

How Amy was even allowed to publish such trash is beyond comprehension.

Why not analyze BYU for the last 40 years, or the last 35 years? Most wins in a season by any D1 School in History. A record that stood for 32 years. 14-1.
A win streak that lasted over 3 years, including a National Championship year that brought double the first place votes over #2 that year…..in other words a beat down vote with no disputation.

7 Schools have had a win streak that long.
31 other teams in that span can claim a National Title.

Here is a suggestion Amy. Go write an article about Duke University and how over the past year it can’t even get out of the sweet 16; It loses 66% of it’s games against their top rival; and even with the #1 player in College Basketball it can’t even be ranked #1 for more than 2 weeks during the year; And then conclude how the Duke Basketball program is falling apart. Yeah right.

Silly argument. BYU has been playing and beating “P5” teams for years. They beat the #1 Miami bad boy team. They have a winning record against Texas and others.The have a national championship, a Heisman winner, and are a tough team to beat any time.

Their traditional rival Utah, now in the PAC12, has many fans who don’t want to play BYU ever. But BYU is the ONLY sound non-conference game they schedule. They would prefer to play non-BCS teams in the three non-conference slots they have. This is typical of many BCS teams. Where are the Illinois, Iowa, Iowa State, Rutgers, Indianas? The only BCS teams willing to play BYU seem to be the Wisconsins, Washingtons, Michigans. Scheduling BYU is a risk. Nebraska, Michigan State, Wisconsin, all were beaten by BYU. Most of BYU’s BSC opponents come from the top echelon PAC12 teams and recently from the SEC. Even Notre Dame, who owes BYU a return date, seems to be dodging the game in Provo.

The issue does not seem to be related to whether BYU is a worthy opponent. It is that unless you are a perennial power, playing BYU can get you beaten, as Wisconsin, losing at home to BYU, discovered. The Big 12 flirtation with BYU raised a considerable Anti-Mormon activity among the lesser teams of the Big XII with a phony Gay Rights agenda. As if there were no gays at BYU.

I’m a Washington and Oregon State grad who would like to have seen BYU in the PAC12. But barring that, independence seems like the best place for BYU’s football team. And they are certainly P5 in power.

Kudos to author for the attempt on this article. She used very select data to fit her story criteria and ran with it. On an extremely superficial, non-analytical level, sure, author has a slight point.

But let’s not kid ourselves, well over a quarter of the teams in the artificially designated “P5” conferences would sell their souls for the level of sustained success, attendance, big name W’s, and exposure that BYU has had over the last 35 years.