BYU has one final season as a football independent before joining the Big 12. Can the Cougars cap off independence with a third consecutive 10-win season? Many pieces are in place for BYU to be a Top-25-caliber team once again.
Jaren Hall returns to lead the offense after enjoying a breakout season as the starting quarterback a year ago. Hall threw for 2,583 yards and 20 touchdowns in 10 games. He also ran for 307 yards and three scores while averaging five yards per carry. Finding a capable successor to running back Tyler Allgeier will be crucial in determining how far BYU can go. California transfer Christopher Brooks is the favorite to be the lead back for the Cougars this fall.
Earning 10 victories for a third straight season will be challenging. BYU is one of six FBS teams to face five opponents who were ranked in last season's final AP Top 25 Poll. The Cougars' home slate features games against Baylor, Arkansas, and Utah State. BYU will face Oregon on the road and travel to Las Vegas for a neutral-site contest with Notre Dame. Nine of the Cougars' 11 FBS opponents qualified for a bowl game last season.
Bye: Week 11
Week 1 – Sept. 3 at USF (Tampa, Fla.)
BYU edged South Florida 35-27 in Provo last season to even the series at 1-1. The Bulls struggled throughout the 2021 season, winning two games and tying for last place in the American Athletic Conference. The Cougars have historically struggled to win games in the state of Florida, getting their first-ever win in the Sunshine State over UCF in the 2020 Boca Raton Bowl, but should be heavily favored against USF.
Week 2 – Sept. 10 vs. Baylor (Provo, Utah)
The Cougars get a rematch with a future conference foe after the reigning Big 12 champions handed them a 38-24 loss in Waco last season. Baylor won the 2021 Sugar Bowl and finished No. 5 a year after winning just two games. The Bears may take a step back this season while rebuilding their offense. Baylor replaces their top two rushers from a year ago, along with starting quarterback Gerry Bohanon. Bohanon was a difference-maker after throwing for 2,200 yards and 18 touchdowns last season, but he hit the transfer portal after it was reported that Blake Shapen was named the Bears' starting quarterback. Baylor leads the all-time series 2-1, but BYU won the only previous meeting in Provo in 1984.
Week 3 – Sept. 17 at Oregon (Eugene, Ore.)
The Ducks enter a new era with former Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning taking over as head coach and Auburn transfer Bo Nix leading the offense at quarterback. Oregon was in the mix for a spot in the College Football Playoff until a pair of late-season blowout losses to Utah. Nix will help the Ducks remain the team to beat in the Pac-12 North. He threw for 7,251 yards and 39 touchdowns over three seasons at Auburn. BYU has not faced Oregon since beating the Ducks 38-8 in the 2006 Las Vegas Bowl. The all-time series is tied 3-3.
Week 4 – Sept. 24 vs. Wyoming (Provo, Utah)
BYU faces the Cowboys for the first time since edging Wyoming 24-21 in the 2016 Poinsettia Bowl to cap off Kalani Sitake's debut season in Provo. Wyoming lost numerous contributors from a year ago to the transfer portal after winning just three of its final nine games. Two losses stung in particular with lead running back Xazavian Valladay going to Arizona State and top receiver Isaiah Neyor bolting to Texas. The Cowboys must rely on a revamped defense and offense this fall. BYU leads the all-time series 45-30-3 and has won eight straight games over Wyoming dating back to 2003.
Week 5 – Sept. 29 vs. Utah State (Provo, Utah)
BYU faces a short turnaround for this latest installment in The Battle for the Old Wagon Wheel. Utah State won the Mountain West title last season after winning only one game a year earlier. The Aggies have a pair of quality quarterbacks in Logan Bonner and Cooper Legas. Bonner threw for 3,628 yards and 36 touchdowns for the Aggies last season. Legas stepped in and threw for 171 yards and two touchdowns to lead Utah State to a 24-13 win over Oregon State in the LA Bowl. BYU has won two straight in the rivalry series and leads 50-37-3 overall.
Week 6 – Oct. 8 vs. Notre Dame (Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas)
Notre Dame finally makes its long-awaited trip out west to belatedly finish off a three-game contract with BYU with a showdown in Las Vegas. The Irish enter their first full season under head coach Marcus Freeman with an experienced defense. Isaiah Foskey returns to lead that unit after tallying 11 sacks last season, the most for a Notre Dame player since 2012. This is the ninth meeting between the two schools. Notre Dame leads the series 6-2, winning 23-13 in the most recent matchup in 2013.
Week 7– Oct. 15 vs. Arkansas (Provo, Utah)
The Razorbacks are a program on the rise after winning nine games and beating Penn State 24-10 in the Outback Bowl last season. KJ Jefferson is a dynamic quarterback who will test BYU's defense. Jefferson threw for 2,676 yards and 21 touchdowns while completing 67 percent of his passes last season. He also ran for 664 yards and six scores. Arkansas must find a capable replacement for do-everything wide receiver Treylon Burks. If the Razorbacks can do it, they'll be a factor in the SEC West. This is the first-ever meeting between the two schools.
Week 8 – Oct. 22 at Liberty (Lynchburg, Va.)
Replacing quarterback Malik Willis will be a tall task for the Flames. Willis threw for 5,117 yards and 47 touchdowns over his final two seasons at Liberty. The Flames are coming off an 8-5 season capped by a victory in the LendingTree Bowl. Like BYU, Liberty is playing as FBS Independent for one final season. The Flames head off to Conference USA in 2023. BYU won the lone previous meeting between the two teams in 2019, edging Liberty 31-24 in Provo.
Week 9 – Oct. 28 vs. East Carolina (Provo, Utah)
The Pirates tied for third place in the AAC last season after bouncing back from an 0-2 start. They equaled their combined win total from Mike Houston's first two seasons overseeing the program. Veteran quarterback Holton Ahlers has thrown for at least 3,000 yards in two of the past three seasons, giving the offense a steady hand to guide it this fall. BYU is 1-1 all-time against East Carolina, falling 33-17 to the Pirates in their most recent meeting in 2017.
Week 10 – Nov. 5 at Boise State (Boise, Idaho)
The Broncos knocked off then-No. 10 BYU 26-17 in Provo last season, one of the rare bright spots in an otherwise disappointing 7-5 season. Boise State forced four turnovers to overcome gaining just 312 yards on offense. If the Broncos take a step forward this season, they need more consistency from their offense and veteran quarterback Hank Bachmeier. This budding rivalry will go on hiatus after this season when the Cougars join the Big 12. Boise State leads the all-time series 8-4.
Week 12 – Nov. 19 vs. Dixie State (Provo, Utah)
This will be the first-ever meeting between Dixie State – which becomes Utah Tech in July – and the Cougars. The Trailblazers are part of the newly revived WAC in their third season of FCS football. Dixie State did not win a game against an FCS opponent a year ago and this is just the program's second game against an FBS opponent. BYU has not lost to an opponent outside the FBS since 1960.
Week 13 – Nov. 26 at Stanford (Stanford, Calif.)
Stanford quarterback Tanner McKee was a one-time BYU recruit before ultimately choosing the Cardinal over the Cougars. McKee staying healthy will go a long way to determining if Stanford can bounce back from a 3-9 campaign and last-place finish in the Pac-12 North. He threw for 2,327 yards and 15 touchdowns in 10 games last season while completing 65 percent of his passes. The Cardinal are 2-0 all-time against BYU, beating the Cougars in 2003 and '04.
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– Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sports journalist based in Utah. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.