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BYU Football: Ranking the Toughest Games on the Cougars' Schedule

Jaren Hall, BYU Cougars Football

Jaren Hall and the Cougars have a challenging schedule for their last season as an FBS Independent. 

BYU can end its stint as an FBS Independent with a bang. The Cougars have a healthy mix of talent and experience on both sides of the ball – enough to push for a third consecutive 10-win season and AP Top 25 finish.

Related: BYU Cougars 2022 Season Preview and Prediction

Jaren Hall gives BYU a reason to feel optimistic on offense amid Tyler Allgeier departing to the NFL. Hall is an electric playmaker at quarterback. He threw for 2,583 yards and 20 touchdowns in 10 games. Hall also averaged 5.0 yards per carry as a rusher and ran for three scores. Top targets Gunner Romney and Puka Nacua are back and Keanu Hill is on the cusp of becoming a star at receiver. California transfer Christopher Brooks gives BYU a proven replacement for Allgeier in the backfield. The Cougars return 10 starters on a defense that was tough as nails early last season before injuries decimated BYU on that side of the ball.

BYU will navigate one of its toughest schedules yet since leaving the Mountain West Conference in 2011. The Cougars host Baylor, Arkansas, and Utah State in Provo. Road games against Oregon and Boise State are on the docket. An October clash with Notre Dame in Las Vegas could provide a chance to make a national statement.

Here is a breakdown of BYU's 2022 schedule ranked from easiest to toughest:

12. Nov. 19 vs. Utah Tech

BYU hasn't lost to an opponent outside the FBS since 1960. Utah Tech (formerly Dixie State) isn't going to be the team to snap that winning streak. The Trailblazers are entering their third season in the FCS ranks and have won three total games since making the jump from NCAA Division II. Expect this to be a game where every healthy player on BYU's roster will get meaningful snaps.

11. Sept. 3 at USF

The Bulls have a chance to make some real strides as a program. South Florida has won just three games in the last two seasons but that total should improve with Baylor transfer Gerry Bohanon taking over at quarterback. Bohanon helped Baylor post a 10-2 record and win the Big 12 last season while throwing for 2,200 yards and 18 touchdowns. Defensive improvement is mandatory if USF wants to make a bowl game. The Bulls gave up 470.6 yards and 34.7 points per game last season.

10. Sept. 24 vs. Wyoming

The Cowboys return just five total starters after enduring a mass exodus of players to the transfer portal. Losing leading rusher Xazavian Valladay (transferred to Arizona State) hurts most after Valladay rose to No. 2 on the school's all time rushing list. Titus Swen is a capable back who will get an even bigger role now after running for 785 yards and seven touchdowns a year ago. Quarterback is a question mark with Utah State transfer Andrew Peasley likely to be the starter in the fall. Wyoming has not beaten BYU since 2003 and has lost eight straight to the Cougars overall.

9. Oct. 28 vs. East Carolina

The Pirates finished with a winning season for the first time since 2014 thanks to a vastly improved offense. Holton Ahlers threw for 3,126 yards and 18 touchdowns a year ago while Keaton Mitchell added 1,132 yards and nine scores on the ground. Their production helped East Carolina average 433.3 yards per game. If injuries pile up in the BYU defense again, the Pirates could turn out to be a tougher than expected opponent.

8. Nov. 26 at Stanford

Stanford had a lengthy series with BYU reduced to a pair of games after the Cougars accepted an invitation to join the Big 12. The Cardinal should count it as a blessing. This has potential to be an ugly game given how Stanford fared on offense last season. If quarterback Tanner McKee stays healthy, he gives Stanford a decent chance to be competitive. McKee threw for 2,327 yards and 15 touchdowns a year ago while battling injuries. The Cardinal lost their final seven games of 2021 while scoring exactly 100 points in that stretch.

7. Oct. 22 at Liberty

Like BYU, the Flames are playing one final season as an FBS Independent. Liberty will join Conference USA in 2023. Finding a suitable replacement for Malik Willis at quarterback will determine if the Flames finish independence strong or simply flame out. Utah transfer Charlie Brewer struggled when he faced the Cougars last season. Brewer was a standout for Baylor over four seasons but lost his starting job with the Utes after just three games before abruptly leaving the program. If the 2019 Baylor version of Brewer shows up, Liberty will be in good shape. If not, it could quickly become a long season.

6. Sept. 29 vs. Utah State

Head coach Blake Anderson wasted no time pulling the Aggies out of the cellar. Anderson led Utah State to its first Mountain West Conference title and matched a school record with 11 wins in his first season in Logan. The pieces are in place for the Aggies to repeat as champs. Logan Bonner is back after throwing for 3,628 yards and 36 touchdowns. Calvin Tyler Jr. returns to the backfield after tallying 884 yards and seven touchdowns a year ago. Utah State will be motivated to win back the Old Wagon Wheel since this is the last meeting between the rivals for the foreseeable future.

5. Nov. 5 at Boise State

A 26-17 upset victory over then-undefeated BYU offered a bright spot in a sour season for the Broncos. Boise State should be improved this year. Hank Bachmeier has 25 starts at quarterback under his belt. The senior is capable of big plays, as evidenced by his 3,079 passing yards and 20 touchdowns last season. But Bachmeier can be inconsistent at times. If George Holani can stay healthy, he has the talent to be Boise State's next 1,000-yard rusher. The Broncos would love nothing more than to grab a second straight win over BYU before this rivalry series goes on hiatus in 2023.

4. Sept. 17 at Oregon

It may take a while for the Ducks' offense to fly under new head coach Dan Lanning. Oregon lost top running backs Travis Dye and CJ Verdell. How well the Ducks perform may hinge on Auburn transfer Bo Nix. Nix is taking the reigns at quarterback after throwing for 2,293 yards and 11 touchdowns in an up-and-down 2021 season for the Tigers. BYU hasn't faced Oregon since blasting the Ducks 38-8 in the 2006 Las Vegas Bowl.

3. Sept. 10 vs. Baylor

The defending Big 12 champions will do some retooling on offense heading into this season. Blake Shapen won the starting job at quarterback in the spring after a standout performance against Oklahoma State in the Big 12 title game where he completed 82 percent of his passes. Replacing Abram Smth in the backfield won't be easy. Smith rushed for a school-record 1,601 yards last season. BYU 's 5-0 start came crashing down in a 38-24 loss to the Bears in Waco a year ago.

2. Oct. 15 vs. Arkansas

Finishing third in the SEC West is like finishing first in other lesser conferences. That's exactly what Arkansas did a year ago. The Razorbacks are a team on the rise. It all starts with quarterback KJ Jefferson. The junior threw only four interceptions while tallying 2,676 passing yards and 21 touchdowns through the air last season and added 664 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. Jefferson is operating behind an experienced offensive line, so he will be equally dangerous this season. Arkansas will be the same tough-to-beat opponent it was last season.

1. Oct. 8 vs. Notre Dame (in Las Vegas)

This neutral-site matchup fills the final game in a contract signed by the two teams more than a decade earlier. Notre Dame is breaking in a new head coach, Marcus Freeman, and a new starting quarterback but likely won't take much of a step back. Four starters return on the offensive line, so that should smooth some of the offensive transition. Tight ened Michael Mayer is a surefire NFL prospect coming off a season where he led the Irish with 840 yards and seven touchdowns on 71 catches. BYU has not beaten Notre Dame since 2004, the last time the two teams played outside of South Bend.

Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sports journalist based in Utah. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.