Brad Rock: BYU vs. USU should be a conference game

Nick Wagner, Deseret News

Utah State quarterback Kent Myers evades a BYU tackler in Provo on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016.

SALT LAKE CITY — As a football independent, BYU considers itself a notch above Group of 5 (mid-major) programs. School administrators or coaches have described it as a Power 5 team without a conference. Other times they claim to be somewhere between a P5 and a G5 program.

In any case, the Cougars have a chance to make their case clearer, starting Friday at Utah State. Rivalry games always say something. But is this just another game as an independent, or an audition for a return to the Mountain West? The MWC currently has 11 members.

A dozen sounds about right.

It’s not hard to see what joining its former conference would do for the Cougars. They would be in the mix for a New Year’s Six bowl invitation, as a G5 member. Don’t scoff. Boise State has been to three Fiesta Bowls using that formula.

The 2014 Broncos made the Fiesta Bowl after losing two games.

If BYU loses two games, it’s hello, Poinsettia Bowl.

Dominating a conference — even a smaller one — can lead to significant strides. BYU knows that. It won a national championship that way. That’s why playing in the Mountain West makes sense for the Cougars. But they aren’t feeling it. For BYU’s administration and fans, it would constitute an official designation as a “mid-major” program.

This year, the Cougars almost have a Mountain West schedule. They play six MWC teams, but also East Carolina of the American Athletic Conference and UMass of the Mid-American Conference — also G5 leagues. That makes eight of their 13 games against G5 teams. One opponent — Portland State in the season opener — is an FCS school.

For those who love BYU playing power schools, rejoining the MWC is a non-starter. Why play eight or nine G5 conference games in a season when they’re playing four to six P5 schools a year? But for anyone looking toward major bowls, a conference arrangement is the realistic option.

Meanwhile, there’s pressure for the Cougars on Friday in Logan simply…

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