Brad Rock: Wisconsin? LSU? Utah? BYU needs to look out for UMass

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

BYU linebacker Harvey Langi runs for a touchdown during game agasint the UMass Minutemen at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016. The Cougars, with their front-loaded schedule, will need to keep their guard up in the latter half of the season when they face the Minutemen and other lesser foes.

PROVO — Autumn never arrives in Utah County, aka, The Land that Time Forgot, without high optimism. This has been the case since 1984, the year BYU won the national championship.

Though championships aren’t an expectation anymore, they’re still an aspiration. Go large or go home. This year the Cougars have a football schedule similar to others they’ve had recently, meaning it is wildly uneven. They play rival Utah, ranked No. 25 in the USA Today preseason poll. They also play preseason No. 10 Wisconsin and No. 12 Louisiana State. Midway through the year they face Boise State, which showed up on the “also receiving votes” list, at No. 29. Mississippi State, another opponent, got enough votes to rank No. 39.

Then comes the part of BYU’s schedule known as “The Blind Side.” In other words, the side BYU might overlook in the final six weeks: East Carolina, San Jose State, Fresno State, UNLV, Massachusetts and Hawaii.

There has to be a trap game somewhere in that hot mess.

The Cougars open the year with FCS school Portland State, picked to finish seventh in the Big Sky. But opening games usually don’t lack motivation, even if the opponent is a small fry. BYU’s stretch run, though, begins Oct. 21 with East Carolina, rated 112th in Athlon Sports’ preseason power ranking of 130 teams. San Jose State is No. 122. Fresno State is No. 117, UNLV 105, UMass 128 and Hawaii 88.

In short, five of their first seven games are against top-40 teams. But this year they also face seven teams among the bottom 42. This isn’t BYU’s fault. Every year it has to settle for a hodge-podge of quality teams and spare parts. So naturally when punter Jonny Linehan was asked if he worried about late-season disinterest, he uncharacteristically lapsed into sports-speak: “I…

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