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No time to be picky as BYU scrambles to fill out football schedule

BYU’s Blake Freeland (blue) prepares to block during practice on Wednesday, August 12, 2020 in Provo. | Brigham Young University

BYU added a fourth opponent to its current 2020 schedule Thursday, announcing a matchup with Troy on Sept. 26 in LaVell Edwards Stadium.

PROVO — More than 40% of the programs in the Football Bowl Subdivision, college football’s highest division, have thrown in the towel on the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, saying they will probably give it a shot in the spring.

Forgive the BYU Cougars for not noticing. They’re too busy having fun and being appreciative of their administration for not pulling the plug as the two largest conferences in the West, the Pac-12 and Mountain West, have done the past two days, in addition to the Big Ten and the Mid-American conferences.

“This is the most lively and enjoyable fall camp I have ever been a part of, so far,” said BYU quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator Aaron Roderick on Wednesday during the Cougars’ eighth practice of preseason camp. “It has been competitive, it has been fun, just a lot of enthusiasm.”

And, as has been their custom since they went independent in 2011, they are doing it alone — at least in the state of Utah. Wednesday, St. George’s Dixie State University, a first-year Football Championship Subdivision program that was being talked about as a possible opponent for the Cougars, punted until spring and will join Utah, Utah State, Southern Utah, Weber State and Snow College on the sidelines.

Meanwhile, BYU practices on, decked out in protective clear plastic face shields that some players around the country have said are like having their head in an oven.

“It definitely has been weird, and it has been an adjustment,” said senior safety Zayne Anderson. “Day 1, you couldn’t breathe. But as time has gone by, we have kinda gotten used to it.”

Sure, the Cougars realize what is going on around the country, and they know all too well that just four opponents remain on their schedule as presently constituted: Navy, Houston, North Alabama and Troy. BYU added Troy to its schedule Thursday morning, with the game set for Sept. 26. There was some concern that UNA would drop off when the Big South Conference announced it was canceling its season, but the league is allowing up to four nonconference games this fall, and UNA noted on its website that it still plans to play at BYU.

Echoing what quarterback Baylor Romney said Monday, receiver Neil Pau’u said Wednesday the Cougars can’t afford to be picky, and won’t be.

“I think any school at this point, even the schools that canceled, would say they would rather play anybody than to have the season go by (without playing),” Pau’u said. “College football is a big thing around the world. We would be happy to play against anybody at this point and I mean, our schedule was pretty much playing anybody anyway, and now that the pandemic has happened we will pretty much have that mindset of whoever, so hopefully it will be able to get there.”

BYU’s hopes of continuing to play got a lift Tuesday night when the Big 12 Conference said it will press forward with a season, joining the ACC and SEC. Wednesday, the Big 12 released its nine-game league schedule, and later most teams announced their one allotted nonconference foe.

BYU was not mentioned.

Baylor and Kansas were the only school to not announce who they will be hosting out of conference. Sources told the Deseret News last week that BYU and Iowa State were talking about a potential Sept. 12 game, but the Cyclones said they will host Louisiana that day.

So the Cougars turn their attention to the American Athletic Conference of which Navy is a member, along with the Sun Belt and Conference USA for possible opponents. All three have said they will allow 12-game seasons.

There’s also the other independents who haven’t postponed yet: Army, Liberty and New Mexico State, the only program besides BYU that is West of Texas that hasn’t canceled yet.

So BYU pushes on through what are usually the “dog days” of fall camp, but aren’t this year.

“It is just a blessing to be out here, playing the game we love,” Anderson said. “That keeps me motivated, and I think that keeps our team motivated as well. … We just want to play, so whatever it takes.”

Anderson and Pau’u said they are well aware of one of the primary reasons conferences are canceling the season, the fear that there might be long-term health affects of contracting COVID-19, such as an enlarged heart, called myocarditis.

“I know for a fact that if a lot of us were not on college campuses, we would go back to going to swimming pool parties and doing what normal kids our age do,” Pau’u said. “I feel the safest place is here at BYU where we are stuck here almost 12 hours a day, and then we go straight home because we are so tired.”

Receivers coach Fesi Sitake and Roderick both said whether BYU plays or not is not their call. Their job is to ensure they and the players follow the guidelines, and Roderick said that is happening all over campus.

“There is always going to be uncertainty, but as far as hesitation, I don’t think that is taking place,” Sitake said. “Our message every day is to enjoy today for what it is worth. … For us, it is putting things in perspective to let these guys know that even though there is all this unknown and fear that is out there, let’s enjoy today. I think that message is resonating with a lot of guys, and credit to them for coming out and responding really well.”