Photo courtesy of BYU athletics
On Thursday, BYU and the U.S. Naval Academy announced that they would play their season opener in prime time.
The teams will meet at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Maryland on Labor Day, Sept. 7. It will begin at 8 p.m. ET and air on ESPN.
This was a big announcement for both schools who lost games for the 2020 season due to some Power 5 conferences going to conference-only schedules.
No other team was impacted more by these decisions than BYU. The Cougars have lost a total of six games. BYU was slated to play against teams from the SEC, Pac-12, and Big Ten conferences.
Navy also lost a historical rivalry game against Notre Dame. That’s because the Fighting Irish will temporarily move to the ACC for the 2020 season. This will be the first time since 1928 that Navy and Notre Dame will not meet. This will be just the third meeting between BYU and Navy and the first since 1989.
These two programs have always been linked for several reasons, starting with the religious affiliation of both coaches. Coach Ken Niumatalolo is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and was featured in the church’s documentary “Meet the Mormons”.
Both coaches were candidates for the BYU head coaching job after Bronco Mendenhall left for Virginia in 2015. Niumatalolo was reportedly offered the job, but declined because a disagreement of who would be on his BYU coaching staff. Kalani Sitake was hired soon thereafter.
Both coaches were born and raised in Laie, Hawaii and are the first head coaches from their respective cultures. Sitake is FBS’ first Tongan head coach and Niumatalolo the first Samoan head coach.
BYU looks to improve on its 7-6 record in 2018 and 2019. It has a good chance to do so because of the overall experience of the team in 2020. The Cougars return starting quarterback Zach Wilson, standout tight end Matt Bushman, and running back Lopini Katoa on offense. The BYU defense returns standout Khyiris Tonga and a host of linebackers, followed by a strong secondary.
Navy lost some of its most productive players from last year. Most notable may be quarterback Malcolm Perry, who was recently drafted by the Miami Dolphins. Despite losing an electric player in Perry, the Midshipmen return fullback Jamale Carothers, star receiver Mychal Cooper, and slot receiver CJ Williams. Defensively, Navy lost star defensive tackle Jackson Pittman but still returns a very stout defense that will look to give the Cougar offense problems.
This game will be a battle of strength vs. strength. For BYU, the offense looks to take another big step in 2020 and will face an equally talented Navy defense.
The outcome of the game will likely depend on who can make the most stops defensively. BYU has not faced a triple-option attack since playing Air Force in 2010. That contest took place well before BYU left the Mountain West Conference.
The Cougar defense will face a stiff challenge in the opener. We will see if the recent schematic change will help the BYU defense that struggled in 2019.
This game is likely to be one of the most highly-watched opening games in college football history, considering what has happened with the pandemic.
Though the teams are equally matched, give the nod to the Cougars in this opening week match-up. The BYU offense will find a way to make big plays against the stingy Navy defense.
Final Score: BYU 38, Navy 34