Photo credit Jaren Wilkey/Brigham Young University
As is almost always the case, BYU will play a strong schedule. The Cougars are coming off a 10-win season and a top-25 finish in 2021.
For head coach Kalani Sitake’s team, the 2022 slate might be even more difficult than last season. Here’s a look at the 12 games for BYU ranked from easiest to toughest:
12. vs. Utah Tech — Dixie State until July 1 (Nov. 19)
This will be Utah Tech’s first-ever contest against an FBS school. Its roster isn’t anywhere near the level it needs to be to compete with BYU. It should still be a fun in-state game to follow, but BYU shouldn’t take long to assert its dominance.
11. vs. Wyoming (Sept. 24)
Wyoming advertised an open quarterback spot to the world earlier this offseason. It didn’t bring in a star to fill the position, but Utah State’s Andrew Peasely was one of the signal callers who answered the call. Like Utah State, Wyoming had a good 2021 season but is near the bottom of the nation in returning production. ESPN’s S&P+ rankings projected Wyoming to be 85th in the nation, compared to No. 23 for BYU. BYU also gets Wyoming in Provo.
10. at Liberty (Oct. 22)
Liberty loses star quarterback Malik Willis and about half of its other starters, but this is still a cross-country road trip scheduled after two difficult contests. Head coach Hugh Freeze has turned the Flames into a force to be reckoned with. Regardless, this is a Liberty team that was unable to answer the call against better competition last season. The long trip and the grind of the two prior contests makes this seem like a trap game, but Liberty isn’t an opponent that should knock off BYU in 2022.
9. vs. Utah State (Sept. 29)
Utah State won the Mountain West last season. It returns its head coach and quarterback. It may be a surprise to see the Aggies this low, but it’s more of a testament to how difficult this 2022 schedule is for BYU. Utah State is near the bottom of the country in returning production, most notably losing wide receiver Devon Thompkins and linebacker Justin Rice. It also has to come to Provo. BYU won the game in 2021 by multiple possessions with its third-string quarterback playing about half of the game. If BYU has serious issues pulling this game out, it may be in for a long season.
8. at Stanford (Nov. 26)
The good news for Stanford is that it returns 97% of its offensive production. The bad news for Stanford is its offense was putrid last year. The Cardinal were held to 14 points or less in seven of their 12 games, including their last five. Quarterback Tanner McKee showed a lot of potential early on, but injuries derailed him down the stretch. Stanford should have more talent than the teams above them on this list, but we’ll see how they’re playing come November. While this is a road trip, expect to see plenty of BYU blue in Palo Alto.
7. vs. East Carolina (Oct. 28)
East Carolina had struggled mightily in recent years before a resurgence in 2021. The Pirates finished 7-5 and qualified for a bowl game for the first time since 2014. Unfortunately, the Military Bowl game against Boston College was cancelled due to COVID-19 cases. ECU returns its leading passer, rusher, and receiver from a talented 2021 team. This will also be BYU’s ninth consecutive game without a bye, leaving fatigue and injuries as a potential concern. While ECU is an opponent BYU should beat, it certainly will not be a pushover.
6. at South Florida (Sept. 3)
In 2021, South Florida won just two games, and only one against FBS competition. It may be surprising to see the Bulls this high on the list, but they deserve to be here. BYU fans should remember their impressive young quarterback Timmy McClain. He ran circles around Cougars’ defenders and led three consecutive scoring drives in the second half of the 2021 matchup.
The Bulls also added 14 transfer portal players — most of which came from Power 5 schools, including Clemson. This infusion of talent should help the Bulls immediately. Being a season-opening matchup, and a cross-country trip is also working against BYU. If this game were in Provo, it would be much further down the list.
5. at Boise State (Nov. 5)
BYU has defeated Boise State once ever on the blue turf. Boise State came to Provo and knocked off a top-10 and previously undefeated BYU team in 2021. While Boise may not have the talent of the top four teams on this list, it will still be an extremely difficult team to beat in 2022. The Broncos do lose wide receiver Khalil Shakir, who put the nail in BYU’s comeback attempt last year, but return many other skill players, including running back George Holani.
Most notably, the Broncos will be entering year two of Andy Avalos’ tenure. He had ups and downs in 2021 but showed a lot of improvement by season’s end. His team will be led by quarterback Hank Bachmeier again. Backmeier isn’t the best quarterback on BYU’s schedule, but he is one of the most experienced.
4. vs. Baylor (Sept. 10)
Baylor being the fourth-best team is a testament to this schedule’s difficulty. Following BYU’s 14-point loss to Baylor, head coach Kalani Sitake addressed the media saying, “If we want to play against Baylor and in the Big 12, we’ve got to be more physical up front.” He wasn’t wrong; both BYU lines were exposed in that 38-24 loss. Up front, Baylor should be as stout as last year. Despite the trenches likely being a point in Baylor’s favor, the secondary and skill positions for the Bears should see a considerable drop from 2021.
Baylor does also return Gerry Bohanon, but the emergence of Blake Shapen could lead to a quarterback controversy. Regardless of who starts behind center, Baylor should have decent quarterback play. The Bears rank just 99th in returning production, only returning 51% of their defensive production. Quarterback Jaren Hall and BYU’s skill players should be able to exploit the Baylor defense. This one could turn into a shootout in Provo.
3. at Oregon (Sept. 17)
Former head coach Mario Cristobal threw a wrench in Oregon’s offseason when he announced his departure. Now, former Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning will take over for the Ducks. Oregon has a lot of talent on defense, and now will be plugging in a coach who helped transform Georgia’s defense into a juggernaut and a national champion. Losing Kayvon Thibodeaux will hurt, but with linebackers Jonathan Flowe and Noah Sewell both returning, Oregon will still have plenty of defensive talent.
The Ducks’ defense looks extremely intimidating, as does a road trip to Autzen, but their offense may prove to be mediocre for a second consecutive season. This is a team that scored 17 total points in 120 total minutes against Utah. On top of that, they will be replacing their quarterback Anthony Brown and running backs CJ Verdell and Travis Dye. They did bring in former Auburn quarterback Bo Nix, but this will only be his third start for Oregon. Throughout his career, Nix has been erratic. Autzen Stadium however, might be BYU’s most hostile road venue since a trip to face Tennessee in 2019.
2. vs. Arkansas (Oct. 15)
While Arkansas ranks 79th in returning production after losing almost its entire corps of wide receivers, including soon-to-be first-round pick Treylon Burks, it has the best quarterback that BYU will face in 2022 in KJ Jefferson. Jefferson threw for more than 2,600 yards while completing 67% of his passes last season. This, while only throwing four interceptions and leading the team in rushing with 664 yards on the ground. Oh, and he did so in college football’s toughest division.
BYU’s history against the SEC isn’t great, and Arkansas may prove to be one of the toughest SEC foes BYU will have faced. Thankfully for the Cougars, the game will be played in Provo, and in the middle of Arkansas’ SEC grind. Regardless, Arkansas’ Sam Pittman has been one of the best coaches in the country after taking over a depleted and seemingly hopeless program two years ago.
1. vs. Notre Dame (Oct. 8 in Las Vegas)
No Brian Kelly, no Jack Coan, no Kyren Williams, and for Notre Dame, no problem. Notre Dame takes the No. 1 spot on an impressive 2022 BYU schedule. First-year head coach Marcus Freeman helped keep most of Notre Dame’s staff intact, while also bringing in the seventh-best recruiting class in college football, according to the 247Sports Composite. Notre Dame hasn’t named its starting quarterback for 2022, but it may not matter who wins the competition. Whoever it is will be working behind one of the best offensive lines in the county, while throwing to potential future first-round pick Michael Mayer.
This game will be played in Las Vegas after a decade of disputing when Notre Dame would provide BYU with a return trip for two games played in South Bend. While closer to Provo, Notre Dame’s national and passionate fan base will likely outdraw BYU fans. There certainly won’t be the same home-field advantage that BYU enjoyed in Las Vegas against Arizona to open the 2021 season. Against a talented Fighting Irish team, that could make a big difference.