BYU needed quality football opponent, AD says, and Coastal Carolina fulfilled 'incredible opportunity'

After the College Football Playoff selection committee made it clear in each of its past two rankings that BYU's weak schedule was dragging it down, athletic director Tom Holmoe said Thursday that there was "no question" he felt a greater sense of urgency to try to quickly schedule another quality opponent for the No. 13 Cougars.

The "incredible opportunity" arose this week, when BYU was able to replace Liberty as Coastal Carolina's opponent on Saturday after COVID-19 issues prevented the Flames from playing in the game.

"You want to be able to put your team in a position to do the best they can," Holmoe said. "We were in a good spot being ranked, but you want to give your kids every chance they can get.

"Earlier in the year, we kind of foresaw that something like this could happen, not really knowing what it would look like. The only reason we have open dates is we couldn't find games. We found 10 games and that was it, door was closed. ... Now, we've got a game. It was just fortuitous how the puzzles all pieced together that it's such a good team that we're playing."

BYU (9-0) and No. 18 Coastal Carolina (9-0) are both ranked outside of what is typically New Year's Six bowl range, which is usually filled by the next 12 top teams after the seeding of the top four teams for the playoff. The highest-ranked Group of 5 champion is guaranteed a spot in a New Year's Six bowl, and No. 7 Cincinnati is the current front-runner.

A win by BYU on Saturday, however, could give it the boost it needs to earn one of the more lucrative bowl bids. While finishing in the top four isn't out of the question, BYU would likely need a convincing win against Coastal Carolina plus multiple upsets of Power 5 teams ranked above it and a loss by Cincinnati.

Three two-loss teams are currently ranked ahead of undefeated BYU: No. 8 Georgia, No. 9 Iowa State and No. 11 Oklahoma.

Holmoe said he has tried to stay calm as he has watched the selection committee's ranking each of the past two weeks.

"I've been on the NCAA men's basketball committee, so I get it," Holmoe said, "I know how it works. I understand the intricacies of that. I've just tried to stay calm and know that we still have time. Everybody watches the rankings, whatever sport it is. When you watch it, you want to climb. It wasn't where we expected [to be ranked in the latest CFP rankings], based on the other polls, but the key in our building was stay calm.

"We've got one more game, and we can control that game. We can control the San Diego State game. We might not play it well, but we at least get the opportunity to control that, and if we can get a couple other games, we'll have a couple more opportunities. That's all this is, an opportunity for our kids to play. No one can do anything, we've just got to keep playing."

BYU, which last played Nov. 21, had been looking for another opponent. The Cougars weren't scheduled to play again until Dec. 12 against the San Diego State Aztecs. The decision to play at Coastal Carolina (5:30 p.m. ET/ESPNU) happened at warp speed, as Holmoe said he first learned of Liberty's precarious position on Wednesday morning. By the end of the day -- even with the game still uncertain -- he sent BYU's football equipment truck on a cross-country journey to the campus near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

"If it had to turn around and come back, turn around and come back," Holmoe said, "but we're not going to miss a game because we don't have our equipment. Our guys just wanted to do it. They pushed me."

It wasn't until Thursday morning that the game became official. Holmoe said that there isn't yet an official contract or written agreement -- he and Coastal Carolina athletic director Matt Hogue don't know each other -- but that they'll work out a home-and-home deal when the season is over.

Holmoe also said ESPN, which will host College GameDay from Coastal Carolina this week, played an integral role in helping cement the game.

"ESPN called and said, 'Hey, can you do this? Do you want to do this?'" Holmoe said. "I knew these guys were ready."

Coastal Carolina has already clinched a berth in the Sun Belt Conference championship game on Dec. 19 and will face Louisiana. Coastal, led by second-year coach Jamey Chadwell, beat Louisiana 30-27 earlier this season on the road and is off to its best start in school history in only its fourth full season as an FBS member.

"Thanks to the Sun Belt Conference and Coastal Carolina, who said let's go," Holmoe said. "They didn't have to play that game. No way they had to play that game. There's a lot of struggles and trials to try to put together a game like that, and we couldn't have done it without them. I've said this all season long, it takes two to tango. We're just grateful the Sun Belt and Coastal said, 'Yes, let's go.'"

BYU has scored more than 40 points in eight of its nine games this season and has won its past five games by an average margin of 34.4 points. At one point, the team, with no conference ties, was left with only three games on its schedule as conferences started to cancel their seasons during the summer or go to league games only due to the pandemic.

The Cougars had to build a schedule from scratch, one that hasn't included any Power 5 schools, after the original schedule -- which included three Pac-12 teams, two Big Ten teams and one SEC team -- was being touted as the strongest in the program's storied history.

Instead, BYU's strength of schedule is currently No. 87 with only three wins against FBS teams over .500 -- and no Power 5 opponents.

Holmoe said he urged coach Kalani Sitake to prepare his team to play this week -- against somebody.

"They've watched a lot of film this week of a lot of different teams, thinking this might be the team we play," Holmoe said. "You're guessing, but you're guessing based on some little clues.

"Coastal is in the same situation we are. They weren't preparing for us; they were preparing for Liberty. And we were preparing for San Diego State. We weren't in full, all-out San Diego State mode -- we were kind of in a bye week -- but I said, 'Kalani, you've got to get your team ready to play a game this week against somebody.'"