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Provo • As they went recruiting after being hired at BYU last winter, Ty Detmer, Ed Lamb, Jernaro Gilford, Reno Mahe, Mike Empey and head coach Kalani Sitake did not go into any home without it.
It wasn't Detmer's Heisman Trophy, although the 1990 winner of college football's biggest prize acknowledges the accomplishment does get him into some doors that otherwise wouldn't be open to BYU.
The coaches bring a copy of BYU's 2016 schedule, which includes Arizona, Utah, UCLA, West Virginia, Michigan State, Mississippi State and Boise State. They also mention that LSU, Wisconsin, Washington, California, USC, Baylor, Missouri, Stanford and Oregon are on future schedules.
"We have a Power Five schedule," said Sitake, who debuts as head coach of the independent program on Sept. 3 against Arizona at University of Phoenix stadium in Glendale, Ariz. "It is a no-brainer when you look at it it is a difficult schedule, and I am loving every minute of it. Let's play and see how it goes."
That schedule, which has been upgraded almost every year of BYU's independence, has emerged as a recruiting tool for Sitake's staff as they face questions about the program's future if the Big 12 does not come calling.
"More often than not, it is easier to show a guy a schedule card, and show him who we play, and see him get all fired up, than to try to explain how conferences expand and all those things," Empey said. "When they look at our schedule, they know they are going to face the best talent in the country. They are going to get exposure on a national level, and they are going to be on TV."
Gilford said he uses the schedule to combat any fears that BYU does not play "big-time" football, especially among non-LDS prospects.
"Our schedule is tougher than those of the majority of the teams that are in big conferences," Gilford said. "We have a top-10 schedule."
Athletic director Tom Holmoe doesn't like to talk about a "Plan B" if BYU doesn't get a coveted Power 5 invite, and he didn't grant interviews at Media Day aside from the one he did on BYUtv's "State of the Program" show. But it is clear that BYU's approach as an independent will be to talk, walk and schedule like a Power 5 program moving forward.
"The schedule that we have set for this team this year is a great schedule," Holmoe said on the show. "That's the way the P5 teams play every year. And that's one of the things that I like about pursuing this, is just the fact that I want our players, not just in football, but in all of our sports, to be able to play at the highest level. And right now in college football, that's what it is all about, is playing at that level. So we are imitating a P5 schedule right now, and being in a conference like that would be a great thing for BYU football."
Holmoe told BYUtv he is "encouraged" that BYU is almost always mentioned when potential Big 12 candidates are discussed.
"I really feel that it is an honor for BYU to be in that sentence, right up front," Holmoe said. "When this happens, it is going to be because of these great players' sacrifice on the field."
Holmoe said it is not in BYU's best interest "to be pushing the envelope, and to be out there every single day [promoting itself]."
"They are well aware of what we've done," he said. "The stats and the records speak for themselves. We have been a very, very good football program for over 40 years. We have an excellent athletic tradition outside of football, and educationally it is one of the best schools ever. We just need to be able to play football the best we can this year and keep playing and winning championships, and having successful All-Americans, and being up at the top."
Holmoe said BYU's contract with ESPN and its ownership of BYUtv, which televises one home game a year, would not impede the school from accepting a Big 12 invite. He reiterated that BYU will never play on a Sunday, and that the no-Sunday-play policy was not a hindrance in the three conferences to which the Cougars have belonged in the past 40 years.
As for Sitake, he believes BYU will be able to attract top-flight football talent even if it never gets a Power 5 invite.
"If your only recruiting pitch is that you belong to a Power 5 conference, we are going to beat you in recruiting," he said. "If that's what you are leaning on as your heavy hitter, that you belong to a Power 5 conference, then when it comes down to it, when it gets to the details of recruiting, then we are going to be fine recruiting-wise, if that is their selling point. Because we have so much more to offer than just the conference affiliation."
For starters, there's the schedule.
BYU's Class of 2017 commitments
Player Position High School
Jackson McChesney RB Lone Peak
Isaac Rex TE San Clemente (Calif.)
Tanner Baker DE Allatoona High (Georgia)
Preston Lewis DE Lone Peak
Ammon Hannemann S Lone Peak
Donovan Hanna TE Queen Creek (Ariz.)
Ben Bywater LB Olympus
Tariq Buchanan DB Elgin (Texas)
Seth Willis LB Newtown (Conn.)
Bentley Hanshaw TE Moorpark (Calif)