Opening conference play with six matches against three of the top MPSF teams and non-conference matches versus Penn State highlights the 2012 BYU regular season schedule that the team released Tuesday.
The Cougars ended the 2011 regular season No. 2 in the national rankings but were upset in the MPSF Tournament quarterfinals and missed the Final Four. New BYU head coach Chris McGown has six starters returning for the upcoming season, including All-American outside attackers Robb Stowell and Taylor Sander and All-American middle attacker Futi Tavana.
Check out the five things to take away from BYU’s schedule for the 2012 season.
Five things to know about the schedule
1. Early season gaunlet
As a likely preseason favorite to win the NCAA championship, the Cougars will be tested at the start of the conference season. BYU in the first four weeks of the regular season will play two-match series against UC Irvine, USC and Stanford — which each ended last season in the top four of the MPSF standings. BYU went a combined 2-4 against these three teams last season — winning both matches versus UC Irvine but getting swept in its two-match series against USC and Stanford. These matches could also play a significant role when the NCAA men’s volleyball selection committee meets in April to determine the Final Four bracket. Two of the seven criteria used for the at-large selection and tournament seeding is head-to-head record and results against teams already qualified or under consideration for the tournament.
2. Unbalanced MPSF scheule
A majority of the Cougars’ conference road matches will be during the final two months of the regular season.
BYU will be on the road for eight of its last 10 MPSF matches with two-match series against Pacific, Hawai’i, Long Beach State and UCLA. The Cougars last season had one of the greatest disparities between home and road records — 10-1 at home and 8-7 on the road — of any MPSF team. However, the team in 2011 also went undefeated against teams it will play on the road this upcoming season. In addition to these road matches in the second-half of the season, BYU will play two-match road series against UC San Diego and UC Irvine at the beginning of the season.
3. UC Santa Barbara Invitational
The defending UC Santa Barbara Invitational champions will return to the non-conference tournament to open its 2012 season. The Cougars will participate in the three-match, two-day tournament that is comprised primarily of MPSF teams. BYU last season defeated Cal Baptist, Long Beach State and UC Santa Barbara to win the 2011 UC Santa Barbara Invitational — the first time the Cougars won the tournament in their program history. This will be the fourth consecutive year BYU will play in the season-opening tournament. The Cougars are a combined 6-3 the last three years at the UC Santa Barbara Invitational.
4. Penn State and Cal Baptist
Along with the UC Santa Barbara Invitational, BYU will have non-conference home matches against Penn State and Cal Baptist. Penn State, the 13-time defending EIVA champions, will travel to Provo, Utah, for a two-match series in April. This is the first time the Nittany Lions will play a road match against the Cougars since 2003. In addition, the match could potentially be a preview to a Final Four matchup with the NCAA Tournament starting in less than one month. Cal Baptist, a team transitioning from NAIA to Division II, will play BYU in Provo for the first time since upsetting the Cougars in 2009. Cal Baptist won the 2011 NAIA national championship and is 3-11 all-time against BYU.
5. Wilton returns to Hawai’i
The most interesting storyline when BYU travels to Hawai’i for a two-match series in March will have nothing to do with the players on the court. After winning a program-record 300 matches as Hawai’i’s head coach, Mike Wilton will return to Honolulu for the first time as a BYU assistant coach. Wilton coached Hawai’i for 17 years before retiring in 2009. The Warriors in 2002 under Wilton won the program’s only national championship, but the title was later vacated because of NCAA rule violations. Wilton since leaving Hawai’i served as an assistant coach for the BYU women’s volleyball team and was named an assistant coach for the men’s volleyball team earlier this month.
BYU regular season schedule
Jan. 6-7 at UC Santa Barbara Invitational
8 p.m. Jan. 13 at UC Irvine*
8 p.m. Jan. 14 at UC Irvine*
7 p.m. Jan. 20 vs. USC*
7 p.m. Jan. 21 vs. USC*
7 p.m. Feb. 3 vs. Stanford*
7 p.m. Feb. 4 vs. Stanford*
8 p.m. Feb. 9 at UC San Diego*
8 p.m. Feb. 11 at UC San Diego*
7 p.m. Feb. 17 vs. Cal Baptist
7 p.m. Feb. 18 vs. Cal Baptist
7 p.m. Feb. 24 vs. UC Santa Barbara*
7 p.m. Feb. 25 vs. UC Santa Barbara*
7 p.m. March 2 vs. Pepperdine*
7 p.m. March 3 vs. Pepperdine*
7 p.m. March 9 at Pacific*
7 p.m. March 10 at Pacific*
10 p.m. March 16 at Hawai’i*
10 p.m. March 17 at Hawai’i*
8 p.m. March 23 at Long Beach State*
8 p.m. March 24 at Long Beach State*
7 p.m. March 29 vs. Cal State Northridge*
7 p.m. March 30 vs. Cal State Northridge*
8 p.m. April 6 at UCLA*
8 p.m. April 7 at UCLA*
7 p.m. April 13 vs. Penn State
7 p.m. April 14 vs. Penn State
*Denotes MPSF match
All times MST