It takes a special sort of mindset to not be satisfied with an 11-2 record. If you’re USC, Ohio State, or maybe LSU, Florida, or Oklahoma, that’s one thing, but even with all the past success, this is still BYU. Now it's looking to make a big jump into superpower status.
That might be a bit of a reach for a non-BCS club, but two straight 11-2 seasons under head coach Bronco Mendenhall, no losses following Sept. 16 in each of the past two seasons (a 20-0 record over that span), two straight Mountain West titles and bowl wins over Oregon and UCLA, have raised the bar a bit higher.
| Head coach: Bronco Mendenhall
4th year: 28-10
Returning Lettermen: 50
Lettermen Lost: 18
|Ten Best BYU Players
1. DE Jan Jorgensen, Jr.
2. QB Max Hall, Jr.
3. OT Dallas Reynolds, Sr.
4. TE Dennis Pitta, Jr.
5. RB Harvey Unga, Soph.
6. OG Ray Feinga, Sr.
7. WR Austin Collie, Jr.
8. RB Fui Vakapuna, Sr.
9. LB David Nixon, Sr.
10. NT Russell Tialavea, Jr.
Aug. 30 Northern Iowa
Sept. 1 Arizona W 20-7
"Quest For Perfection" T-shirts are being worn, talk of a BCS game is prevalent, and the expectations haven’t been jacked up this high in years. But all of the attention also puts a big blue-and-white bull’s-eye on the team’s back.
BYU is more than just the hunted now; it’s making its bid to be the preeminent team in a league with a Utah program that went to a BCS bowl in 2004 and another in TCU that would’ve gone in ’05 under the current selection rules. But that’s the status BYU has achieved under Mendenhall, and any team good enough to go to the BCS can handle the pressure.
Fine, so the Quest For Perfection slogan is intended to be about each player trying to do his best, but the coaching staff has to know exactly what it means on a grander scale. While it may seem a big cocky and a bit presumptive, the team knows it can plug in holes, and it knows it can rely on veterans and stars in several key spots.
But before booking tickets to one of the BCS destinations, the Cougars have to overcome several potential flaws. The defensive back eight needs some major retooling, the secondary, even though it'll post good overall numbers, will have to prove it can stop a real, live passing attack, and again, there's the matter of pressure. BYU isn't supposed to just win the Mountain West title, it's supposed to be a fringe national title candidate. That's asking a lot out of any team.
Even so, while the Cougars might strive for perfection, they could still end up with a whale of a season if they come up just a bit short of it.
What to watch for on offense: More Fui. With backup running back Manase Tonga off the team, it'll be up to hard-charging fan favorite Fui Vakapuna to play more of a role behind Harvey Unga. The senior was never healthy last season and was limited throughout, but now he's healthy and looking like the pounding back who had a breakout 2006. He's the power in a efficient, effective attack.
What to watch for on defense: The no-name corners to improve. While the secondary is a question mark going into the season, there's talent and potential on the corners. It might take a little seasoning, and a few growing pains, but speedster Brandon Howard, junior Scott Johnson, and relatively unproven backups G Pittman and Brandon Bradley should grow into their jobs.
The team will be far better if … more on punt returns. Considering the defense came up with stop after stop, and forced a whopping 83 punts, there needs to be more pop from Bryce Mahuika, or whoever ends up getting return work. The Cougars averaged a paltry six yards per punt return with the longest effort just 25 yards.
The Schedule: It's not necessarily easy, and that's not necessarily a bad thing for a team dreaming big. Really big. If the Cougars want a BCS game, they need the national respect that'll come from winning at Washington and against UCLA. The other two non-conference games against Northern Iowa and at Utah State aren't going to be remotely close. Unfortunately, three of the almost certain Mountain West wins, Wyoming, San Diego State and UNLV, are at home meaning the league away games are killers. At TCU, at Air Force and at Utah should be just tough enough to ruin the dream season.
Best Offensive Player: Junior QB Max Hall. A bit underappreciated, all Hall did was lead all sophomores in passing yards while turning in an efficient, effective first year after transferring from Arizona State. Now that he has a year of experience, a strong line in front of him, and a veteran receiving corps to work around, the sky's the limit.
Best Defensive Player: Junior DE Jan Jorgensen. One of the nation's best all-around defensive linemen, Jorgensen is like a tackle against the run while making the most noise as a speed rusher. With all the attention and all the hype, he'll be the focus of every blocking scheme and every opposing offensive gameplan, but he's good enough to handle the workload.
Key player to a successful season: Junior CBs Scott Johnson and Brandon Howard. BYU is always able to come up with productive linebackers who can hit, and all the other potential issues across the board aren't any big deal. The one area that could be shaky at the start is at corner, where Howard and Johnson have talent and potential, but are still relatively green. If they're great from the word go, the Cougars might be unstoppable.
The season will be a success if ... BYU gets into the BCS. It's not fair considering another Mountain West title and double-digit win season would be a success by almost any measure, but this is supposed to be the year when it all comes together and the Cougars become special. With the offense in place, and the potential on defense, and the schedule, anything other than a BCS bid will be a disappointment.
Key game: Sept. 13 vs. UCLA. If BYU is even thinking it's good enough to play in a BCS game, it shouldn't have a problem at Washington early on. It'll take a win over UCLA to truly get the college football world believing this team really is good enough to be considered among the big boys. A loss to the Bruins wouldn't just be a big blow to the Cougars, but to the Mountain West, too.
2007 Fun Stats:
- Fumbles: BYU 25 (lost 13) – Opponents 12 (lost 4)
- First quarter scoring: BYU 79 – Opponents 40
- Penalties: BYU 91 for 783 yards – Opponents 70 for 581 yards