Mendenhall said he told his team during practice about BYU's move to independence. "They cheered and went right back to it," he said.
"We didn't know how to react. We didn't think too much of it. That's a long way off," said quarterback Riley Nelson. "We're all pretty focused on the task at hand — that's Washington. We trust in our administrators and our coaches and all the people who made that decision. We're excited about it and we know it's the best for us and the program and the university. I know we definitely want to leave the Mountain West on a good note — and that's with a conference championship, as, I'm sure, is the goal of every other team in the conference. But we definitely play every game strong — especially our league games this year."
Without a conference affiliation in the future, BYU will not have an automatic bowl tie-in or a shot at a league championship. But Mendenhall said those issues won't be a hindrance to the football program.
"I'm confident there will be tie-ins, and tie-ins every year. The BYU brand … is a marketable thing. I believe as the details come out, that will be proven," he said. "Certainly (not having a conference championship to play for) changes … I'm not talking about this year but after that. But the national landscape is such that you have to win as many games as possible against the best opponents you can to be considered for the next tier of bowl games or competition. That really doesn't change a thing."
BYU is heading into independence without a guaranteed spot in the BCS. Notre Dame is guaranteed a BCS berth as long as the Fighting Irish are ranked in the top eight in the final BCS standings. There is not a similar arrangement for Army or Navy.
Legendary coach LaVell Edwards, who coached BYU for 29 seasons, told KSL-TV that the move to independence is "exciting, I'll tell you that. It'll be a lot different. I've always been a conference person in the sense that it's a lot easier to try to win a conference championship than it is to play for a national ranking to get what you can from that. But I think from the same token it'll open it up for our scheduling of other games that they probably wouldn't have been able to get. It's going to be kind of exciting to see how it goes the next few years."
Added Edwards: "It's certainly not a knee-jerk reaction or decision or anything. I think it's something that's been well-thought out and studied over a period of time with (BYU President Cecil O. Samuelson) and others involved in the decision and I think that it's something they just felt like they had to do and in a lot of cases not left with a whole lot of alternatives. I just don't understand the Mountain West Conference and the way they've handled this whole situation."
The past couple of weeks, the MWC was having discussions with BYU officials in an attempt to keep the Cougars in the league. But those talks broke down sometime last week.
Soon after BYU's announcement, the MWC issued a statement of its own.
"Since its inception, the Mountain West Conference has worked strategically to grow and strengthen the league, in order to position itself at the highest level of intercollegiate athletics," MWC Commissioner Craig Thompson said. "Our board of directors' diligent exploration of options to advance the membership's objectives is ongoing. This includes conversations with our television partners to address issues of mutual importance, as well as determining the optimal configuration for the Conference and investigating the possibility of various collaborative alliances. We look forward to the future with great excitement — particularly welcoming recent additions Boise State, Fresno State and Nevada into the Mountain West."
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