PROVO — In five-plus seasons under coach Bronco Mendenhall, BYU has never lost three straight games. The Cougars, in fact, have lost three games in a season only once since 2006.
When BYU (1-2) hosts Nevada (3-0) on Saturday, the Cougars will be trying to avoid three consecutive losses for the first time since 2004 — which is also the last time BYU suffered through a losing season.
With a talented Wolf Pack team, boasting one of the nation's top quarterbacks in Colin Kaepernick, visiting LaVell Edwards Stadium, and a true freshman, Jake Heaps, making his first career start for BYU, the Cougars are staring at a possible 1-3 start.
The last time BYU started a season 1-3 was during Mendenhall's first year at the helm. The Cougars managed to salvage a 6-6 campaign which, on the heels of three straight losing seasons, was viewed as a big accomplishment.
But after winning at least 10 games in each of the past four seasons, a six-win or seven-win season would be viewed by most as a big disappointment.
A setback Saturday would leave BYU with a small margin for error the rest of the way, with tough road games at Utah State, TCU and Utah still on the horizon.
Yet Mendenhall isn't looking at this contest against Nevada as a "must-win" situation.
"I know the anticipation and anxiety around the program to win and win as quickly as possible is great," he said. "I can promise you it's no greater than in my own mind. It's going to take some time. I'm learning as much as I can about this team to make the appropriate choices necessary to help us execute, which is really the bottom line."
Mendenhall stressed the importance of being patient.
"This is a season's worth of work," he said. "To say that it's going to be a polished and finished product this week, I'm not willing to say that."
With a host of young players, particularly at key positions, Mendenhall knew going into this season that there would be a good deal of uncertainty and growing pains.
"I think I made some comments during spring ball and even fall camp that one of the things about this team that made it intriguing was on any given day, I didn't know what would happen out there," he said. "That's kind of what's happened to this point.
"The Washington game surprised me that we played as well and as cleanly as we did. The Air Force game certainly surprised me that we didn't play very well collectively. Bits and pieces of the Florida State game looked pretty good to me. I saw some improvement in other areas. But we have a bit of work to do. I guess, all in all, yeah, it's about what I expected."
A hallmark of Mendenhall's tenure has been starting slow and finishing strong.
In his first year, in 2005, after a 1-3 start, BYU went 5-3 in its final eight games. In 2006, the Cougars began 1-2 and won 10 straight games to finish 11-2. In 2007, BYU started 1-2 before winning 10 consecutive games again to finish 11-2. Last season, following a 38-7 home loss to TCU, the Cougars went 6-2 and won their final five games to post another 11-2 record.
Right now, the Cougars are simply looking to halt their two-game losing streak.
"We kind of know what we have to do now. We're 1-2," said nose tackle Romney Fuga. "We're not really desperate, but we realize we have a lot of work ahead of us. We have a lot of games to play."
BYU starts and finishes over the last decade
Year. . . . .Start. . . . .Finish. . . . .Final
2000. . . . .1-3. . . . .5-3. . . . .6-6
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2001. . . . .4-0. . . . .8-2. . . . .12-2
2002. . . . .2-2. . . . .3-5. . . . .5-7
2003. . . . .2-2. . . . .2-6. . . . .4-8
2004. . . . .1-3. . . . .4-3. . . . .5-6
2005. . . . .1-3. . . . .5-3. . . . .6-6
2006. . . . .2-2. . . . .9-0. . . . .11-2
2007. . . . .2-2. . . . .9-0. . . . .11-2
2008. . . . .4-0. . . . .6-3. . . . .10-3
2009. . . . .3-1. . . . .8-1. . . . .11-2
Cougars on the air
Nevada (3-0) at BYU (1-2)
Saturday, 4 p.m.
LaVell Edwards Stadium, Provo
TV: The mtn. Radio: 102.7 FM, 1160 AM