SALT LAKE CITY —
Maybe it's because he reminds me of someone's kid brother, with the tousled hair and sleepy eyes. Or it could be because he seems like the smartest kid in the class, who still sometimes ends up sitting alone at lunch.
In any case, I'm starting to feel sorry for Bronco Mendenhall. This year it seems that happenstance, fate, disgruntled Cougar fans and gleeful Utah fans are ganging up on him. I understand that. There's a lot of interest in what happens in Provo. But where's a cocky Austin Collie or Max Hall when you need someone to blame?
The latest punch to Mendenhall's stomach came Wednesday after it was announced one of his best receivers, O'Neill Chambers, had been suspended for two weeks. That can't help the Cougars' predicament, or Mendenhall's blood pressure.
But that's just one of many aggravations. In all cases, he's getting more grief than ever. The indecisiveness over a starting quarterback lingered, and soon he was a punching bag for both media and fans. Yet Mendenhall really didn't hesitate as long as it seemed. He rotated every possession against Washington, which worked out. He did so again in Game 2 against Air Force until settling on Riley Nelson in the second quarter. Nelson played only two possessions against Florida State and, as it turned out, he had an injured shoulder, so the job became Heaps'.
While some of the criticism is understandable, I doubt BYU's record would be any different had he gone with Heaps from the first minute. He might have been more seasoned by now, but he also might be a confused, insecure mess.
This week brought news of Nelson's injury, so the decision has been made. Now Mendenhall will have to go exclusively with a freshman who is long on potential and short on experience. Several people joked to me that Mendenhall must have covertly had Nelson whacked so the decision would be over. I breaka you arms!
I know, that's a cold way to view things.
Some seem to be enjoying this, and I admit there are moments when Mendenhall can appear condescending. His comparisons to heroic Book of Mormon figures were over the top. The time he said he didn't care what anyone outside the program thought of his decisions didn't help. That's the way all coaches think, but still, it sounded uppity.
Also, there was the time he said the level of criticism matched the level of education of the critics. Zing!
Last week, Mendenhall said he was surprised in 2009 by the athletic ability of Florida State, which is hard to imagine. How does anyone at BYU underestimate the athleticism at FSU?
That's like Fargo underestimating Maui.
Earlier this fall, Mendenhall said he was out of the loop regarding independence, but later admitted that on a couple of occasions had been included in discussions and was later kept apprised. So he did know the basics, he just didn't want to be the spokesman for the switch. That raised the "Gotcha!" factor considerably.
Of course, he knew something of what was going on, but I'm doubting he was in the middle of the negotiations. The man had a football season to plan. Still, he took flak for it.
Some believe his confidence has wavered. It didn't sit right to hear him saying, "We haven't played at a high enough level yet to be considered the favorite" against Nevada.
It's hard to win when you're Mendenhall. First, he's arrogant, then he's lacking confidence.
He went on to say "We're used to being the favorite, but our team hasn't played at that level."
At least he's not pretending they're perfect, or bragging.
I figure fans should chill for at least one more game. After all, he's in a rebuilding mode. So far this year his record is 1-2, same as in 2007, after which he reeled off 16 straight wins.
Besides, there should be plenty of chances to criticize once he starts playing Notre Dame, West Virginia and Texas on a regular basis.