Ravell Call, Deseret News
PROVO — In its final year in the Mountain West Conference, BYU managed to overcome a 1-4 start to win six of its final eight games and salvage a winning season.
Despite the Cougars' strong finish, coach Bronco Mendenhall clearly isn't satisfied with a 7-6 record.
As BYU embarks on independent status next fall and begins an eight-year broadcasting contract with ESPN, it is gearing up for the future as it opens a new — and uncertain — era.
For starters, Mendenhall is retooling his staff. Last October, after a humbling 31-16 loss at Utah State, he fired defensive coordinator Jaime Hill. Last week, offensive coordinator Robert Anae resigned. More changes are expected in the coming days and weeks.
Mendenhall's decision to take over defensive coordinator responsibilities and "recapture the soul" of his team paid big dividends. Eventually, the Cougar offense put things together in the final five games, which should provide plenty of momentum heading into 2011.
Here's a glance at the state of the BYU football program.
BYU opened the season with the dubious decision to play two quarterbacks — Riley Nelson and Jake Heaps. The quarterback situation, which Mendenhall admitted after the season to have "mishandled," changed when Nelson went down with a season-ending shoulder surgery.
From there, Heaps, after suffering some growing pains, developed quickly and finished his freshman year in impressive fashion, including a four-touchdown pass performance in the win over UTEP in the New Mexico Bowl.
BYU's trio of running backs, JJ Di Luigi, Bryan Kariya and Joshua Quezada, return while the Cougars will add speedy redshirt freshman Drew Phillips. At receiver, Cody Hoffman (who ended up with a team-high 527 yards) and McKay Jacobson are back. Redshirt freshman Ross Apo, who missed the 2010 season with a finger injury, is expected to play a key role next season.
On the offensive line, the big question is: will three-year starting left tackle Matt Reynolds return for his senior year? He has until mid-January to make his decision. Meanwhile, three of the other four starting linemen — Terence Brown, Braden Hansen and Braden Brown — return.
After Mendenhall took over as defensive coordinator in early October after Hill's dismissal, the defense turned things around.
The Cougars will lose their defensive leader — safety Andrew Rich, who leaves a huge void. BYU will also be without cornerbacks Brandon Bradley and Brian Logan as well as defensive end Vic So'oto and linebacker Shane Hunter.
But the Cougars will welcome back a few injured starters — nose guards Romney Fuga and Jordan Richardson, and linebacker Jordan Pendleton. Other returning starters include safety Travis Uale; linebackers Brandon Ogletree and Kyle Van Noy; and defensive linemen Eathyn Manumaleuna and Matt Putnam. In the defensive backfield, Corby Eason, Robbie Buckner, Jray Galea'i, junior college transfers DeQuan Everett and Joe Sampson and redshirt freshman Jordan Johnson are expected vie for playing time.
Also joining the Cougars will be USC transfers Uona Kaveinga (a linebacker who sat out last season) and Hebron Fangupo (a defensive lineman). Three linebackers who played as true freshmen in 2008 — Michael Alisa, Spencer Hadley and Daniel Sorensen — are scheduled to return from missions.
Mendenhall has said he intends to continue in the role of defensive coordinator in 2011.
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