Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
PROVO — BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall is thinking big — really big — as he leads his team into an era of independence.
During the school's first-ever national media day on Tuesday, Mendenhall boldly presented his long-term vision and goals "in a new frontier" as an independent program.
Among them, he said, is winning a national title.
"Our goal is to win a national championship," he said. "To do that we'll have to be undefeated, and at some point we will be." Added Mendenhall, "We have a lot of work to do."
While such goals put considerable pressure on Mendenhall and his players to win early and often, he embraces that pressure.
"Certainly there's pressure, but why stay the same?" he said. "We're anxious for this to be a defining moment in the institution's history — to move forward. To not take the risk, that wouldn't be right."
To accomplish that feat as a non-automatic BCS qualifier, Mendenhall knows that means "you have to win every game."
From 2006-2009, BYU posted records of 11-2, 11-2, 10-3, and 11-2, but has never played in a BCS bowl.
The Cougars are looking to make major strides, which explains the program's slogan for 2011, "Rise Up."
"We are charting a path that has not been traveled. We need everybody to rise up," said athletic director Tom Holmoe. "We need everybody to realize that if we're going to make this happen, they have to up their game … We can't stay status quo. We are moving to a new plane and that new plan requires a bigger effort from everybody."
Asked to clarify his comments about winning a national championship, Mendenhall obliged.
"Nobody has asked me to say that. It's just simply that I'm looking to help our program reach its potential," said Mendenhall, who announced Tuesday that he has signed a three-year contract extension. "I would like us to move forward. When I consider what are the obstacles and is it possible, I think it is. I would just as soon say it. There will be detractors everywhere that say it's not possible. I'm not one of them. I think it is possible. I can't give you the timeframe, but it is a worthwhile goal. And what if, with our standards, with this climate, and with this institution, what if we were able to accomplish this here? What would that do to the national landscape? That, to me, is an intriguing reason to get up every day and come to work."
Said Holmoe: "If we can go undefeated with our schedule, we'll be darn good and a lot of people will take notice."
Now that the Cougars no longer belong to a conference, there will be no more league championships to play for. But Mendenhall said recruits he's talked to haven't been concerned about that. He said that winning the state championship — which means beating rivals Utah and Utah State — takes on even more significance as a perennial goal for the program.
Claiming the state title, Mendenhall hopes, will be a step toward winning a national championship.
"Quite frankly, the players only want BCS access," he said. "Even if we lose two or three games, with the type of schedule we have, and if I'm able to balance the best teams throughout that schedule, and the next big opportunity is still coming to prove they're capable of playing on the big stage with the most fans against the best people, that still shows that we're making progress toward the ultimate goal."
So what happens if the Cougars lose a couple of early-season games?
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