PROVO — When it comes to dealing with slow starts, BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall has plenty of experience.
For the fifth time in seven years under Mendenhall, the Cougars have started with a lackluster 1-2 record. When told Tuesday about that dubious distinction, Mendenhall said he wasn't aware that 1-2 starts had occurred that many times during his tenure.
Coming off a 54-10 drubbing against Utah last weekend, and going into Friday's game against Central Florida (6 p.m., ESPN), the question is: Why have there been so many struggles getting out of the gate?
"A lot of that, I believe, is early-season scheduling — tougher opponents — and maybe still learning about my team and maybe learning how to be more effective in fall camp," he said. "Maybe all those things could be reasons."
Certainly a difficult early-season schedule could partially explain this season's woes, with back-to-back road trips to Ole Miss and Texas, followed by a home game against the arch-rival Utes.
On top of that, Mendenhall is breaking in a new offensive staff, with a new offensive coordinator (Brandon Doman), a new wide receivers coach (Ben Cahoon), a new running backs coach (Joe DuPaix) and a new tight ends coach (Lance Reynolds). Both Cahoon and DuPaix are in their first year in the program.
Despite the anemic production of the offense — only three offensive touchdowns in three games — Mendenhall has confidence in his offensive staff.
"The results haven't shown yet," he said. "The day-to-day function of the organization and the way the players have responded, the way they are being treated and being coached, I am very comfortable with and at some point that is going to show on game day. It is certainly taking longer than the fans would like, but I am confident and positive it is going to happen. I like the decision (to make changes to the coaching staff), and the results will be forthcoming."
One year ago, BYU's 1-2 record eventually slid to 1-4 by early October. That abysmal start prompted Mendenhall to fire defensive coordinator Jaime Hill and take over the defense himself. The Cougars finished the season winning six of their final eight games. Then, after the season, the departure of offensive coordinator Robert Anae was part of a massive staff shakeup.
As rough as the 2011 campaign has been so far, including an embarrassing seven turnovers against Utah, it doesn't compare to last season's start — yet.
"Nothing like that at this point," Mendenhall said. "It's seems very premature (to compare the two starts). The way our team battled and competed through the first two games and played relatively cleanly, not perfectly, to then the real ball security issues we had (against the Utes), I'm not to that same point.
"If that were to continue for another week or two, that might put me at the same point. But the (coaching) staff and some of the other issues weren't just seasonal a year ago. They were accumulative over a number of years. With the freshness and newness of faces on the coaching staff, my feelings and the issues are quite a bit different, at least of what I feel internally."
Going into Friday's game, Mendenhall said he does not anticipate any personnel changes — with players or with coaches.
"Our intention is to become more skilled at what we're doing, and hopefully that will show at a higher level than it did a week ago," Mendenhall said.
BYU has finished 11-2 twice (in 2006 and 2007) after a 1-2 start. The Cougars have also finished 6-6 and 7-6 (in 2005 and 2010) after a 1-2 start.
How will BYU finish in 2011? Only time will tell.
In five of seven seasons under coach Bronco Mendenhall, BYU has started with a 1-2 record. Here's a look at how the Cougars started and finished each year:
Start: Lost to Boston College, beat Eastern Illinois, lost to TCU
Final record: 6-6
Start: Lost to Arizona, beat Tulsa, lost at Boston College
Final record: 11-2
Start: Beat Arizona, lost at UCLA, lost at Tulsa
Final record: 11-2
Start: Beat Washington, lost at Air Force, lost at Florida State
Final record: 7-6
Start: Beat Ole Miss, lost at Texas, lost to Utah
Final record: ?
Cougars on the air
Central Florida (2-1) at BYU (1-2)
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