PROVO — It's never too early for BYU to put its eye on the prize.
"You want to play everybody you can and to have the opportunity to go play Oklahoma is a big-time deal," said quarterback Max Hall. "Especially playing in a brand new stadium in Texas is a sweet way to open up a season. We're absolutely looking forward to it and preparing like crazy for it to see if we can give those guys a run. Maybe come out with a win, maybe not. But it's going to be a fun game."
Coach Bronco Mendenhall said the opening practice was "a typical first day. There was a lot of energy and a lot of excitement. Execution has a long way to go, assignments have a long way to go and clean play has a long to go. But you'd be worried if they weren't excited, and they were that."
Though the weather is balmy in Provo, the Cougars practiced within the confines of their Indoor Practice Facility.
Offensively, BYU is looking to replace wide receiver Austin Collie, who is jumping to the NFL, but Hall has other targets to throw to, including tight end Dennis Pitta, and receivers McKay Jacobson, Luke Ashworth and O'Neill Chambers.
"I've been working a lot with Luke and McKay and O'Neill," Hall said. "I miss Austin. We're good buds. But I'm excited about the young guys we have. I'm going to keep working with them. I think they're going to be one of the best receiving corps we've had here. So I'm excited."
Mendenhall said the offense won't be much different, but the way his team utilizes the personnel will now that Collie, who led the nation in receiving last season, is gone.
"There really won't be a change with the offense. What there will be is more equitable distribution of the ball," he said. "Our offense is most difficult to defend when that happens. That will be the most noticeable to the outside observer — more touches for more people."
The Cougars also lost four senior offensive linemen — Ray Feinga, Travis Bright, Dallas Reynolds and David Oswald. But Hall is also optimistic about their replacements. Left tackle Matt Reynolds returns and he's joined by several players vying for starting jobs, including Terence Brown, R.J. Willing, Nick Alletto, Braden Hansen and Jason Speredon.
"I love 'em. They're working hard. They're very talented," Hall said of his O-line. "They don't have the experience the guys had before them. But I appreciate how hard they're working right now. I'm not worried about it at all."
NELSON'S A COUGAR: Several players who recently returned from missions watched Monday's practice from the sidelines, including running back Mike Hague, defensive back Robbie Buckner and quarterback Riley Nelson.
After practice, Mendenhall announced that Nelson has signed a "grant-in-aid agreement" and will join the Cougars for fall camp in August.
Nelson, a Parade All-America and Deseret News Mr. Football in 2005, played his freshman year at Utah State before leaving for a mission. While there, he decided to transfer to BYU. Nelson holds nine state high school records.
"I believe he came home Thursday (from his mission) and he came down to see me Friday," Mendenhall said of Nelson. "He's a fantastic young man and he's really excited to be here."
NO SPRING GAME? After the end of the 2008 season, crews planted new grass at LaVell Edwards Stadium, rendering the field unusable for a while.
The spring game is scheduled for April 11, but it's likely Mendenhall will cancel that event.
"There's a great chance — a great chance — that the spring game won't be held, period. I'm a traditionalist and LaVell Edwards Stadium is where the spring game ought to be," Mendenhall said. "With the field under construction, I haven't quite come to terms with the idea of playing it elsewhere. Most likely, that won't change and we might end up starting to work on our first opponent the first week of practice, knowing the stadium won't be available. Most likely, we won't hold the game."