BYU football: Faith in program’s direction, leadership a key to success

Published: Monday, June 30 2014 2:01 p.m. MDT

Updated: Monday, June 30 2014 2:01 p.m. MDT

Former BYU football players Leon White, left, James Dye and Dennis Pitta are interviewed during BYU Football Media Day in Provo, Monday, June 23, 2014.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

PROVO — Faith is anything but a foreign concept at BYU. It's a core principle at the institution privately owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

As a new era, the playoff era, dawns in top-level college football, former Cougar football players James Dye and Leon White shared their insights on what BYU needs to do to stay in the national spotlight as the game evolves.

That includes having faith in BYU's current path — going independent starting with the 2011 football season.

"What we need to do in order to believe that faithfully BYU’s going to have an opportunity to be in the playoff system, or in the playoff conversation," Dye said during BYU football's media day last week, "you’ve got to believe that whatever path they’re taking right now will be the right path.

"I’m just going to have blind faith that whatever happens we’re going to be considered in that conversation. Whichever path we’re going on right now will be the right path."

Winning consistently, especially against top-flight competition, also plays its part in keeping the Cougar football program — heading into its 10th year under the leadership of Bronco Mendenhall — nationally relevant.

"If we can win 10 games a season, we’re going to do that," White said at media day. "I think Bronco’s going in the right direction of making that happen. He brought in some players this year that I think can help the offense immediately. He’s looking to do that and he wants to build on the season last year and with the players that he has, I think he will."

BYU has been one of the most consistent winning programs over the past 40 years. It is tied for fourth nationally in wins with 353 during that time span. It's a fact members of the Cougar coaching staff have shared via social media in the past week.

But in sports — and as evidenced by some of the realignment moves the past few years in college football — it's more about what you've done recently. The Cougars have not finished a season ranked in the final Associated Press poll since 2009.

Mendenhall made a statement this summer, telling the Austin American-Statesman, "We'd love to be in the Big 12." During the Mendenhall era, BYU is 2-1 against teams from the Big 12 and has another matchup with the league this season — Sept. 6 at Texas.

He backed up those remarks at media day, telling reporters and fans during the State of the Program broadcast, "It (the message) came out exactly the way I intended it. Independence is a fantastic place to launch from, meaning we are making progress. We are gaining momentum, we are becoming more visible, we are gaining more exposure.

"We are playing better and better teams on bigger and bigger stages. And that would be a way to do even more of that."

Dye and White were key contributors in two of the most successful Cougar football seasons in history: the 1984 national championship season and the 1996 Cotton Bowl-winning year — and have experienced the challenges, and benefits, of making BYU a household name.

Dye starred as a wide receiver and return specialist at BYU from 1995-96, earning All-America honors for his return abilities. During the 1996 season, when the Cougars went 14-1 and finished the season ranked No. 5, he had 182 receiving yards and scored five touchdowns, including three via returns.

During the team's Cotton Bowl 19-15 victory over Kansas State, Dye's fourth-quarter touchdown grab brought the Cougars within three points.

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