PROVO — BYU entered the 2012 football campaign aiming to end the frustrating trend of losing early-season games.
But that trend continued anyway.
The Cougars dropped back-to-back road contests at Utah and Boise State by a combined four points, and opened with a disappointing 2-2 record.
In eight years under coach Bronco Mendenhall, BYU has posted a 17-15 record in its first four games of the season — and that includes six consecutive victories in season-openers.
Week 3 has been particularly vexing for BYU — the Cougars now are 1-7 in the third contest of the season since 2005.
Last Friday, BYU (3-2) returned to winning with a 47-0 victory over Hawaii.
Still, the most challenging part of the Cougars' schedule still looms on the horizon. Some future opponents appear to be much better than observers could have imagined before the season kicked off.
BYU's next three opponents, in fact, own a combined record of 11-1, and two foes are ranked in the top 15 in the country.
This difficult stretch begins Friday (8:15, p.m. MT, ESPN), when BYU hosts Utah State.
"It definitely doesn't get any easier in the month of October, and it starts this Friday against a really tough Utah State football team," said senior offensive lineman Braden Brown.
The Aggies (4-1) are gunning for their first season sweep of Utah and BYU since 1974, and hoping to avenge last year's 27-24 loss to the Cougars.
"It came down to the wire last year at home," Brown recalled. "This year, I expect it to be a battle again."
Mendenhall has acknowledged that the schedule will only get tougher from here for his team. He considers Utah State one of the best opponents the Cougars have faced to this point of this season.
"It's hard to say until you play somebody," Mendenhall said. "But at first glance, I'm impressed."
The week after taking on USU, the Cougars host Oregon State (3-0), which is currently ranked No. 14. The unbeaten Beavers, who are bouncing back from an awful 3-9 campaign last year, boast victories over Wisconsin, UCLA and Arizona.
It's a big enough game that it was announced Monday that the Oct. 13 BYU-Oregon State showdown will be on ABC (1:30 p.m. MT kickoff) as part of a split national broadcast. The Beavers host Washington State — the team BYU defeated in its season-opener — this weekend.
BYU also announced Monday that it will be staging a "blackout" game against Oregon State. It will mark the first time in the modern era the Cougars will wear black uniforms, specially created by Nike. Fans are encouraged to wear black to the game as well.
That contest will be followed by another arduous back-to-back road trip, starting with a visit to No. 9 Notre Dame (4-0) on Oct. 20 on NBC. The Fighting Irish are the only team in the country that has yet to trail in a game this season. Notre Dame hosts Miami (Fla.) on Saturday.
Then comes a long journey to Atlantic Coast Conference country, where BYU will face Georgia Tech (2-3) on Oct. 27. The Yellow Jackets are coming off a 49-28 home loss to Middle Tennessee (a 2013 BYU opponent) last week and visit No. 15 Clemson this week.
Peek ahead further, and the Cougars travel to a much-improved San Jose State (4-1) squad on Nov. 17. The Spartans' lone loss this season came at the hands of nationally ranked Stanford.
While BYU has stumbled out of the gate in recent years, it has forged a reputation for finishing strong — the Cougars have won at least 10 games in five of the last six seasons.
This year, BYU will once again look for a strong finish to be bowl-eligible. The Cougars need three more victories to qualify for postseason play, and they are guaranteed to go to the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego on Dec. 20 if they can win at least six games.
Given the way BYU's upcoming opponents have been able to rise up this season, that could prove to be a challenge.
Cougs, Ags on the air
Utah State (4-1) at BYU (3-2)
Friday, 8:15 p.m. MT
LaVell Edwards Stadium, Provo
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM, 97.5 FM
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