PROVO — After taking the weekend off, BYU enters the final stretch of the season with its home finale this weekend.
The Cougars host beleaguered Idaho Saturday (8:15 p.m., MT, ESPNU).
BYU (5-4), which defeated Georgia Tech, 41-17, in its last outing on Oct. 27, can become bowl-eligible with a victory over the Vandals.
In a year that's seen the Cougars lose three games by a total of seven points and drop three games to ranked opponents, they now take on three Western Athletic Conference foes — Idaho, San Jose State and New Mexico State — to close out the regular season.
While there aren't any more high-profile teams left on the schedule, and no conference championship to play for, BYU defensive lineman Romney Fuga said his team will be motivated for these final three games.
"We don't worry about that. We'll probably get up even more because the season's winding down and the clock's ticking," Fuga said. "We understand that there's only so many games left to play with each other. We're getting more excited and more up for each game as it comes along."
Regardless of the competition, coach Bronco Mendenhall wants his team to continue to get better.
"Even though we have been improving, the outcomes might not have shown that. But I felt in my heart that we were," he said after the win over Georgia Tech. "Three more weeks plus postseason and it will be fun to see how much potential we can squeeze out of this team."
Quarterback Riley Nelson said it won't be hard to stay focused against these WAC teams.
"No, it's not, because even though these teams may not be having the season they would like and their record doesn't look like they probably want it, and to be honest, how we want it because we want to play good teams and have as stiff of competition as we can every week. But you can still worry about you and what you can do … You've got to go out there and treat it like any other game and perform like you want to perform."
Saturday marks Mendenhall's 100th game as BYU's head coach. It also marks the final home game for 29 seniors, including Nelson.
"I haven't given much thought to it," Nelson said of playing his final contest at LaVell Edwards Stadium. "I hope we can play really well and continue to get better. With four games left, assuming we get eligible for a bowl game, it's hard to think it's the end or have those thoughts of nostalgia. Maybe it will sink in next Saturday. As of now, I haven't really thought about it much."
At the same time, Nelson understands that the season, and his career, is nearly over.
"These are my last few opportunities to play. I've felt it every week," he said. "The sense of urgency isn't heightening or lessening. It's stayed consistent."
Linebacker Brandon Ogletree said there's still plenty to play for this season.
"We still have our goals. Coach (Mendenhall) kind of showed us a few of the defensive rankings and showed us what teams are in front of us and pointed out that, 'Hey, you're not No. 1 on any of those.' We still have our goals in front of us and we're going to work like crazy, like we always do."
BYU's priority during its bye week was to recover and get healthy. Winning at Georgia Tech set a positive tone during the week.
"It's hard to win a lot of games in college football. We've learned that lesson this season, definitely," Nelson said. "To go down into ACC country and come away with a win, and a rather convincing win, where we feel like we played well in all phases of the game — offensively, defensively and special teams — is definitely the way you want to go into a bye week, letting those positive feelings marinate rather than trying to recover from a loss."
Idaho had its bye a couple of weeks ago, and it was quite eventful — for all the wrong reasons.
The school fired head coach Robb Akey, promoted Jason Gesser to interim head coach, and dismissed starting quarterback Dominique Blackman and linebacker Conrad Scheidt for having failed three drug tests.
Idaho is coming off a 42-13 loss to San Jose State. The Vandals have also been drubbed by Louisiana State (63-14), North Carolina (66-0), and Louisiana Tech (70-28). Idaho's lone win was a 26-18 decision against New Mexico State.
The Vandals rank among the worst teams in the FBS in rushing yards (No. 122), scoring offense (No. 123) and points allowed (No. 121).
email: email@example.com twitter: AJeffreyCall
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company