PROVO — The Bronco Blitz — launched 2 1/2 weeks ago in Texas — made its way to Utah on Monday. Yes, the BYU football coach admitted, the Cougars want to be in a major conference. No, he implied, independence isn’t the long-term answer. And yes, they think they make a heck of a case.
All that stuff about BYU not counting as a “Power 5” opponent on ACC and SEC schedules? BYU figures those are like the “keep off the grass” signs on campus: mostly a suggestion.
If enough traffic occurs, it gets paved over.
“Reality is we’re continuing to talk to and schedule teams from those conferences,” athletics director Tom Holmoe said.
The Cougars’ fourth-annual media day was, unsurprisingly, largely about major conference inclusion. Bronco Mendenhall opened up to an Austin reporter in early June, telling him BYU would “love to be in the Big 12.” That alone was enough to send the radio talk shows into orbit.
Monday’s event was the first time the Utah media were allowed to question Holmoe and Mendenhall. One obvious question was whether the coach’s face-first approach was planned strategy or an off-the-cuff remark.
Turned out it was a little of both.
The Cougars do see themselves as big-conference ready, but Mendenhall didn’t rehearse his remarks with Holmoe prior to speaking with the Austin American-Statesman.
“I think Bronco and I talk a lot about all the factors in college athletics but he’s the coach, and I was a coach, and sometimes the emotions of a coach run a little higher,” Holmoe said. “I understand it. But I think it was important what he was trying to say — and he said it. And he’s not going to back down from it. He wants to put our team in the best possible position to have access to what looks like could come through one of the big ‘Power 5’ (conferences). As I stated, we may have a different approach to it, though we have similar goals in mind — so we’re on the same page.”
In other words, Holmoe is doing the design work; Bronco is doing the bulldozing.
As for whether the things he said in Austin came off as intended, Mendenhall said, “Yeah, it came out exactly the way I intended it. Independence is a perfect place to launch from I thought someone needed to say it and from a football coach’s perspective, it generates a lot of interest.”
This is a considerable distance from where BYU began in the summer of 2011, when it launched its first all-Cougar media day. Mendenhall embraced independence, rhapsodizing over the scheduling, television and exposure advantages. He went so far as to say he felt “liberated.” No more talking about the conference, sharing the spotlight with the other teams.
BYU was free to talk exclusively about itself.
Not a problem.
At the same time, there was considerable mention of national championships. On Monday the discussion was mostly limited to getting in the new playoff mix. Mendenhall did admit that will be impossible without an undefeated season — which has always been the case.
In 2011, he spoke of not only scheduling great games, but needing to turn down some offers. And though the Cougars do have opponents ahead such as Texas, Nebraska and Michigan, late-season matchups remain elusive and big bowl hookups are sketchy or non-existent.
So while BYU’s approach has changed from all-independence, all-the-time to won’t-somebody-take-another-look, there is still plenty of hubris to go around. Running back Jamaal Williams said the Cougars want to be “the best team in the world” before amending that to “best in the nation.”
Said Mendenhall: “I like independence and it’s a great place to launch from, meaning we’re making sincere and absolutely credible strides with tremendous exposure, with more difficult games on bigger stages, with more people watching than ever.
“So we’re making a clear statement — with who and how and where we’re playing, with more people watching — and that’s bringing us closer to inclusion. Until then, we continue to be THE national team to be talked about because BYU’s brand does stand alone and always will.”
Yet nowadays, even BYU recognizes that standing alone isn’t the long-term solution.
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