PROVO BYU enters Saturday's game at Wyoming on top of the Mountain West Conference, riding a six-game winning streak and needing one victory to clinch at least a piece of the league championship.
The Cougars have been in a similar situation before.
Back in 1999, in coach LaVell Edwards' next-to-last season at the helm, BYU traveled to Laramie in control of the MWC race with an 8-1 record overall, a six-game winning streak, a national ranking, and needing one win to secure an outright MWC title in the conference's inaugural year.
As it turned out, the Cowboys dominated the Cougars, 31-17, and, when the game was over, delirious Wyoming fans ripped down the goal posts.
That loss triggered a tailspin for BYU, which went on to fall at home to Utah and ended up in a three-way tie for the championship with the Utes and Cowboys. The Cougars finished the season with a defeat in the Motor City Bowl against Marshall.
That setback at Wyoming eight years ago also started a dubious trend mediocrity in November.
From 1999-2004, the Cougars posted a lackluster 9-9 record in that month (including a 2-4 mark against Utah). If, as the adage goes, championships are won in November, no wonder BYU won only two titles during that stretch.
But Bronco's boys are bucking that trend.
Since coach Bronco Mendenhall was hired as head coach prior to the 2005 campaign, the Cougars are 8-1 in November games, including last year's perfect 4-0 performance. BYU's only November defeat since Mendenhall took the reins of the program came in 2005 at home, in overtime, at the hands of Utah.
For the record, the Cougars have won almost as many games the past three years in November (eight) as they did in the previous six years' worth of November contests (nine).
So what is the reason for this turnaround in the final month of the season? For starters, Mendenhall doesn't let his players worry about what the calendar says.
"The main key to our success in the later months of the season is because Coach Mendenhall stays so consistent," said senior linebacker Kelly Poppinga. "It doesn't matter when we play. He's always the same person. He coaches us in the same way, and he doesn't change anything.
That's why we stay so consistent throughout the whole season. Just because we're playing in November doesn't change the mindset of a game we played in September. That consistency, and that of the coaching staff, keeps us consistent."
Sophomore tight end Dennis Pitta, who was a freshman on BYU's 2004 team before leaving for an LDS Church mission, explained that the Cougars are much more focused than they were before Mendenhall became the head coach.
"Obviously, we just take it week by week. This week we're focused on Wyoming," he said. "We understand this is an important time of the year. Conference games are always important. We really focus ourselves and prepare well so we can play well each week. There's a greater sense of discipline on this team and in this program."
On Monday, Mendenhall was asked if he was worried about his players looking ahead to next week's rivalry game against Utah.
"If they do, it will be one of the most disappointing things that has happened since I have been coaching," he said. "The focus has been on one game at a time, with the next game being the most important. If anyone, the players, coaching staff, the secretaries, or if anyone else looks past the opponent we are playing on a given week, I'll be disappointed because they haven't been paying attention for the past three years."For the Cougars, it's all about taking care of business at Wyoming in order to avoid a late-season debacle like the program experienced in 1999.
NO RESPECT: BYU is the only team in the nation with two or fewer losses not ranked in the Top 25. Air Force is the only team with eight wins that is not in the national rankings. The Cougars and Utes are the only teams with a winning streak of at least five games that are unranked.
Is the MWC not getting any respect?"I think the statistics would say no," Mendenhall said. "Respect and credibility come with visibility, and I've learned that as we have gone. At some point we will be acknowledged and that will be whenever, by whoever chooses to acknowledge us. All I can do as the head coach is to make sure we are worthy when we are recognized."
MOTIVATIONAL FACTOR: Wyoming was humiliated by Utah last week, 50-0, and Poppinga said that fact will give the Cowboys more motivation going into Saturday's showdown."I think it's going to be an even rowdier game because their fans are going to want to give them even more support," he said. "They've struggled the past couple of weeks after starting well. They're capable of beating us if we don't come prepared."
RECRUITING TRAIL: Coleby Clawson a 6-foot-3, 220-pound linebacker for Snow College, accepted a scholarship offer to play football for the Cougars. Clawson, who has a dozen sacks and is considered by his coaches in the mold of current outside linebacker Bryan Kehl, made a recruiting visit to Provo on Tuesday and was offered a scholarship by Mendenhall and accepted on the spot, according to Scout.com.
BYU's won-loss record in November since 1999
Year ... Coach ... Record
2007 ... Mendenhall ... 2-0
2006 ... Mendenhall ... 4-0
2005 ... Mendenhall ... 2-1*
2004 ... Crowton ... 1-2*
2003 ... Crowton ... 0-2*
2002 ... Crowton ... 2-2*
2001 ... Crowton ... 3-0
2000 ... Edwards ... 2-1
1999 ... Edwards ... 1-2*
*includes loss to Utah
Cougars on the air
BYU (7-2, 5-0) at Wyoming (5-5, 2-4)
War Memorial Stadium
Radio: 1160AM, 102.7FM
E-mail: [email protected]