PROVO While the BYU Cougars are sticking with the one-game-at-a-time mantra, they know two more wins will earn them their primary goal of winning an outright Mountain West Conference championship.
With three games remaining, including this weekend's trip to Wyoming, that goal is within their grasp though it won't be easy.
"Our team is coming together. We're jelling at the right time," said senior linebacker Kelly Poppinga. "It's just a perfect time to be doing that, coming down the stretch. These last three games are huge. Wyoming is one more step toward getting another championship."
BYU (5-0 in conference play), winner of six straight games, is the only MWC team that controls its own destiny. The Cougars, who own a two-game lead in the standings over second-place Air Force (5-2), can clinch at least a share of the title this week when they face a Cowboy team that suffered an ignominious 50-0 loss a week ago at Utah.
"I expect a re-focused, re-dedicated and an identity type of game from their program," BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said of the 'Pokes. "Not that they need a different identity at home because they are 4-1 (at War Memorial Stadium), but they are 1-4 on the road. They have a chance to go back to where they have played well and where they are clear on how they compete and how they execute. They demonstrated that the entire year, so I think this will be a pivotal game for their program."
The Falcons, Utes (4-2) and New Mexico (4-2) are all chasing the Cougars and hoping that BYU stumbles in Laramie.
Then comes next week's annual rivalry game with Utah, which has rebounded from a 1-3 start to win six consecutive games. The Cougars will be playing at home, but Utah has won two in a row, and six out of the past seven, at LaVell Edwards Stadium, dating back to 1993.
The regular-season finale is Dec. 1 at San Diego State the game was originally scheduled for Oct. 27 but was postponed due to the fires in Southern California. The resurgent Aztecs have won two straight games and are 4-5 overall and 3-2 in the conference standings. That aside, it could be a difficult battle simply because BYU will be coming off an emotional and physical game against its arch-rival the previous week.
Still, the Cougars, who claimed the outright MWC title a year ago, are confident in their chances of repeating that feat.
"We have a winning streak going and we don't intend to let that get broken," linebacker Bryan Kehl said.
"From here on out, it's about us. That's been our mentality this year," said freshman running back Harvey Unga. "We feel we are the only team that can beat ourselves. We worry about ourselves and what we need to do. If we focus on the things that we need to focus on, we will succeed in these upcoming games."
Unga said the entire team, from the young players to the veterans, is focused on winning the conference championship.
"The other day Kehl told me, 'The thing I like about you is, you told us you didn't want the seniors to go out this season with their heads down. I can tell you are busting your butt and doing whatever you can to keep us happy. We appreciate that.'"I feel like what goes around comes around," Unga continued. "If I'm doing that now, I'm going to expect the exact same thing when I'm a senior from the freshmen, sophomores and juniors to be working their butts off. That's one thing that's helped me this season. Everyone needs to be a team player."
TO THE MAX: Sophomore quarterback Max Hall needs 279 passing yards to break the single-season MWC sophomore passing record set by Wyoming's Casey Bramlet, who passed for 3,069 yards in 2001. Hall has thrown for 2,790 yards this season.
HISTORY LESSON: Since the MWC began in 1999, BYU has a league-best 43-20 record against conference opponents. The Cougars are the only team to register two different undefeated league seasons since 1999. BYU was the first to do that in 2001 with a 7-0 record. The Cougars posted an 8-0 mark last season in MWC play.
BYU's remaining schedule
Date ... opponent ... TV
Nov. 17 ... at Wyoming, noon ... mtn.
Nov. 24 ... vs. Utah, noon ... CSTV
Cougars on the air
BYU (7-2) at Wyoming (5-5)
Radio: 1160AMTV: The mtn.
E-mail: [email protected]