PROVO With a win Saturday at San Diego State, BYU would accomplish something it hasn't done in more than 20 years and only once before in its football history back-to-back undefeated conference seasons.
The Cougars are looking for their eighth and final Mountain West Conference victory of the 2007 campaign this weekend against the Aztecs. The last, and only, time they went unbeaten in league play in two consecutive seasons was in 1983 and 1984. BYU finished No. 7 in the national polls in '83 and won the national championship in '84.
The Cougars' all-time longest conference winning streak was 25 games, which started on Oct. 2, 1982, and ended on Oct. 19, 1985. Now, BYU owns an MWC-record 15-game conference winning streak, which is also the longest conference winning streak in the nation.
For BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall, it's all part of his goal of returning the program to national prominence and reconnecting with its glory days.
"When you win a conference championship when so many last year simply said, 'Great team, great season,' my response was, 'I'd like to have a great program,' " Mendenhall said. "Conference championships prove that. To do it back to back, maybe we'll be acknowledged to be one step closer to a great program."
Even in the days when BYU was dominating the Western Athletic Conference in the 1980s, unblemished conference marks weren't easy to come by. All-time, the Cougars have had six perfect conference seasons to date 1979, 1983, 1984, 1996, 2001 and 2006. BYU also had two seasons with no losses and one tie in league play 1991 and 1974.
What's the historical significance of posting back-to-back undefeated conference seasons?
"I think it means that the phrase we've said, 'return to glory,' I think it's in process, if not been done," said senior linebacker Bryan Kehl. "It's something that you have to do year-in and year-out. So I'd say in process and getting closer. I don't think there's another team in the country right now that has that same record. When Ohio State lost a couple of weeks ago and Boise State when they lost last week (to Hawaii), that means we have the longest conference winning streak in the country. That speaks volumes about where we've come from, where we are and, really, where we can go."
Asked if BYU has separated itself from the rest of the MWC after two straight championship seasons, Mendenhall replied, "That's the intent, but I'm not comfortable saying that. We do know that being undefeated in conference reflects dominance. Whether two years is enough to separate ourselves, I don't know."
While the Cougars haven't been as dominant in league play as they were last year (BYU won by an average of 25 points per game in 2006 compared to an average of 14 points per game in 2007), an undefeated campaign this season would be more impressive.
Going into the season, there were doubts that Cougars could repeat as conference champions, let alone go undefeated in league play. BYU lost its main playmakers on offense quarterback John Beck, running back Curtis Brown and tight end Jonny Harline. The Cougars replaced them with sophomore quarterback Max Hall, who hadn't taken a snap in a game in four years; redshirt freshman running back Harvey Unga; and sophomore tight end Dennis Pitta, who returned from a mission a year ago.
For the Cougars, it's about being consistently good over a long period of time."For example, (former Cougar coach) Gary Crowton's first year (in 2001) was fabulous," Kehl said. "Then the next three years weren't. So you never know what could happen. We've had a good year in 2005, and two fantastic years last season and this season. I'm just mad that I'm a senior because the program is going to keep going up."
Perfect at times
BYU's all-time undefeated conference seasons:
2007 7-0* (MWC)
2006 8-0 (MWC)
2001 7-0 (MWC)
1996 10-0 (WAC)
1991 7-0-1 (WAC)
1984 8-0 (WAC)
1983 7-0 (WAC)
1979 7-0 (WAC)
1974 6-0-1 (WAC)*one game remaining