Just how solid is the foundation Bronco Mendenhall has BYU football on when both his MWC titles came on the backs of recruits signed by his predecessor, Gary Crowton?
According to members of his staff and experts inside and out of the program who watch recruiting trends, the situation is solid and firm, and it's because of Mendenhall no disrespect to the other guy.
Crowton recruits such as John Beck, Curtis Brown, Jonny Harline and Daniel Coats are gone. Others like Austin Collie, Dennis Pitta, David Nixon and Dallas Reynolds return in 2008 after helping seniors like Bryan Kehl and Quinn Gooch earn a second straight championship in 2007. The future looks bright, according to BYU recruiting coordinator Paul Tidwell.
In the transition between the Crowton and Mendenhall eras, recruiting has become far more refined, consistent and tuned in to the needs of the program. It is an enhanced organization with leadership and a vision of what the Cougars can and can't do on the field. It's "operational machinery" Mendenhall has engineered as a workable soul to BYU football, his staff says.
And it works.
Since Mendenhall took over the BYU reins in December 2005, fans have seen only a glimpse of his recruiting. He's tried not to wheel out freshmen and force them into battle, said Tidwell.
"The recruits signed the past three years are pretty darned good," he said.
A taste of what's to come? Harvey Unga, the MWC freshman of the year, committed to play for Utah as a linebacker during Crowton's watch, then switched his commitment to play running back at BYU under Mendenhall. The impact is obvious.
In 2008? With the addition of one freshman next fall, Bingham High kicker Justin Sorensen, the MWC's No. 1 defense will add 10 to 15 yards to what opponents will have to transverse. That's just one body.
Other than playing Hawaii freshman Ian Dulan in 2006 and Timpview freshman Eathyn Manumaleuna this year, Mendenhall has wheeled out very few freshmen recruits, especially from 2007. They are linebacker Austen Jorgensen and safety Tyler Beck, who were pressed into special-teams duty this fall.
While Crowton's last recruiting class of 2004 yielded stars like linemen Ray Feinga and Terrance Brown, in the long run, it proved to be a disaster. Half the class didn't stay around, never showed up or simply got kicked out of school.
Those faces include QB Jacob Bower; receivers Joe Griffin, Antwaun Harris and Michael Morris; linebacker William Turner; kick returner B.J. Mathis; and defensive backs Eddie Scipio, Ibrahim Rashada, Drew Mugleston, Greg Lovely and Karlan Bennett.
That lack of DB scholarship players from 2004 is the primary reason BYU's secondary for the Las Vegas Bowl is comprised of four walk-ons. That, plus the fact Mendenhall has held back DB recruits Brandon Howard, Brandon Bradley, G Pittman, Brannon Brooks, Steven Thomas, Gary Nagy and Jordan Pendleton from the class of 2007. He's also held over defensive back Robbie Buckner from the class of 2006.
That's on defense. On offense, the future of BYU football is in an assembly line of offensive linemen. The Cougars return all Max Hall protectors but center Sete Aulai next season, plus nearly all backups with a stream of returning missionaries and redshirts yet to be tapped.
In this regard, it's predictable regional foes will complain about BYU's maturity and age and that the linemen are in a holding pattern when they perform admirably.
"Bronco has made a conscious effort to not throw freshmen in the fire, thinking it will pay off in years to come," said Tidwell.
Those years are coming.
"We've had a good mixture of Crowton and Mendenhall recruits in putting together these two championship teams," said Tidwell. "I wouldn't want to detract from what Crowton did in recruiting and what it added to what we've done the past three years. But, also, we wouldn't be where we are if not for Mendenhall's approach and leadership."
Tidwell said BYU is only taking recruits who want to be at BYU and are not scared off by expectations of what is required. "And they are all Division I players. Bronco is responsible for this."
Tidwell said the play of Unga, Dulan and Manumaleuna should give people a glimpse of what's waiting in the box for years to come."We think they've been pretty good indicators of where we're headed."