PROVO — After Brigham Young University's football weekend in Las Vegas, one BYU doubter fired off a note to the Deseret Morning News and made a point — although the assertion may not have been the one he intended in dismissing the Cougars' 11-2 finish and aspirations for a BCS berth in seasons to come.

"Reality check for the Cougars," the critic wrote as a comment to an earlier BYU story at "Beating a 6-6 UCLA team on the last play of the game does not mean you are ready for a BCS push. ... BYU is light-years from making a push to a BCS game."

Actually, in 2006, BYU was two or three plays — at Arizona and Boston College — from going undefeated and possibly getting a BCS berth.

And in 2007, the Cougars were a pick-six and fumble at UCLA, and another pick-six at Tulsa, from going undefeated and likely surging ahead of Hawaii in the polls for a BCS berth in the season just finished.

That isn't "light-years" from a BCS berth. It's just a zip code distance away.

"Our goal is to win the national championship," third-year head coach Bronco Mendenhall told reporters last week.

"When BYU won it in 1984, it had won nine consecutive conference championships. I don't think it will take nine straight again. I do think it will take similar seasons as we have had now with back-to-back titles. Championships and bowl trips can pave the way for an undefeated season and giving us that opportunity to play for it all. All the last two years have done is rekindle that flame and desire to get there."

Mendenhall believes the current BCS system keeps out teams like BYU, Boise State, Hawaii and Utah that have a loss.

"We have the model and system in place and excellent players," he said. "I think we have established ourselves as a team to watch (for a BCS berth)."

Mendenhall is absolutely right — especially if Hawaii, with its only undefeated season in school history — loses to Georgia in the Sugar Bowl and his Cougars enter 2008 with the nation's longest win streak.

If the Cougars want to go to the BCS, they cannot lose in 2008.

The Cougars have only one undefeated football season in school history, and that was 1984 (13-0) — an occurrence that propelled big conferences to start the Bowl Coalition, which morphed into the current-day Bowl Championship Series.

One of BYU's best teams ever, the 1996 Cotton Bowl team, went 14-1, stumbling to Washington in Seattle early that season. Utah's great undefeated run in 2004 was the only one in modern Utes history.

The 1979 BYU team stood on the threshold at 11-0 in the Holiday Bowl, only to lose to Indiana when Brent Johnson's late-game, chip-shot field goal sailed wide. That team had three of the most knowledgeable in-game coaches ever employed in Provo — Norm Chow, Doug Scovil and Fred Whittingham.

Yes, undefeated is a small gap that is tough to cross.

But placing the mantra of "making a few more plays" on the table, BYU football still has plenty of goals to reach to even reach a BCS bowl game.

The biggest key may be to remain confident and hungry, yet humble (keep a meek attitude with mouths zipped), deploy a solid work ethic, and have a healthy respect for their Mountain West Conference brethren. These are the goals they need to accomplish for any hope of playing past Christmas Day next year.

BYU can't be doubling up stats on a team like Utah, then letting the game come down to a fourth-and-18 conversion. They can't melt down before a non-BCS team like Tulsa. On the other hand, great football programs find ways to win, even games that should not be close — and everybody stumbles into those kinds of games at times.

Arrogance or too much pride over a 10-game win streak, 16-straight league wins and 22-4 record the past two years could make BYU a targeted team in 2008. We saw versions of that this year when Appalachian State beat Michigan, Stanford humiliated USC, Illinois embarrassed Ohio State, UNLV shut out Utah and Colorado took down the pants of Oklahoma.

Mendenhall still hasn't won a nonconference road game, but it's taken him most of three seasons to get his team to believe they can win every game they play — a recipe required for championships and undefeated campaigns.

Come 2008, both Utah and New Mexico should be top contenders to dethrone the two-time MWC champion. Air Force will rebuild, and new coach Troy Calhoun appears poised to recharge the Falcon program and has a lineup of new players to replace Chad Hall and company.

The Cougars, as shown last Saturday in Sam Boyd Stadium, could use some help in pass protection schemes against speed and may want to consider installing/calling some draws, screens, sprint-out QB actions and bootleg plays before facing UCLA for the third time in 12 months.

Writes Las Vegas columnist Ed Graney, "BYU is the rival of all conference teams for one reason: It wins a lot, which extracts a level of jealousy from opposing conference fans that is absurd as it is pathetic."

In part, that explains "dissing" BYU's 11-2 record this week by some.

Continues Graney: "A record five league teams will play in bowls this year (and the MWC is 3-0 thus far) and yet no conference side has discovered a way to beat the Cougars in two years. In a time when parity defines college football (how many teams lost when ranked No. 2 nationally this season?), that kind of steady success is notable."

In 2007, the Cougars found some magic. As Urban Meyer put it after a seemingly lucky bounce enabled a Ute win over Colorado State on the last play in Fort Collins in 2003, "Luck has nothing to do with it. Good teams put themselves in position to make big plays."

In 2007, BYU did make big monster plays to win. It took more than luck.

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