PROVO In the moments following BYU's dramatic, miraculous victory over UCLA in the Las Vegas Bowl last December, Cougar players almost immediately began to look ahead to 2008.
They talked about not being satisfied after back-to-back 11-2 seasons. They talked about going undefeated and earning a spot in the Bowl Championship Series.
"The BCS is our goal. That's what we're going for," defensive lineman Jan Jorgensen said that night on the field at Sam Boyd Stadium. "We have to go for higher goals."
"We're aiming for the next best thing, going undefeated," said defensive lineman Brett Denney.
A few months later, Cougar players aren't backing down from those comments, but they are also quick to point out what it will require to reach such lofty aspirations.
"We want to go undefeated and we feel that we can," Jorgensen said this week as BYU opened spring practice. "We're wearing shirts that say, 'Quest for Perfection.' During the offseason, we had shirts on that said, 'Our Personal Best.' We're just trying to give our personal best every day.
"We all know if we do that, we can go undefeated come September and come the season. But it's going to have to take all we did in the winter, it's going to take all spring, it's going to take all summer. So we have a long ways to go to meet that goal."
The past two years, BYU has gone undefeated in MWC play (16-0), with the only blemishes on the overall record coming in the form of four nonconference road losses, all in the month of September. This season's nonconference road games are at Washington on Sept. 6 and at Utah State on Oct. 3. The Cougars host two nonconference foes Northern Iowa on Aug. 30, and UCLA, which has a new coach in Rick Neuheisel, on Sept. 13.
Coach Bronco Mendenhall said that obsessing about going unbeaten and going to the BCS is "certainly not healthy. To say it's not being talked about amongst our players is certainly not accurate because they would like to keep achieving, keep expanding and developing as a program."
To Mendenhall, "Quest for Perfection" means something a little bit different than going 13-0. Practice, after all, makes perfect.
"Our focus my focus will be only on the day-to-day, only on (the players') personal best on any given drill within the overarching principle of what the university asks, which is a quest for perfection, which should not be interpreted for being undefeated," he said. "It's only asking the highest level of play on any given play to do their best. That's where I put my focus."
Of course, Mendenhall wants his players to feed off the confidence built up during the past two seasons, but he is guarding against them setting their sights on the end result rather than the effort necessary to obtain that end result.
"I've already noticed the pressure outward-in toward those external goals have been very alluring to our team," he said. "I'll have to work as strongly as I can to maintain their grounding and keep them focused."
In BYU history, only one team has posted a perfect record the 1984 national championship squad. And the Cougars experienced plenty of close calls that season.
Last year, BYU finished No. 14 in the final polls and is expected to enter the 2008 campaign nationally ranked.
Can the hype surrounding talk about a perfect season, and the BCS, be a distraction?"It can be, but we're not going to let it," said quarterback Max Hall. "We have high expectations for ourselves. We know this can be a special team, but we also know we can't be complacent and we've got to work hard. That's just our attitude we've got to work harder than we've ever worked right now. We can't just have that at the front of our minds all the time. All the expectations, we can't pay attention to it. But if we stay within ourselves and do our thing, anything can happen."