PROVO One day after landing in the top-25 preseason rankings for the first time since 1997, BYU opens fall camp today as it prepares in earnest for the 2008 campaign.
The Cougars, ranked No. 17 in the USA Today coaches poll released Friday Utah was ranked 28th begin practices this afternoon with a session for the newcomers and one for the veterans, amid sky-high expectations from fans, media and many within the program.
Those expectations include the possibility of the Cougars going undefeated (which has happened only once in school history) and earning a Bowl Championship Series berth (which has never happened for a BYU team).
Tempering the excitement surrounding Cougar football is coach Bronco Mendenhall, who said the preseason ranking serves as recognition of what the program has accomplished the past two years back-to-back 11-2 records and back-to-back outright Mountain West Conference championships. But he added that the ranking doesn't mean much more than that at this point.
"I believe this acknowledgment is based upon the results over the past two seasons, as well as the intrigue that surrounds our program and its governing principles," Mendenhall said. "Being ranked in the preseason top-25 doesn't ensure a quality season. We will focus on the established pillars that have proven to be successful."
The last time BYU entered a season with a preseason national ranking which was also No. 17 in 1997 it ended up posting a dismal 6-5 record.
"Being ranked in the preseason doesn't provide any guarantees," Mendenhall continued. "Our goals will continue to be winning at home and winning the Mountain West Conference. We will not focus on an undefeated season or going to a BCS game. While that pressure exists, and we acknowledge that it has been and will continue to be talked about, our focus will be on doing our personal best and doing it as a collective unit on a daily basis."
A total of 61 head coaches from teams around the nation participate in the weekly poll, which serves as one of two national polls used to help formulate the BCS Standings.
BYU, which finished No 14 in the final 2007 polls and was voted the favorite to win a third straight MWC title, is looking at building upon the past two seasons.
The start of fall camp is something Cougar quarterback Max Hall has been eagerly awaiting for months. "I want to play football again," he said. "I love that time of year, being around the guys."
Hall leads a potentially explosive BYU offense that returns 10 starters, including running back Harvey Unga, wide receiver Austin Collie, tight end Dennis Pitta, tackle Dallas Reynolds and guard Ray Feinga.
Defensively, the Cougars return just three starters, but several players with experience are back. Headlining the defense is defensive lineman Jan Jorgensen, who collected an MWC-best 14 sacks last season.
"We're not satisfied with being 11-2," Jorgensen said. "There are a lot of teams out there that would love to be 11-2. We've been good the last two seasons, and now we're looking to be great. Anybody who wants to be great will never be satisfied with being 11-2."
Among the newcomers expected to participate in their first official BYU practice today are Mt. San Antonio College transfer Bernard Afutiti, a defensive lineman; Harmony, Fla., wide receiver O'Neill Chambers; and former Bingham High placekicker Justin Sorensen.The Cougars open the season Aug. 30 at home against Northern Iowa (4 p.m.). The Panthers enjoyed a 12-0 record and earned a No. 1 ranking in the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly I-AA) rankings last season. Northern Iowa fell to Delaware in the FCS playoffs.