EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the seventh in a nine-part series previewing Mountain West Conference football. Stories are in projected order of finish (last-to-first) from the league's preseason media poll. Today: No. 2 BYU.
BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall told reporters at the league's meetings he'd learned a lot about how to approach expectations over the past year and he plans on managing it differently this season heading into the opener against Oklahoma in Arlington, Texas, on Sept. 5.
"Last year we were protecting rather than pursuing and there's a huge difference in mindset," Mendenhall said. "I learned a lot in terms of possibly changing that, but I'm not perfect and neither is the team. We hopefully will grow and learn from it at the same time."
A year ago the Cougars were fresh off two straight undefeated runs in conference play, were ranked in the preseason, picked to win the Mountain West Conference, held the nation's longest win streak, had just won two bowl games as national pundits predicted the Cougars to be the BCS buster.
After going 6-0 and achieving a No. 7 ranking, it all unraveled in a 32-7 loss at TCU and the season concluded with losses to Utah and Arizona.
It does not take scheduling Oklahoma this season to humble the squad, Mendenhall said.
"We're humble enough," he said. "When you don't win the conference, you don't win your bowl game and you don't win the state championship, there isn't a player or coach on the team who is satisfied with that."
Mendenhall said his 2009 team has responded since walking off the field as losers to Arizona in the Las Vegas Bowl. "I expect that will carry on into this season — how we've responded."
STRENGTH: After losing all but tackle MattReynolds off the offensive line, the Cougars return four starters including senior QB Max Hall,TEDennis Pitta (and Andrew George) and one of the MWC's top rushers in Harvey Unga.
Returning missionary McKay Jacobson will be BYU's fastest player at wide receiver with Luke Ashworth and O'Neil Chambers in the rotation. The Cougars return seven defensive starters including DE Jan Jorgensen, safety Scott Johnson and linebackers Matt Bauman and Coleby Clawson and Shawn Doman.
WEAKNESS: The Cougars must replace corner Brandon Howard, who withdrew from school, with one of five candidates including three JC transfers. If senior noseguard Russell Tialavea leaves for an LDS mission, junior Rick Wolfley is expected to fill in or there could be a quick fix move that may include moving an offensive lineman over to that position to compete with recently returned missionary Romney Fuga.
EXTRA POINTS: The Cougars have momentum despite finishing third in the MWC a year ago. The three straight 10-win seasons by the Cougars is the best in 21 years and 18 straight wins at home has never been accomplished at BYU. The Cougars have won more league titles, had longer league win streaks than any MWC program over the last four seasons.
Cougars at a glance
Head coach: Bronco Mendenhall (38-13 overall, fifth year)
2008 record: 10-3 (6-2, MWC)
RETURNING STARTERS: 14 (4 offense, 8 defense, 2 specialists)
Sept. 5 — Oklahoma (at Arlington, Texas)
Sept. 12 — at Tulane
Sept. 19 — Florida State
Sept. 26 — Colorado State
Oct. 2 — Utah State
Oct. 10 — at UNLV
Oct. 17 — at San Diego State
Oct. 24 — TCU
Nov. 7 — at Wyoming
Nov. 14 — at New Mexico
Nov. 21 — Air Force
Nov. 28 — Utah
Schedule of previews
1. TCU: Saturday, Aug. 1
2. BYU: Friday, July 31
3. Utah: today
4. Air Force: July 29
5. UNLV: July 28
6. Colorado St.: July 27
7. New Mexico: July 26
8. San Diego St.: July 25
9. Wyoming: Friday, July 24