PROVO — With the home finale Saturday against Utah and a bowl game in December remaining on the schedule, BYU needs one more victory to reach the double-digit win plateau for the fourth consecutive season.
That's something the Cougars have never achieved before.
Since 2006, BYU has posted records of 11-2, 11-2 and 10-3, respectively. The Cougars are 9-2 heading into the rivalry game and looking to clinch 10 wins again.
It's a milestone that's important to BYU's seniors, who will play in their final home game Saturday.
"There's a lot to be said for that. Four 10-win seasons is hard to do," said senior linebacker Matt Bauman. "As seniors, what we've done, along with the coaching staff, is created a legacy of winning. We've brought that back. Granted, we didn't win the championship last year and we've lost some big games, but overall, hopefully the fans can be excited about the fact that we've brought the winning tradition back to BYU. That's the biggest thing — restoring the winning tradition."
Twice before the Cougars have pieced together three consecutive 10-or-more-win seasons — in 1979 (11-1), 1980 (12-1) and 1981 (11-2); and in 1983 (11-1), 1984 (13-0) and 1985 (11-3).
Cougar coach Bronco Mendenhall, who inherited a program on the heels of three consecutive losing seasons, knows the value of this senior class goes beyond the number of victories.
"I think the world would look just at the number of wins, which is pretty remarkable," he said. "But I see the amount of work they've put in to get those wins. That's developed a really strong personal relationship with them."
Last week, during a team meeting, Mendenhall asked how many players were recruited during the tenure of former head coach Gary Crowton. Thirteen raised their hands, including defensive lineman Brett Denney and tight end Andrew George.
Mendenhall became BYU's defensive coordinator in 2003, two years before he was promoted to head coach.
"Brett Denney was one of the first recruits I saw as a brand-new defensive coordinator (at BYU)," remembered Mendenhall. "He's a committed player. I made a comment that we've been here a long time together — seven years. A lot happens in that amount of time."
George is savoring every moment of what remains of his senior season.
"As it's coming to an end, I've begun to think about it a lot. I've got one more game at LaVell Edwards Stadium," he said. "And the bowl game will be, potentially, the last game I play. It's bittersweet, definitely. I'll miss it. It's been a lot of fun."
Senior tight end Dennis Pitta came to BYU as a walk-on in 2004 before serving a mission, and he has been instrumental in the Cougars' success since 2007. Pitta and the rest of the seniors are looking forward to their last chance to play at home.
"It will be a nice, fitting ending for a lot of our careers," Pitta said. "We want to come out and play well in our last time here at LaVell Edwards (Stadium). It's an important game for us seniors to finish things right, and that's what we intend on doing."
Defensive lineman Jan Jorgensen has played in 50 consecutive games in his career, dating back to the first game of his freshman season. During that span, the Cougars have posted a 41-9 record.
But Jorgensen isn't waxing nostalgic about his final game at Edwards Stadium.
"It's something I'm going to try not to think about until after it's all over," he said. "I'm going to focus on the game. Hopefully I'm able to give a good performance, come out with a win, and a good memory for that last opportunity to play there."
"It'll be emotional," Bauman said of Saturday's contest against Utah. "It's been a great ride. All the seniors have gotten really close and we've had a great time playing here. LaVell Edwards Stadium is a special place for all of us. Being the last game, it'll add another emotional element to the game."
Utah at BYU
Saturday 3 p.m.
TV: The mtn., CBS C
Radio: 1160 AM, 700 AM, 102.7 FM
e-mail: [email protected]