HOUSTON — The second act needs to be better than the first. For BYU, it begins Saturday in Texas, where the Cougars play undefeated Houston.
In the world of football independence, coach Bronco Mendenhall knows relevancy on the big stage comes through wins.
BYU’s 4-2 record represents success, a solid run toward postseason play in the first half of Mendenhall’s 2013 campaign. But because of early losses to Virginia and Utah, there should be a sense of urgency in the Cougar camp at the midway point.
Being relevant can be accomplished with wins over undefeated Houston, MWC leader Boise State, Notre Dame and Wisconsin.
“We can play better,” said senior star Kyle Van Noy. “We can play cleaner, make more plays, take care of the little things."
“We need to grind it out, push ourselves,” said receivers coach Guy Holliday. “We need to work harder now we’re winning than when we were losing.”
This season, the Cougars have already blown two perfect opportunities as an independent. You don’t have to lecture Mendenhall about what happened. Those losses came at a time when BYU was in search of an identity and answers.
His team led Virginia with 180 seconds remaining and lost.
Then came the Utes. The Cougars had their rival at home with their seniors geared up and two weeks to prepare. BYU gained more yards, had more first downs and secured more red zone opportunities — but didn't convert those chances into enough points. Thus, the Cougars suffered a crushing one-possession loss.
In both cases, the Cougars were great defensively but didn’t have the offensive maturity to deliver wins.
Right now, BYU has gained needed maturity, specifically in the pass game.
“It’s not about Houston. It's all about us,” said Holliday.
After six games, 24 quarters and 512 offensive plays, just 10 points separate BYU from an undefeated record. In BYU’s wins, the average margin of victory has been 20.25 points.
“If we execute, run routes with precision, I feel good about our chances no matter who we play,” said Holliday.
As an independent, a situation where there is no conference trophy or league standings, national rankings loom huge. Without BCS affiliation, two losses will keep a team like BYU out of the polls at the midway point. But get 10 wins
The Cougars arrive in Houston with plenty of support. There are a little less than 40,000 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in this area and thousands of BYU graduates. Oil giants Exxon and Chevron recruit heavily from BYU’s campus. BYU fans will represent inside the Houston Texans' Reliant Stadium.
It's safe to say there will be more BYU fans at this game than any other road game the Cougars play this season.
This week’s predictions:
LSU 28, Mississippi 24: Tigers all the way — just don’t ask Les Miles about nails and hammers.
Alabama 41, Arkansas 14: Nick Saban just dials it in.
Oregon 48, Washington State 21: Mike Leach’s team will lose to a squad reported to wear pink helmets.
Ohio State 38, Iowa 10: Urban Meyer has the easiest walk in the Top Five.
Clemson 28, Florida State 21: A minor slap down of the proud Seminole crew.
Texas A&M 28, Auburn 21: Greatest impact by a conference defector.
UCLA 24, Stanford 21: Cardinal still reeling from Ute spanking.
Utah State 21, New Mexico 17: The Lobos are defenseless.
Utah 33, Arizona 27: Travis Wilson can pass; nobody in Tucson can.
BYU 41, Houston 17: Taysom Hill and Jamaal Williams fill their tanks.
Last week 6-3; Overall 45-15 (.750)
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.