Bronco Mendenhall is at it again.
It, being coaching his team to a lot of wins and saying things that get under the skin of college football fans in Utah (even if his comments weren't intended to and/or really shouldn't rankle anybody).
The ex-BYU coach ruffled some feathers around Cougar Country with comments that some considered to be critical of his former team's independent football situation.
Mendenhall's quote came during his weekly Virginia press conference when he was asked by a media member if he was "having fun?" in his first title race as a head coach since BYU went independent in 2011.
Mendenhall's response reaffirmed his preference for being part of a conference.
"Every game matters. They all have significant influence and import," Mendenhall said. "I think it's just good for players. It's great for the mindset of the organization, but it's a more meaningful and rich college experience when you’re a part of a conference and especially if you’re performing well enough to be in the hunt when you're going into November and December."
That sparked some interesting reactions.
BYU fans can get upset about a perceived slight on being an independent program, but here’s the thing: Bronco is right.
Well, mostly right.
Going independent has its advantages, including a nice non-Power-5 television check for BYU and some interesting football matchups, but it also has some major disadvantages.
It’s exciting and entertaining to have something to fight for even if a national championship is not within reach. Independence still gives you 12 games a year to stoke the competitive fire, but the Cougars are missing the thrill of being able to chase a conference title year in and year out.
It’s also part of college athletics fun for players to have a chance to win weekly and annual awards. As imperfect as the Mountain West Conference was and is, annual grudge matches against conference rivals added an element of passion and intrigue to the schedule. It’s just not the same when most of your games are against the likes of Northern Illinois, Wagner and fill-in-the-blank mid-major programs complemented by a sprinkling of games against various Pac-12 foes and powerhouses on occasion.
Yes, BYU does schedule some top-tier talent and maintains local interest with regular matchups against Utah, Utah State and Boise State. But, as good as the athletic department has done in filling the slate each year, the challenge of not having a conference leads to inconsistent schedules — especially in October and November.
Mendenhall was simply pointing out the truth, not taking a dig at his old employer.
"It’s refreshing to not have to travel all across the country to play games that not many people are maybe interested in later in the year," he said. "Early in the year as an independent, there’s strong interest because people are willing to play. Later in the year, when conference races begin, folks don’t line up to play BYU or travel to Provo."
That said, Mendenhall's current program has agreed to travel to his old stomping grounds later in the 2021 season (Oct. 30) and in 2025 (Nov. 1).
Then again, if some people get their way, he'll be long gone by then. Mendenhall has definitely captured the attention of the college football world with the way his Cavaliers are playing now. Virginia is 6-2 overall, 4-1 in conference play, ranked for the first time since 2011 at No. 23 and sits atop the ACC Coastal Division.
With that kind of success three years into his Virginia tenure, Mendenhall's name is being bandied about for future job openings at bigger schools — like USC.
It's not the first time that idea has been tossed around, by the way.
If that happens, this likely won't be the last time Mendenhall says something that causes Beehive State sports fans — Cougars and Utes alike — to raise their eyebrows.65 comments on this story
Though some might fixate on Mendenhall's conference preference, he actually gave a glowing compliment of the school he grew up loving. He noted that 98.5 percent of the students are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and pointed out that many young athletes from the faith hope to play for BYU when they grow up.
"What I also learned quickly (at Virginia) is it does no good to compare any other place to BYU," he said. "That school, that institution is magical and very unique."