Sunday, September 16, 2007

Questioning Our "Investment" Strategy

I was going to write a post last week after the loss to UCLA entitled something like, "Nothing Left to Play For". That was my initial feeling after the Cougars likely blew their possibilities at a BCS bowl with penalties, turnovers, and questionable officiating. But as I examined the situation, I realized that there was plenty left to play for, in terms of BYU's future as a program. There might still even be an outside chance at a BCS bowl if the Cougars won the rest of the way, thanks to changes made after the 1996 Bowl Alliance snub of a similar BYU team (which, coincidentally, lost only once, on the road, against a good Pac-10 team). And yes, Utah and Boise State, you're welcome for the good fortune afforded you by BYU.

However, the question of whether or not the Cougars will do well the rest of this season for the future of the program is now not so clear.

I'm sure I am not the only one who will say this, but I think it needs to be said, regardless. I can live with BYU losing because things didn't go their way despite their best effort. I can live with the team not being as good as I would like due to lack of experience. I can even live with the team losing because of turnovers; sometimes there doesn't seem to be much than can be done about those, somehow. What I cannot accept is penalties playing an integral part in losing.

Despite three turnovers and drive-killing penalties, they had managed 47 points and were in position yesterday to tie the game against Tulsa on a final drive before yet another turnover. Despite similar problems with penalties, turnovers, and the aforementioned questionable officiating, they last week gave UCLA a terrific run for their money--yes, I am fully aware that previously winless Utah routed the same UCLA team at Salt Lake City 44-6 the next week (yesterday). That Twilight Zone outcome can only be attributed to a combination of Ben Olson's and UCLA's extreme inconsistency (especially when they don't feel the type of threat posed by "upset special" BYU), and Utah's propensity to exchange their customary uninspired play for an occasional out-of-their-minds performance when it appears they have little chance to win.

The point is, BYU has considerable talent, probably enough to have won both of the last two games. Why then aren't they winning?

Coach Bronco Mendenhall has made execution and discipline the foundation of his program. BYU has steadily gotten better in both regards over the last two years, so much so that the athletic department voluntarily reworked his contract. Now, however, the team seems to be revisiting some of the horrors of the Gary Crowton era, and I believe this presents a dilemma for Cougar fans. At least under Crowton, we recognized that there were issues in the program that required serious attention. But those issues seemed to be resolved under the new regime.

Now we are faced with a new potential for real disillusionment. If Mendenhall's philosophies emphasize rock-solid steadiness to the extent that, as he says, they should be to the point where new components can be inserted to maintain the established level of play, how is it possible that the result of their efforts now produces a disconnection that manifests itself in personal fouls and other penalties that either hurt themselves or help the opposition? BYU fans have bought into Mendenhall's vision; we are "fully invested" in the program. But anyone knows that if a popular investment does not produce anticipated returns, investors will dump it en masse.

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