Sunday, January 13, 2008

BCS in 2008?

It seems that everywhere I turn, I see people talking about BYU getting into a BCS game next season. Bronco Mendenhall has stated--admirably, in my opinion--that his goal is to elevate the program from the conference champion that plays a middling Pac-10 team in Las Vegas, to one that goes to top-tier bowls, and then eventually finds itself in a position to once again compete for a national title. The not-so-subtle message is that, after consecutive years as conference champion, the Cougars should expect nothing less than a BCS bowl in 2008. Players of course repeat this mantra, and media such as the Sporting News and the New York Times are picking up on the idea as well.

This frankly concerns me greatly. Coach Mendenhall has conceded that the current path to a BCS game will likely not include even a single loss--although, this past crazy year, the Cougars may well have gotten there if they had lost only to UCLA. What he hasn't acknowledged is the improbability of BYU going undefeated in the Mountain West Conference a third straight time.

BYU will win at Washington early on. Tyrone Willingham's crew could be more formidable later in the year (and I hope they are, since I am a fan of Coach Willingham, and his job is on the line), but I suspect they will not be ready to pull out a win versus a good team at the beginning of September. I believe the Cougars will also beat UCLA again; surely Bronco and Robert Anae will confer on how to better attack the stingy Bruin defense. Certainly Utah State and the other non-conference opponent will not prevail against BYU either.

But league play is a different animal, at least this year. I don't think that any team will be superior to BYU, but that isn't necessarily the point. The great Cougar teams of the past went undefeated in consecutive seasons only once in the Western Athletic Conference, and the teams to do that were National Championship level: 1983's version with Heisman Trophy runner-up Steve Young lost a close first game and ended up ranked #7, and the 1984 squad of course won it all.

The WAC of the early 1980's was not nearly as strong as the MWC is now. For instance, the 1983 Cougar team defeated Utah 55-7, and New Mexico 66-21. Such poundings are unimaginable now. In fact, BYU needed all they had (and more, some say) to beat both clubs this past year. The Cougars have home-field advantage against New Mexico this coming season, and that is probably sufficient to ensure a win. However, Utah should once again field a potent team. That matchup will take place in Salt Lake City, but location perhaps isn't as important as the task for any team to win a quality rivalry game in successive years, especially if the teams are evenly matched.

None of this conversation even takes into account the big bulls-eye on BYU that gets enlarged substantially with national discussion of their lofty aims. It isn't bad enough that the BYU game is the one that virtually every other team in the league already circles on their schedules. Being viewed as possible Top-10 and BCS material will produce a tear-down-the-goalposts fervor by most opponents to knock the Cougars off their pedestal.

The 2008 team should be very good. The offense will be closer to that of 2006, and the defense should be acceptable despite the loss of many seniors. But I don't think they will be good enough to run roughshod over each challenger. All things considered, I wish Mendenhall and others would do everything they can to not put themselves in the spotlight. Talk about their ambitions behind closed doors, but stress the level of competition in public. I understand that it is a lot to ask, but I do very much want to see them get into a BCS bowl. Anything that facilitates that result is worth the effort, because I don't think they are quite there yet.

In 2009, though. . . Rise and Shout.

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