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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Poll Results: Is Going Independent a Good Idea for BYU

This was a very popular poll with 325 people casting votes. A full 2/3 (67%)supported the move as a good idea. Thank you to everyone who voted. Hopefully today is the day we all find out what BYU decides.

Don't forget to vote in the new poll: "BYU's 2 Quarterback System is."

Monday, August 30, 2010

Reaction to the Rankings: Preseason 2010

The 2010 season is here! BYU Football Talk is now in regular season form. That means every day BYU Football Talk will have something to wet your appetite for the upcoming game. Quickly, here is a brief overview of the regular features that will be accompanied by commentary on the other happenings of BYU football as they occur.

MONDAY: Reaction to the Rankings. Sound off about BYU's spot in the rankings.
TUESDAY: Opinion Poll. Give your opinion on a pertinent issue regarding BYU football.
WEDNESDAY: Flashback to highlight a great moment in BYU football history.
THURSDAY: Trivia. Test your knowledge of BYU football facts.
FRIDAY: Game Preview.
SATURDAY: Game Recap and Analysis.

Let's face it. Few fans in college football pay more attention to the rankings than BYU fans. Now that both the AP and USA Today rankings are out, it's time to react. BYU failed to be in the top 25 of each poll, but the Cougars were found among the "others receiving votes." If you extrapolate the rankings, BYU came in at number 28 in USA Today and 34 in the AP.

Honestly, I wasn't expecting much better. I was holding out some hope that BYU would somehow make it in at 24 or 25, but I realize who is voting and where BYU fits on their spectrum of college football. I wasn't surprised either by the difference between the coaches and the media poll. The media is always harder to please than the coaches. I still remember 1994 when BYU finished the year number 10 in the coaches poll and only 18 in the AP poll.

Since it is only preseason, I am not letting myself get too carried away by these rankings. I do have one observation that has to be mentioned. Can you think of a team that finished 2009 ranked, but lost its three year starting quarterback, its Mackey Award finalist tight end, and its best player on defense? BYU sure fits that description, but so does Florida. The Gators finished 2009 ranked number 3 in both polls, and, notwithstanding those significant losses, they open 2010 at that same spot. BYU finished 2009 at number 12, but in 2010 falls out of the rankings. Does anyone else find this peculiar? I am not saying drop Florida all the way from the rankings like BYU, but how do you keep them so high?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

BYU Cougars Move to Independent Status: How the Saga Could End

The Brigham Young Cougars only have a few more days to consider their options and work out any details if they are going to change their status for football in 2011. It has been more than a week since word leaked out that BYU and the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) had a deal in place to allow BYU to become independent in football and move all other sports to the WAC. While the media frenzy has calmed, it is certain that administrators are still feverishly working at it.

Much has been said and written about BYU's possible move for independence. Before forming an opinion on BYU and its motives for making such a move, I urge everyone to read the following two articles on this matter. Dick Harmon, Deseret News, BYU's broadcast issues boiling over and Greg Wrubell, KSL, Independence Train Not Off the Tracks.

As for the matter at hand, the BYU going independent story has four possible endings.

1. BYU declares independence in football and joins the West Coast Conference (WCC) in all other sports.
This would probably count as the last resort. While the WCC competes in most sports that BYU does (Track and Field, Swimming and Diving, and Softball would be the only exceptions) and some of the basketball teams are very competitive and well respected, this option presents concerns regarding the venue sizes and overall level of competition.

2. BYU declares independence in football and joins the WAC in all other sports, as originally planned.
Fresno State and Nevada are obligated by WAC bylaws to wait until the 2012-2013 academic year to join the MWC. June 30, 2010, was the deadline for WAC schools to announce any intentions to leave the conference for the 2011-12 academic year. That means for one year everything would be just as planned. If the move for independence is intended to be short term and part of a master plan for BYU to get an invite to the Big 12, then the defection of Fresno State and Nevada would not really impact BYU's plans. If the Big 12 is not an option for BYU in the near future, then the WAC would still have one year to regroup and implement a plan to remain viable in 2012.

3. BYU stays in the MWC for all sports, but the MWC makes major concessions.
Foremost among the concessions would be broadcasting independence for BYU. Freedom to broadcast BYU athletics on BYUTV and other available avenues to bring greater exposure to BYU seems to be at the heart of this issue.

4. BYU leaves the MWC to be part of a new conference.
This new conference has been dubbed "the ESPN conference" since ESPN would make it all possible through a television contract that dwarfs the current deal the MWC has with the Mtn. This conference would be comprised of BYU, TCU, Boise State, Air Force, and maybe two teams from the WAC and two teams from Conference USA. For this option to be realistic, schools would have to be strategically selected to ensure the new conference would far exceed the minimum threshold for BCS automatic qualifying status.

My Prediction
BYU will declare independence for football, and the school will have no ties to the MWC. Everyone at BYU from top to bottom seems set on the independent route. If the MWC had not reacted by inviting Fresno State and Nevada, then BYU and the MWC might have been able to compromise. It is contrary to the practice of BYU and its sponsor religion to affiliate with entities that conduct business the way the MWC just did. The other athletic teams will end up in the WAC.

BYU Cougars Fall Football Camp Wrap Up Report

The Brigham Young Cougars just finished one of the most anticipated fall football camps ever. The coaches have decided who they might redshirt, and the players have voted Andrew Rich and Matt Reynolds as team captains. To wrap up the last three weeks, here are my fall camp superlatives.

This is a no brainer: the quarterback battle. Coach Bronco Mendenhall first mentioned using two quarterbacks at the MWC media days at the end of July. The longer camp went without a starter being named, the clearer it became that BYU would, in fact, use two QBs during the season. Bronco made it official Friday, August 27. During camp, both Riley Nelson and Jake Heaps had their moments where they showed they could be the guy. In the end, the decision to use two QBs is a result of 1) Nelson and Heaps' contrasting playing styles, and 2) Heaps' true freshman status. In principle, I oppose any team using a two quarterback system. However, I get the feeling that BYU can pull it off this year, if the whole team fully embraces it. That will be the key. My only other concern is what about next year? Nelson is only a junior. While the two QB system maybe BYU's best option this year, I don't think it will be next year.

Steve Thomas emerging as the starting free safety. The Florida State game showed how critical this position is in BYU's defense (it was the only game Scott Johnson missed last year). With three senior starters returning in the secondary, it would be a shame for all this talent and experience to go to waste solely because the free safety had to be replaced. Thomas was able to stand out early. Coaches Mendenhall and Jaime Hill commended his decision making abilities, and he followed that up with strong play. It appears the secondary will live up to everyone's lofty expectations.

No one suffered a season ended injury, per se, during camp. However, speedy, true freshman running back Drew Phillips suffered an injury that limited his action. Compound that with his delayed start due to NCAA Clearinghouse issues, and he most likely will redshirt this year. After hearing Bronco explain why letting Phillips play in games without playing in camp would compromise the culture of the team, a light switched on in my mind. Bronco's reluctance to play talented freshman just because they are better than the other players at their positions makes complete sense. As does redshirting Phillips, from a depth chart standpoint. In the long run, Phillips will probably see the field more and have a more productive career by redshirting this year.

The unresolved quarterback battle was no surprise, but the continuing linebacker battles are. Six middle linebackers are still fighting for two spots. This is not a cause for concern, rather it is a pleasant surprise. The nexus for the competitiveness of this position is the depth of talent. All six appear to be capable of starting and playing well.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

BYU Cougars Fall Football Camp Update

Head coach Bronco Mendenhall indicated that the Brigham Young Cougars have only two days of fall camp left until they start their game preparations for the season opener on September 4. With fall camp winding down, its time to take a look at how camp has gone and where the team stands.

The defense is starting to take shape. The front seven has filled in, more or less. The down linemen are playing pretty well. Vic So'oto and Eathyn Manumaleuna are regularly pressuring the quarterbacks and registering sacks. That is a good sign considering the offensive line is the best and deepest unit on the team. The linebackers are getting good reviews. The starting line up isn't set in stone yet, but the feeling seems to be that all of the guys fighting for the spots will be quality players. Jordan Pendleton is the biggest concern. He has been kept out of contact to allow a torn muscle to heal. Coaches think that he will be ready for the first game.

The secondary was in good shape at the start of camp. The only task was to identify a new free safety. Mendenhall has said that he and Defensive Coordinator Jamie Hill are comfortable with Steve Thomas at that spot. He is demonstrating good decision making with play calls and even intercepted a pass in recently. This eases a lot of concerns for me. It appears the secondary will be very strong this year, and the rest of the D won't be too far behind.

The only thing lacking on offense is a quarterback. Running backs are coming into their own. They are catching the ball well out of the backfield and gaining good chunks of yards after the catch. They are picking up yards on the ground and scoring touchdowns in short yardage situations. The offensive line has been the anchor that we all expected. The wide receivers are playing well, except for several dropped balls in recent days. The drops are a problem on two levels. First, the obvious reason is that nothing else matters if you don't catch the ball. Second, it is making it harder to evaluate the quarterbacks.

Riley Nelson and Jake Heaps are clearly the top 2. Just when it looked like Heaps was going to make a move and create some separation, the receivers started dropping his passes. Heaps' stat line started to look bad. At the same time, Nelson started putting up better numbers, however, it was often against the second string defense. At this point, my gut is telling me that Bronco Mendenhall is going to do just what he described nearly a month ago--use two quarterbacks for the first couple of games. As a general rule, using two quarterbacks is a bad idea. It's almost like using two centers--it just doesn't make sense. However, I do find some level of relief with the fact that each quarterback has his own package. When the University of Florida has success with a two quarterback system in 2006, Urban Meyer claimed that the system worked because each QB had his own package of plays that were different, therefore, the two QBs could co-exist without dividing the team or negatively affecting the QBs mentally.

While many uncertainties still exist with the 2010 edition of BYU football, the pieces seem to be in place for another year of great memories and fun.

To read more writings by The Editor you can visit College Football Haven.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Brigham Young Cougars--Still The Most Hated Team in America

The Brigham Young Cougars have accomplished a lot with Bronco Mendenhall as head coach. Forty-three wins the last four years, two conference championships, five consecutive bowl appearances, three bowl wins, and four seasons with a national ranking. Notwithstanding all this success, BYU has been unable to shed the label as the most hated team in America.

In June, the Pac-10 made it very clear that they had no interest in adding BYU. Books could be written showing that BYU is as good of a fit as any team for Pac-10 athletics. However, not even that could keep Pac-10 schools from ruling out BYU before the process even started.

The Big XII lost two teams last June, and they scoffed at the idea of finding two teams to replace what was lost. Even when rumors started to swirl that the Big XII might move back to 12 teams, TCU and Houston were viewed as more likely candidates than BYU. The Big XII knows that BYU would be a good addition to the conference. They have known it since 1994. Politics prevented BYU’s inclusion back then, but now that the door is open again to bring BYU on board, the Big XII is hesitant. Maybe there are some underlying factors that don’t make expansion prudent, at this time, but they could at least have mentioned that they would look at or be interested in BYU when they are ready to expand.

With the Pac-10 clearly out of the picture and the Big XII not immediately viable, BYU looked to better its situation by going independent. Not an easy task for anyone. Even Notre Dame is being pressured to join a conference, so you have to admire BYU’s willingness to take such a risk for the school to be more nationally relevant in football. Unless, of course, you are the Mountain West Conference (MWC). For years, the other members of the MWC have taken their relationship with BYU for granted. Then, when BYU decides that they have had enough, the MWC shows no sign of dignity. Rather than try to reach across the table and compromise with BYU, they go under the table in an attempt to unravel BYU’s plans.

The plan was for BYU to be independent in football, and the other athletic teams would move to the Western Athletic Conference (WAC). When the MWC caught wind of this, they hastily invited Fresno State, Nevada, and Utah State to join the conference. Fresno State and Nevada accepted, even though they could face a $5 million penalty for leaving the WAC. The move by Fresno State and Nevada seal BYU’s status as the most hated team in America. As members of the WAC, they stood to gain through BYU’s independent status. However, when they were faced with a decision to do something good for themselves or do something bad for BYU, they chose the latter.

Whether we like it or not, BYU still is the most hated team in America, and it’s not even close.

To read more writings by The Editor you can visit College Football Haven.

For BYU It's Independence or Bust

The Brigham Young Cougars have no choice now; they must declare independent status for football. This is no longer a question of whether or not independence is a good thing for BYU. This is a matter of principle. BYU has to stand up for what is right.

Commissioner Craig Thompson and the Mountain West Conference (MWC) have taken this too far. From Wyoming down to San Diego State, everyone in the MWC knows that without BYU they would have either cut the football program or moved down to Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) status. After decades of being the lifeblood of the WAC and now the MWC, BYU has finally decided to make a bold move for the good of the program. How does the MWC react? They show their true colors. Rather than sit down and have a mature conversation where they concede that BYU should get more from this relationship after getting the very short end of the stick all these years, they find a way to detour BYU's well laid plans by inviting Fresno State and Nevada to leave the WAC and join the MWC.

This ingratitude, this conceitedness must not be rewarded. BYU should not enter into any agreement with the MWC, regardless of the concessions being offered. The reality is that while things may look better on paper, New Mexico, Colorado State, Wyoming, and the others are still the same. Nothing is really going to change. BYU must stand for BYU. The Cougars cannot be held hostage by a bunch of Rebels, Cowboys, and Aztecs. If the MWC thinks that they can keep the other BYU team sports in the conference by crippling the WAC, they need to think again. BYU needs to go find another conference, any conference. I don't care if it is an NAIA conference. "No unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing. Persecutions may rage, [the MWC] may combine, [conference members] may assemble, calumny may defame. But [BYU athletics] will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, until the purposes of [BYU] shall be accomplished" (Joseph Smith, The Wentworth Letter).

Cougar fans, now is the time to support BYU athletics like never before. Attend as many sporting events as you can. Attend basketball, volleyball, baseball, and soccer games in record numbers. Who cares if the competition is lousy. We must give our support. This is our time to show the rest of the country the strength of BYU athletics.

Within the athletics department, coaches and administrators need to take what has happened and turn it into a rally cry. Use this to light a fire in every athlete's belly, to place a chip on everyone's shoulder, and to get the players foaming at the mouth. It is time to play the disrespect card. A new quest must begin involving the entire Athletics Department. A quest to make 2010-11 the greatest year of athletics that this university has ever known, so that it may be said that "persecution has not stopped the progress of [BYU athletics], but has only added fuel to the flame. It has spread with increasing rapidity. Proud of the cause which they have espoused and conscious of our innocence and of the truth of their system" (Joseph Smith, The Wentworth Letter).

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

How BYU Can Succeed as an Independent

There have been rumblings for years that the Brigham Young Cougars should/could declare independent status for football. When the Pac-10 passed over BYU for rival Utah in June, those rumblings got louder, and they have been joined by rumors that going independent is imminent. With the Big XII's reluctance to grow back to 12 teams, the statement by BYU Athletic Director Tom Holmoe, and the comments by Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall, these rumors just might have some substance. BYU has to declare its intentions by September 1, 2010, to start independent play at the same time the other conference realignments happen in 2011.

Independent status has many risks and rewards, just as any major change to the status quo. While work is going on behind the scenes, portions of the fan base have gravitated to one side or the other of the issue. There is no right or wrong on this issue, but anyone advocating independence needs to reconcile four major risks that can't be avoided by making such a bold move: finding a home for BYU's other sports, scheduling twelve games every year, losing access to bowl games, and identifying a new television partner. Overcoming these four risks is a daunting task, and the initial reaction is that independence cannot work. However, by thinking outside the box, legitimate solutions can be identified that make succeeding as an independent very feasible.

Finding A Home For BYU's Other Sports
Athletic conferences have existed for decades. Each conference has its own set of rules for member schools. BYU belongs to the Mountain West Conference (MWC), and the MWC requires member institutions to participate in league play in every sport. That means, if BYU doesn't want to belong to the MWC for football, then BYU is not welcome to participate in any sport. Geography limits BYU's options to the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) and the West Coast Conference (WCC). However, the best option is to get the MWC to change this rule. BYU is to the MWC what Texas is to the Big XII, and the other MWC members know it. The MWC would have never gotten off the ground in 1999 without BYU. While the other schools won't like it, and they might even harshly criticize BYU in the press, they will hold their nose and swallow this bitter pill. They cannot afford to have all BYU sports leave.

Scheduling Twelve Games Every Year
One advantage of playing in a conference is that eight games are automatically scheduled every year leaving each school with the responsibility of finding only four other teams to play. As an independent, BYU would have to schedule all twelve games every year. For many of those games, a team will have to break from its regular conference schedule. While that might sound hard, it should be easier than one might think. I used to think that scheduling would be a monumental task. Then I when I was thinking how BYU could schedule teams so that the level of competition would be respected while avoiding undue travel burdens, I realized that working around conference play might not be so difficult. To help me explain better, here is the basic pattern that BYU could follow each year when scheduling:

3 Pac-12 teams
3 MWC teams
3 Big XII teams
3 Eastern teams (ACC, Big East, Big Ten, SEC, or independents)

Three scheduling items to keep in mind are 1) The first five weeks of the year are already open for non-conference games, so competing with conference schedules won't be an issue, 2) The independent status for BYU will open up one week for the eight other MWC members during the last 8 weeks of the season; therefore, scheduling the three MWC games during October and November should not be complicated, and 3) The conference schedules are made by the conferences. With only four weeks left to fill on the schedule, the most that one conference would have to break from conference play would be twice. In each case it would be for a different team. That is not asking too much.

BYU has had trouble scheduling quality non-conference opponents in the past for fear that a loss to BYU would look bad and/or jeopardize their chances at a national title. That should not be a problem as an independent. Not only will BYU have shed the non-AQ MWC label, elite programs have returned to scheduling tough non-conference games. Ohio State has or will play Miami (FL), USC, and Texas in recent years. Alabama has or will play Clemson, Virginia Tech, and Penn State. Virginia Tech has played Alabama, Nebraska, and LSU. Last year BYU played Oklahoma and in 2011 BYU will play Texas. There is no reason to doubt that BYU can't have two or three big names on the schedule each year and several moderate level teams for the schedule to be considered legitimate and worthy of a BCS invite.

Losing Access to Bowl Games
After scheduling an opponent, you need a way to get to the game. One of the many revenue streams in college football is bowl revenues. BYU probably won't have any problem winning enough games to be bowl eligible. The problem is that the bowls partner with the aforementioned athletic conferences, thus binding the bowl to select a team from that conference, even if a team outside that conference has a better record or would bring more fans to the game. The solution to this hurdle is for BYU to form its own partnership with one or two bowls. Not possible? Not so fast.

Bowls partnering with conferences is the practice, not a policy of the NCAA. Therefore, if a bowl feels BYU is a better catch than the teams in a certain conference, then I would expect them to ink a deal with BYU guaranteeing BYU a spot in that bowl if BYU is bowl eligible. Considering the dynamics of bowl partnerships and how BYU going independent and the other conference realignments will impact those dynamics, a bowl contract becomes very possible for BYU.

First, the MWC has a contract with five different bowls. Without BYU, the MWC will have a very hard time filling all five bowl slots, especially if the MWC champion is playing in a BCS bowl. How many of these bowls would jump at the chance to lock up BYU every year or every other year? Granted, the MWC bowls are not very desirable, but it would be a start. At least BYU would not have to split the pay out with eight other schools.

Second, the Big XII will lose two teams in 2011, and it looks like that conference will adopt a round robin format for conference play. With only 10 teams, will the Big XII fill its eight bowl spots? Maybe one of these bowls would like to have BYU. BYU has a lot of history with the Holiday Bowl, has played many regular season games at the Sun Bowl (UTEP), and has a pretty good following in Texas (Cotton, Alamo, Texas, and Dallas Football Classic bowls) and Arizona (Insight Bowl).

As far as finding a bowl, the question is not a matter of if but when. When do the contracts expire for the bowl(s) that are interested in BYU?

Identifying a New Television Partner
The final risk is the biggest of all. TV. Broadcasting games is essential for more than just money. The exposure through television impacts the national perception and recruiting of a school. Currently, the MWC has a contract with the mtn. that pays BYU $1 to 1.5 million annually for all sports. To justify the move to independence, BYU should have a way to significantly increase television revenues, not just match the $1.5 million. ESPN might be interested in making a deal with BYU for $2 million a year. Even twenty years ago when playing on ESPN meant something, BYU appeared fairly regularly. CBS or Fox may also be interested in broadcasting BYU games regionally. Those would be the traditional options that are inside the box.

Outside the box there is an option that has the potential to be very lucrative. In December, BYU will complete the BYU Broadcasting Building. It has the capability and capacity to dedicate a separate channel to broadcast BYU sporting events in high definition. With this sports channel, BYU could pocket all revenues from both advertising and pay for view. The pay for view is what would make this option so lucrative. If BYU charges $10 per event, it would only take 100,000 viewers to reach $1 million. Multiply that by six and BYU has made $6 million just on the home football games. With hundreds of thousand BYU alumni spread across the country, it is conceivable that far more than 100,000 households will pay for each game. Any advertising dollars would be the cherry on top. This type of revenue potential would justify the move to independent status. So what's the catch?

BYU is a non-profit institution that enjoys special tax benefits. BYUTV is carried on cable and satellite as a public service. Surely BYU would lose the tax breaks and BYUTV would be dropped by cable and satellite providers if BYU entered into advertising agreements and started charging viewers to see programming. Call me crazy, but isn’t BYU doing this already? LaVell Edwards Stadium, Miller Park, and the Marriott Center are littered with corporate advertising, and everyone who attends events at these facilities pays to view those events. Maybe I am wrong about this, but I thought that BYU could generate an infinite amount of revenue, and if BYU took all those monies and reinvested them in the University or the Athletics Department, then BYU still qualified for non-profit status. You can’t tell me that BYU is not profiting already off of ticket and apparel sales and generous donations. I am very confident that through some subtle nuances in the law BYU will be able to maintain tax exempt status while dramatically increasing TV revenues. As for the public service status for BYUTV, there is probably a way to maintain that as well. If not, BYU will have to devise another way to use the BYU Broadcast Building to create revenues by showing BYU football games.

My Position
Personally, I consider myself a fence sitter on the independence issue. I am optimistic about the future of the MWC and its quest for BCS automatic qualifying status (if not at the end of the current four year evaluation period, then at the end of the next). I am optimistic about the Big XII inviting BYU to join the conference some day. I am optimistic, as well, that BYU athletics can continue to thrive if BYU is independent in football. The key to thriving as an independent would be the timing. Unless BYU has a suitable home for the other sports, has the scheduling issues worked out, has an agreement with a bowl in place, and has profitable television broadcasting available, then declaring independence by September 1, 2010, will be premature. If BYU has all this set up, and the decision makers there elect to go independent, I can fully support that choice.

To read more writings by The Editor you can visit College Football Haven

Monday, August 16, 2010

BYU QB Race Update: And the Plot Thickens

The battle to be the next starting quarterback for the Brigham Young Cougars took a new twist this weekend. On Friday, Jason Franchuk with the Daily Herald reported that the defensive players find it more difficult to defend when junior Riley Nelson is leading the offense. On Saturday, Jake Heaps outperformed Nelson in the team’s first scrimmage. Heaps was 10-20, 156 yards, 1 TD pass. He led a 96-yard scoring drive capped by a 45-yard touchdown pass to McKay Jacobson.

Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall has said that the players on the team will have significant sway in who he names the starting quarterback. The man they accept as the leader of the team will start. A “unanimous” vote from the defense would be a huge boost to Nelson’s claim on the starting role. The defenders are the ones who can tell the coaches which quarterback is easier to stop, and which quarterback gives them more headaches.

I don’t know if Heaps got word of Franchuk’s article before the scrimmage on Saturday, but he played like he had something to prove. On the 96-yard scoring drive, 85 yards were passing yards. Heaps was 5-6 passing on the drive that was the first team offense against the first team defense. While it was Heap’s only drive ending in a touchdown, Nelson only had one touchdown drive as well. It was the second team offense against the third string defense, and there was a broken coverage on Nelson’s 35-yard touchdown toss to Jacobson. Nelson ended the day 3-6, 52 yards, 1 TD, and 2 rushes for 18 yards.

After the scrimmage, Mendenhall noted he would take a close look at the tape before saying anything about the quarterback situation, and he said he “might be able to tell you at the beginning of the week what I thought.” Stay tuned.

To read more writings by The Editor you can visit

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Poll Results: When will Bronco Mendenhall name the starting quarterback?

The voting was fairly evenly distributed on this poll. The top vote getter was one week before the first game with only 40% of the votes. Second was one day or less before the first game (26%), which was followed closely by two games or more into the season (20%). During the first two weeks of fall camp received the least votes, but still got a respectable 14%. None of these options are impossible yet. Thank you to all who voted. We had a record number of votes.

Don't forget to vote in the new poll: "Is going independent a good idea for BYU?"

Thursday, August 12, 2010

BYU Cougars Fall Camp: QBs Perform Poorly

Riley Nelson and Jake Heaps played poorly in day 5 of the Brigham Young Cougars fall camp. It was bound to happen sometime. Heaps was 2 of 7, with an interception, for 53 yards. Nelson was 2 of 6, one TD, but only 19 yards. While Heaps threw a pick and Nelson threw a touchdown, what really sticks out is the passing yards. Going strictly by the numbers, if I were a coach, I would lean towards Heaps.

It appears that the coaches placed emphasis on the run game now that the team is in full pads. (J.J. DiLuigi: 5 rushes, 13 yds; Bryan Kariya: 2 rushes, 21 yds; Mike Hague: 4 rushes, 24 yds) This might have prevented the quarterbacks from finding a rhythm and resulted in the poor stats. The poor stats, however, will help the coaches evaluate the players. A good quarterback bounces back after a bad day. I suspect the coaches will watch closely how each QB starts off the next practice.

With the first week in the books, the starting spot is still very much up for grabs. Following the day-to-day performance and trying to decipher who is leading can drive a man crazy. Especially when you have no influence, in any way, on what the coaches decide. It would be nice to see one of the two clearly outperform the other, but I don't think that will happen.

The only thing that I can say with confidence about the quarterback race is that the longer it goes on, the better the chances are that Jake Heaps starts.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Brigham Young Cougars 13 Most Important Wins

The voice of the Brigham Young Cougars, Greg Wrubell, is soliciting our help to determine the 13 most IMPORTANT wins in BYU football history. From Wrubell's blog Cougar Tracks:
On this season of "BYU Football with Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall" on KSL 5 TV (Sunday nights at 11:00pm), we will be counting down the "13 Most Important Wins in BYU Football History" during Jeremiah Jensen's "Cougar Classics."

We are asking for your help in determining and then ranking those 13 wins.

E-mail either or with your list of 13 games, ranked or unranked, to help us form the list of games we will be ranking. Once the list is complete, we plan to create a poll on to rank the games, then week by week on the Sunday night broadcast, we'll reveal BYU's most important wins, one by one.

E-mail submissions will be accepted until Friday, August 13th.
I recently counted down the Top 10 BYU Football Games, but what Wrubell is doing is a little different. He is asking for the most IMPORTANT games. Many of the games on my top 10 list are some of the most important games in BYU football history, but the order will be different since a different element of a game is being measured.

Here is the list I am submitting:

1. BYU 24, Michigan 17 (1984 Holiday Bowl)—Capped off the one and only perfect season and gave BYU the national championship.

2. BYU 19, Kansas State 15 (1997 Cotton Bowl)—Must win situation after the Bowl Alliance snub. Not only would losing this game validate the selection committee passing over BYU, it would validate the Bowl Alliance excluding all teams not in a "Big Six" conference. On this day BYU was playing for all those teams as much as BYU was playing for BYU. The win smeared egg on the face of the Bowl Alliance. It also made BYU the first team to win 14 games in a season, a record that still stands.

3. BYU 28, Miami 21 (1990)—Without this win, BYU is probably still waiting for its first Heisman Trophy winner. It is the only time BYU has beaten the number one ranked team.

4. BYU 46, SMU 45 (1980 Holiday Bowl)—First bowl win. For 30 years and counting, the 20 point comeback with 3:58 to play has given BYU coaches, players, and fans the feeling that anything is possible. I don't doubt that this game has provided the necessary motivation and inspiration for many of the great moments in BYU football since 1980.

5. BYU 18, Texas A&M 17 (1979)—The first upset of a nationally ranked non-conference opponent. This win jumpstarted the first perfect regular season in BYU football history. It caught the attention of the national media, which paved the way for BYU to have enough respect in 1984 to win the national championship. Upsetting nationally ranked teams has become part of BYU’s identity, and it is almost expected.

6. BYU 21, Arizona State 18 (1974)—It was a toss up between this game or the Arizona game from the same year. Each team was ranked number 16 when they played BYU. After having tied Colorado State earlier in the year, it was essential for BYU to win both games for LaVell Edwards to win his first conference championship. By winning the WAC, the BYU football program started to be redefined as a program of success, and the passing scheme employed by LaVell was legitimized. In the end, I went with the Arizona State game as the more important game because it came later in the year and was the last real test for BYU. In a way, it incorporates the earlier win against Arizona and represents the climax of the season. Nevertheless, the Arizona win is more impressive since Arizona finished 9-2 compared to 7-5 for Arizona State, the game was played in Tuscon (BYU played ASU in Provo), and the margin of victory was 24 points (37-13).

7. BYU 31, TCU 17 (2006)—The turning point in Bronco Mendenhall’s career and mini-odyssey to restore BYU football to the glory days. Without the win, BYU does not win the conference title outright, and the team’s confidence is not the same as it attempts to run the table to an 11-2 record.

8. BYU 34, Utah 27 (2000)—Must win for two reasons. 1) LaVell’s final game. No other way for him to go out except as a winner. 2) Avoid a losing season for only the second time under Coach Edwards. Not only does LaVell need to go out a winner in his final game, he can’t go out with a losing season.

9. BYU 16, New Mexico 15 (1975)—Struggling to move on after Gary Sheide, BYU was 0-3 going into the game. By the end of the game, BYU had started what ended as a 6-2 run and found the quarterback of the future—Gifford Nielsen. Without the win, BYU could have fallen back to mediocrity and none of the rich tradition we know would exist. Instead, BYU was able to salvage the season and was set to build on the accomplishment of the year before.

10. BYU 20, Colorado 17 (1988 Freedom Bowl)—This game ushered in the Ty Demer era. Detmer replaced Sean Covey after the halftime break and led the come from behind win. Without Detmer leading the team to victory, does Coach Edwards decide to move Detmer to number one on the depth chart while Covey still has a year of eligibility? If Detmer plays back up for one more year, we can forget the Heisman Trophy, the NCAA records, and many of the things that made 1989 great.

11. BYU 28, Air Force 21 (1985)—A win against a team ranked in the top 5. It was essential that BYU win if the Cougars were going to extend their string of WAC championships to an even 10. This was Air Force’s only loss on the year.

12. BYU 31, Washington 3 (1985)—After the controversy over the national championship the year before, BYU needed to win this game. Even with the year-to-year turnover, it made a statement to the nation.

13. BYU 33, Utah 31 (2006)—“Five in a row won’t happen.” Although BYU had already won the MWC title outright, BYU needed this win for the program. Part of the return to glory included getting the upper hand in this rivalry. Not only that, but BYU did not want to look back on such a successful season knowing that they let this one get away. Look what the final play, Beck to Harline, has started: every BYU win has a moment just as magical as the last play in 2006.

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Monday, August 9, 2010

Jake Heaps leads the BYU Quarterback Race after Day 1

Coming out of the blocks, freshman Jake Heaps has a slight lead in the race to be the Brigham Young Cougars next starting quarterback. Heaps put up bigger numbers (8-13, 114 yards) than junior Riley Nelson (5-8, 49 yards), while reports conflict on how many scoring drives they each had. Each quarterback was able to move the ball and direct at least one drive that ended in a touchdown.

While the numbers appear to give more than a slight edge to Heaps, the coaches are looking at much more than the numbers to make their decisions. I also don't want to make too much out of stats from a day with no pads on. However, I am much more favorable to the idea of Heaps starting as a true freshman than I have been in the past. If Heaps continues to perform at this high level, then I don't see how he doesn't win the starting job. At a certain point, the coaches will throw all the doors and windows wide open to test Heaps and see how he handles the blitzes, the disguised defensive coverages, and the entire playbook. If he performs at a high level still, then he has earned the job.

Jerry Rice playing for the Brigham Young Cougars

Did LaVell Edwards recruit Jerry Rice to be part of the Brigham Young Cougars? That is the big question I came away with this weekend. I know that fall camp was opening up, and the Jake Heaps/Riley Nelson face off resumed, but after I listened to Jerry Rice's speech at the induction ceremony for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Saturday night, I couldn't get this thought out of my head.

We all know that Rice ended his pro career as the best wide receiver ever, and arguably the best player ever. In his speech Saturday night, he explained that USC and other big name schools were recruiting him in high school, but he chose the much smaller Mississippi Valley State for two reasons.

1. Mississippi Valley State threw the ball a lot.
2. Mississippi Valley State was the only school that came to watch him play.

BYU clearly matched the first reason. Rice's senior year of high school, Jim McMahon set NCAA records for touchdown passes and passing yards, just to name a few. The year before (1979) Marc Wilson set the NCAA record for passing yards in a season and BYU was the first team to ever pass for 4,000 yards in a season. If BYU had sent someone to watch Rice play a few times, would Rice have found a scholarship offer from D-1A BYU more attractive than a local D-1AA school?

Jerry Rice played college ball from 1981-1984. We all witnessed what Steve Young and Rice achieved on the field in the NFL, what if that had started in college? Would BYU have beaten Georgia in 1982? Would BYU have beaten Baylor to open the 1983 season and finish a perfect 12-0? How scarily lethal would the BYU passing attack have been with Jerry Rice on one side and Glen Kozlowski on the other, and recent College Hall of Fame inductee Gordon Hudson in the middle?

I can't find any stories about Rice from his college days that indicate he would not have been able to follow the honor code while at BYU. He appears to have always been a model citizen. Alas, history cannot be rewritten, and I should not get too caught up over this. The years in question (1981-1984) were some of the best ever for BYU, so I will choose to be grateful for the great players and the great success we had, rather than worry about the one who, possibly, got away.

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Monday, August 2, 2010

2010 BYU Quarterback Race: Unlike Any Other

Since the Brigham Young Cougars conluded spring practices April 10, 2010, BYU fans have gone through the Harvey Unga bombshell and the climax of the conference expansion hoopla. Now that fall camp is just around the corner, it is time to refocus on what really matters: the quarterback race. The battle for the starting spot in 2010 is an epic one unlike any other. The talent level of the competing quarterbacks, the high stakes for BYU this year, and the historical similarities are three elements of this quarterback race that make it so epic.

The talent level of the competing quarterbacks is much more than the presence of super prep Jake Heaps. Yes, he did enroll early and surpassed everyone’s expectations in the spring. However, Heaps is only one of three very heralded prep stars vying for the starting position. Consider the following:

Riley Nelson-Parade High School All-American, Utah’s Mr. Football, set 9 state records.
James Lark-Class 3A MVP, First team All-State as a junior and a senior, set one state record.
Jake Heaps-Parade and USA Today High School All-American, Washington state player of the year (twice), #1 ranked high school quarterback.

BYU has landed talented quarterbacks in the past, but to have three quarterbacks with this much acclaim all competing for the starting spot takes this competition to a different level.

The stakes are very high for BYU this year. BYU has more at stake this year than it has in a very long time. Higher stakes for the team, naturally, creates higher pressure on the quarterback. It has been well publicized that BYU has put together four consecutive 10+ win seasons for the first time in school history, that BYU has won more games in the last four years than all but a handful of teams in the entire country, and that BYU has been ranked in the major polls for four consecutive years. It only takes a few bumps in the road to stop all of these trends. In this, the BCS, era, sustained success is critical for schools not in an automatic qualifying conference. Without sustained success, national respect, fair treatment in the polls, and BCS bowl invites are impossible for BYU. More importantly, with the changes to the college football landscape through conference expansion this offseason, BYU could be unofficially auditioning for an invite to the Big XII this year. Now is not the time for BYU to have a “rebuilding” year. With or without Harvey Unga, the success of the football team this year was always contingent on the new quarterback. BYU needs a guy who will keep the ball rolling.

The third element that makes this quarterback race stand out is the historical similarities. Normally, looking into the past is a good way to find a precedent to provide guidance in the current situation. Not so in this case. Rather than helping, these similarities actually blur the picture. Some similarities lend support to starting Riley Nelson, and others favor throwing Jake Heaps into the line up from the first snap.

1997: BYU was coming off its most successful campaign in over a decade. Two quarterbacks had separated themselves from the rest of the competition, and they were dueling it out for the starting role. Paul Shoemaker, the junior return missionary, was up against Kevin Feterik, a highly touted prep from the west coast. Shoemaker got the nod for the home and season opener against … Washington. After a slow first half, Shoemaker was benched for Feterik. The season ended a disastrous 6-5 (4-4 WAC).
EDGE: Heaps. If the coaches are only waiting for Nelson to make a mistake before they play Heaps, then just play Heaps from the beginning. Such an approach will result in the coaches unfairly scrutinizing everything Nelson does. This is not fair for the quarterbacks, and it is not fair to the team.

2000: LaVell Edwards’ final season saw a three man race. Bret Engemann and Charlie Peterson were the BYU prototype, drop-back passers. Brandon Doman was the mobile quarterback who was a natural leader. Engemann and Peterson struggled through the first ten games (injuries didn’t help the situation) and BYU was 4-6 with two games to go. Enter Doman. Doman saved the season by engineering back-to-back wins. The following season Doman went on to win 12 games.
EDGE: Nelson. Nelson is a better runner than passer, but Doman is proof that a quarterback that doesn't quite fit the BYU mold can succeed at BYU (don’t forget Steve Young either). Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall has lauded Nelson for his leadership abilities, which is sometimes more important for winning than talent.

2002: Ben Olson came to town as the number one high school quarterback recruit in the 2002 class. In practice, he was clearly the most talented quarterback on the roster. Questions about starting a freshman and potential mission plans kept Olson on the sidelines as he redshirted. Two years later, following a mission, Olson transferred to UCLA. As for the team, 2002 was BYU’s first losing season since 1973.
EDGE: Heaps. The coaches need to forget everything else and just play the best quarterback.

2005: Brandon Doman returned to BYU to coach the quarterbacks. Doman will have ample opportunities to comment and influence Bronco Mendenhall’s final decision of who should start. As a quarterback who was overlooked for most of his career because running was his forte, how much of himself does he see in Riley Nelson? Does he subconsciously give Nelson the benefit of the doubt when he makes a mistake and does he overplay Nelson’s virtues when he makes a big play? If Nelson and Heaps are neck and neck at the end of fall camp, will Doman lobby for Nelson the way he wished that a coach had lobbied for him?
EDGE: Nelson. If the race is too close to call, Doman’s presence may tip the scale in favor of giving Nelson the chance to prove himself.

These past quarterback battles provide some lessons to help the current coaching staff to avoid pitfalls that may jeopardize the recent string of sucess. The other side of history is to look at the years that BYU made sucessful quarterback transitions. Looking at those years, two general patterns are evident.

Pattern one, when the coach makes a decision on a starter he needs to stick with it. When the quarterback situation is not stable, BYU usually has disappointing years. Even when BYU rotated two future NFL first round draft picks at quarterback in 1978 and ended the season with nine wins and a conference championship, the season was overshadowed by a feeling of underachievement. Gary Sheide, Gifford Nielsen, Steve Young, John Walsh, Steve Sarkisian, and John Beck all got off to slow starts when they took over the reigns. Whoever starts will be more successful if he can focus on doing his job and improving himself rather than looking over his shoulder and worrying if coach is going to put the other guy in.

Pattern two is that waiting your turn to start is worth it. Jake Heaps’ dreams of a national championship and a career in the NFL will not be over if he does not start this year. Robbie Bosco did not have to start as a freshman to lead BYU to the national championship in 1984. Ty Detmer redshirted and then backed up Sean Covey for a year, but Detmer was still able to win the Heisman Trophy. If Heaps does not start this year, he can still do great things at BYU. In fact, none of the legendary BYU quarterbacks started when they were freshmen. While Heaps may be more talented and gifted than most BYU quarterback recruits, history shows that he probably won’t pass for 3,000 yards or throw 20 touchdown passes if he starts this year.

As the battle resumes in the next few weeks and races to the finish line in a little more than a month, Cougar fans should be happy that there is so much talent to choose from, and that BYU has had so much recent success that picking the right quarterback is critically important. History provides some valuable lessons and patterns that can help Bronco and his staff make a decision and ensure the continued sucess of BYU in 2010. While this quarterback race is already an epic, either Riley Nelson or Jake Heaps will have the opportuinity on the field to defy history. To do so will make this year epic and unlike any other.

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