Dear Bronco Mendenhall: Going Undefeated is Very Hard

The Brigham Young Cougars don’t have a conference championship to play for anymore. BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall is very cognizant of that fact. Therefore, he has set his and his team’s sights on the only other championship that matters: the national championship. Going undefeated is essential if BYU is going to convince voters and the computers to rank them number one.

On Tuesday, this site gave a fantasy scenario for BYU to win the 2011 national championship. Today, it is time for a reality check: going undefeated is very hard. BLUE COUGAR FOOTBALL reached out to former BYU football players to help explain to Coach Mendenhall and the 2011 football team what makes going undefeated so hard.

The 2001 BYU football team started 12-0 and had just a trip to Hawaii and a bowl game standing in the way of a perfect season. That is when the team suffered a bitter defeat.

Luke Staley was a running back on that team. Here is what he had to say about the challenges and difficulty of going undefeated:

“You look at college football over the past 10-20 years and it is very hard to go undefeated. You see top 10 teams lose to smaller schools every year. Any day any team can win or lose. It is very hard. To [win] week in, week out speaks volumes to your character and determination, but also to your depth. Depth is where BYU will have some growing pains.”

Current BYU offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Brandon Doman was the quarterback on that 2001 team. BLUE COUGAR FOOTBALL obtained Doman’s thoughts on going undefeated through Robbie Bullough with True Blue and BYUtv Sports. His complete response can be viewed on YouTube (starts at the 2:30 mark).

In a nutshell, Doman said going undefeated requires a team to be prepared and then get some luck along the way. He mentioned the importance of staying healthy due to the depth issue. Doman pointed out the 1996 BYU team had the same 22 players who started in game one playing in the games late in the season.

Speaking of the 1996 team, they finished 14-1 and ranked number 5. No team in the nation finished undefeated that year. Had BYU not suffered a bump in the road in week three, they very likely would have been the national champions. After the loss to Washington, it became apparent through interviews with players and coaches that BYU lost the game because the players were overconfident and lost focus.

Staying focused is one thing that former BYU running back Matt Bellini feels is a big challenge to a team trying to go undefeated. Bellini played on the 1990 team that had a clear path to perfection after beating the number one ranked Miami Hurricanes early in the season. Three games later, however, BYU found out just how hard it is to go undefeated in a loss at Oregon.

Bellini’s exact words were: “It is very difficult to go undefeated. I have great respect for any team that does on any level that you play on. The biggest challenge is beating yourself. During the year you can get bored and lose focus and not be prepared. I have a lot of respect for a team that can stay mentally focused each week and finish the year undefeated. It only gets more difficult if you are playing a tough schedule. You have to catch some breaks. Some of the teams that go undefeated have a couple of games where the ball just bounces their way.”

Perhaps the most qualified person in BYU football history to speak about the difficulty of going undefeated is Robbie Bosco. He was on the sidelines as a coach in 2001, 1996, and 1990. He was the backup quarterback in 1983 when BYU finished 11-1. Most importantly, Bosco was the starting quarterback the only year that BYU has gone undefeated and won the national championship—1984.

Besides saying that going undefeated is “really hard” and that “It was amazing that we could do it,” Bosco echoed the same sentiments as the others.

Staying focused/being prepared: “Even back in 1984 when we were 13-0, there were 3-4 games that if we did not make the right play we would not have won. … It would not have happened if it wasn’t for converting a fourth down or scoring in the last few minutes a few games.”

Luck: “We had lots of luck.”

Injuries: “At BYU depth has always been an issue—key players getting injured. In 1985 we thought we could do it again. We had a lot of players returning. I injured my shoulder, some wide receivers got injured, and some defensive players suffered injuries as well. We lost three games, but if we had stayed healthy, then we could have beat anybody. In 1984, we stayed healthy. If anybody missed a game it was only one. No one missed a lot of games.”

Coach Mendenhall and the players can control whether or not they are focused and if they come prepared to play each week. Mendenhall has been working hard to build and develop quality depth at BYU. Proper stretching, conditioning, and weight lifting can limit injuries, but only to a certain extent. The rest is out of BYU’s control. Bosco had no control over Mike Hammerstein knocking him out of the 1984 Holiday Bowl with a late hit to his knee. As luck would have it, Bosco was able to return, and BYU was able to win the game.

Mendenhall’s ambition is commendable. BLUE COUGAR FOOTBALL wishes him and his band of brothers well, and may they have the good fortune needed to attain a perfect record in 2011.


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