BYU football molds itself after Notre Dame

By on November 19, 2013.

Pupil will meet teacher Nov. 23 when BYU travels to take on the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame for the second time this decade.

The success of Notre Dame football in South Bend, Ind., is long and storied. Notre Dame rose to national prominence in college football in the mid-20th century behind 11 national championships and 11 additional appearances in the national title game.

BYU Athletics is following after the Notre Dame model of success. Illustration by Matthew Shipley.

BYU Athletics is following after the Notre Dame model of success. Illustration by Matthew Shipley.

The school, rejected from the Big Ten conference in 1926 due to anti-Catholicism, has become one of the most iconic brands and sought-after matchups in all of college sports, having also fielded seven Heisman Trophy winners.

It’s no wonder, then, why BYU’s aspirations were termed as becoming “the Notre Dame of the West” in the very first media report that BYU was considering independence in football. The religious goodwill and the football prominence attained by Notre Dame make it the standard bearer for just about everything BYU Athletics hopes to achieve. Cougar coaches and players haven’t been shy about that.

“I would like it to end up being a rivalry,” coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “That’ll happen when we do our part in winning more games. I felt that a year ago we had the opportunity to win. I look forward to a hard-fought game year in and year out. I’d like to play them as much as possible. There’s a lot of intrigue (to the matchup).”

The Cougars played one of their best games of 2012 in a narrow 17-14 loss to the then-No. 5 ranked Fighting Irish. The Cougars led by a touchdown at halftime but were shutout for the remainder of the game. Notre Dame went on to play in the BCS National Championship and by most measures, had its best season in 20 years.

For the Cougars, giving up a lead and losing to such a prominent team stung.

“It’s stuck with us because we easily could have won,” said senior wide receiver Cody Hoffman shortly after playing his final home game. “Seeing them in the national championship, knowing that we could have and should have beat them, it will be nice to go back this year and hopefully get revenge.”

Senior linebacker Kyle Van Noy returned for his final season partly to play high-profile teams like Notre Dame on this year’s schedule. He too has a bitter taste in his mouth from coming so close to a win in 2012.

“We should have come out with a win,” Van Noy said. “I think we’re going in to face a team that’s healed from a bye week. They’re going to be ready to go. I think also we’re hungry too. We’re hungry for success, and that’s going to show. It’s going to be a good game. It’s going to be competitive. It’s going to be Midwest team football.”

And if the Cougars have their way, it will gradually become a meeting of equal college football powers from East and West.