By Martin Harris
An undefeated BYU football is still having trouble earning the respect of the pollsters.
The Cougars (11-0) were moved from 13th, where they have been stuck for four weeks, to 12th in the Bowl Championship Series standings Monday, Nov. 26.
The move up makes the Cougars eligible for a BCS bowl invitation, but with the recent loss dealt to former No. 1 Nebraska, most national prognosticators have already relegated BYU to the Liberty Bowl.
“We”re really good, whether they like it or not. We deserve better,” running back Ned Stearns said. “They”re jealous. They are trying to justify why we have a good record so they can leave us out.”
The players are not looking ahead just yet, because they realize there is still much they have to do.
“The old clich?, ”one game at a time,” is true,” safety Dustin Staley said. “You have to play one game at a time. The only thing we can do is win each game.”
The next challenge for BYU is the SEC”s Mississippi State on Dec. 1. The Bulldogs were preseason top-20 and one of the favorites in their conference, after going 18-6 during the past two years.
After 10 games of the 2001 season, however, they have been a disappointment, as the Bulldogs are 3-7. Still, Mississippi State looked more confident as it beat in-state rival Ole Miss 38-26 Thursday.
“Mississippi State looked great on Thanksgiving versus Mississippi,” BYU wide receiver Toby Christensen said. “We have to focus on them.”
The Cougars” last game is against Hawaii on Dec. 8. The Warriors are 8-3 on the season, including a huge victory against Fresno State.
If BYU does finish the season with a perfect record, there is little doubt how the team will feel if it is left with the Liberty Bowl.
“We will be very disappointed,” Stearns said. “I don”t think coach (Gary) Crowton will take that sitting down.”
Staley echoed his teammates” feelings.
“We”d be disappointed,” Staley said. “I think any undefeated team in Division I deserves an opportunity for national recognition.”
After Colorado”s decisive defeat of Nebraska, only two teams in the nation remain undefeated. The argument now must be made: if BYU finishes 13-0, should the Cougars have a shot at Miami?
“Of course,” Stearns said. “If there [are] only two undefeated teams in the country, then they should play in a national championship.”
As it stands now, the Cougars could finish the regular season 13-0 and be sent to Memphis. There they will play Louisville in the Liberty Bowl, while one- and two-loss teams play in the BCS games and in the national title game.
If the Cougars do defeat Louisville on New Year”s Eve, they will finish 14-0, the best record ever for a Division I-A team. In the history of college football, only one other team has won 14 games in a year – the 1996 BYU Cougars, who went 14-1.
It is possible that after the conclusion of the bowl games, BYU will be the only undefeated team in Division I-A, while a team with one loss holds the championship trophy.
“If that happens, we will just go out and get our own trophy,” Stearns said with a smile.