by Dallin Turner
It’s been a year in the making, and now it’s almost time for the BYU football team to get its first taste of independence.
With the move to independence, BYU not only secured an eight-year deal with ESPN, but also gained considerable freedom in scheduling games, which fits into coach Bronco Mendenhall’s desire to take the Cougars to tradition-rich places to play.
“I would like when we consider games to play, I would not only like it to be a great team, but I would like it to be a great place that will enhance the kids’ life experience,” Mendenhall said. “I’d love to see them play in the Horseshoe at Ohio State. I think that would be cool for them.”
While the Cougars will not be traveling to the Horseshoe this season, their road schedule is full of plenty of prestigious locations — Texas, Oregon State, Hawaii and TCU in Cowboys Stadium.
BYU’s season opener on Sept. 3 at Ole Miss is no exception.
The Ole Miss Rebels have a deep and storied tradition in football, dating back to the late ’50s and early ’60s, when the Rebels won three national championships. This set up an intense passion for football in Oxford, Miss., which continues strong today.
The pregame tailgating party at The Grove has been referred to as “the Holy Grail of tailgating sites” by Sporting News. Many fans arrive a full day before the game and often dress in their Sunday best.
Ole Miss has also produced some big-name football players including Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman Michael Oher (of Blind Side fame) and New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning. Eli’s father, Archie Manning, also played for Ole Miss and left such a mark on the university that not only is his No. 18 retired, but the official campus speed limit is 18 miles per hour.
But despite their storied history, the Rebels have fallen on tough times recently.
Last year, Ole Miss finished 4-8 and won only one conference game. This year, the Rebels were picked by the media to finish last in the SEC.
Heading into training camp, the Rebels faced a dilemma familiar to Cougar fans last year — trying to pick a starting quarterback.
Fighting for the job were Randall Mackey, Barry Brunetti and Zack Stoudt. However, coach Houston Nutt’s job was simplified when Mackey was recently arrested for disorderly conduct and subsequently suspended by the team for the BYU game.
“I am still looking into everything, but the bottom line is that he got into a fight,” Nutt told the Clarion-Ledger.
With Mackey out of the picture, sophomore Brunetti will get the start against BYU. Brunetti transferred to Ole Miss from West Virginia and is considered the best at running the option among the Rebels’ three quarterbacks.
“Barry has been the most consistent and accountable with things, which is why he was named the starter,” Nutt said.
While Brunetti is getting his feet set, the Rebels’ main source of offense may be senior running back Brandon Bolden, who ran for 976 yards and 14 touchdowns last season. Their top receiver should be junior Melvin Harris, who had 408 receiving yards last year, which was the second most on the team.
Other team leaders for Ole Miss include senior offensive tackle Bradley Sowell and defensive end Kentrell Lockett, who was granted a sixth year of eligibility because of injuries.
Today the Cougars begin preparing for Ole Miss after taking a day off practice on Wednesday. Their Sept. 3 game will be broadcast by ESPN at 2:45 p.m. MDT.