Cougars unafraid to aim high in newfound independence

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Starting quarterback Jake Heaps has some advice for anyone doubting BYU football’s chances at a national title.

“Just watch us, we’re going to make it possible,” said the sophomore. “Impossible is nothing, and we carry that motto around with us. Everybody in our locker room, including our coaching staff, believes that we can do it and we’re excited for the opportunity. We’re excited for the road that’s ahead of us.”

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Coach Bronco Mendenhall runs with his players onto the field at the start of Saturday's game against Nevada held in Lavell Edwards Stadium.
No matter how confident the players are or how well they perform, the road ahead is littered with obstacles they will need to overcome, not the least of which is that any hope of playing in a BCS championship game will require a top two finish in the standings.

 

That would be a tough climb to make this year, as BYU isn’t ranked in the top 25 on either the Associated Press or USA Today’s coaches’ preseason polls. The Cougars received votes in both polls.

Theoretically BYU, along with Army and Navy, will be eligible for at-large selections to a BCS bowl game if it wins at least nine games and is ranked among the top 14 in the BCS standings. But even surpassing these conditions provides no guarantee. BYU didn’t come close to a BCS bowl invitation in 2009, despite upsetting No. 3 Oklahoma in the season opener and finishing the season ranked 12th overall with an 11-2 record.

“We’ve gone 11-2 three times and haven’t gotten in,” said head coach Bronco Mendenhall. “The perception of how we’re treated is  unless we are undefeated, [we aren’t getting an invitation].”

Even with its new independent status BYU is up against the stigma of being a lesser-than program, and it will take time to tear that down, Mendenhall said. His goal is to eventually have BYU viewed a type of Notre Dame of the West.

“I’m always careful to compare or measure ourselves against anybody else, but  I think that’s realistic and I think it would be great,” Mendenhall said. “How long it would take, I’m not certain. I know that the more I’m able to help our team have success and the better teams we play and beat on a consistent basis, with the exposure, I think it’s realistic.”

Mendenhall hopes to steadily establish a record for BYU that would eventually give them the same exemption Notre Dame now enjoys: an automatic BCS berth if it finishes among the BCS’s top eight.

To do that, Mendenhall is focusing on preparing solid schedules that provide his athletes with opportunities to play against the best in Division I football.

“I would like a lot of diversity from year to year so by the time these kids play four years of football here they’ve traveled the country and played against the best that there is, and had success,” Mendenhall said, adding that he’s spent more time in scheduling in the few months than he had in his previous six years combined.

“It’s almost every day and that’s not an exaggeration,” he said.

Before the end of September, the team will have played Ole Miss, Texas, Utah and UCF; it’s a front-loaded type of schedule BYU teams will likely have to get used to, said legendary football coach LaVell Edwards.

“Being an independent, [it] looks to me like the early part of our schedule is always going to be the heavyweights, so to speak,” he said.

This means there is little to no allowance for a slow start, especially if BYU plans to be a BCS contender.

“It’s a whole new ball game,” Edwards said.

In July, Athletic Director Tom Holmoe told CBS Sports it is imperative for the Cougars to be successful as they enter independence, noting that winning games is the thrust the team needs to gain momentum and overcome the non-BCS taint.

“We could get our bell rung a few times — big time, but it’s either take the chance or not,” Holmoe said. “This was too good of a chance. We’re optimistic but it’s a long road.”

The only thing independence guarantees is better exposure for the school and the team.

“Good or bad, people will know our name,” Holmoe said.

 

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