Tuesday, July 22, 2008 | 12:33 a.m.
Two straight 11-2 seasons, two straight undefeated runs through the Mountain West Conference, two straight wins in the Las Vegas Bowl. Some think the postseason happenings for Brigham Young - which have involved a trip to the Vegas Bowl in each of Bronco Mendenhall's three seasons - could be changing course this season. The Cougars face lofty expectations in 2008, and are in the ranked among the nation's top 15 teams to start the season. They'll be in a dogfight with the likes of Utah and TCU throughout the season for a third straight MWC crown. With that said, Mendenhall took time to answer questions about the upcoming season Monday on media day at the Green Valley Ranch.
Ryan Greene: How fun is it right now going into a season where there's the expectations you guys have?
Bronco Mendenhall: I'm not sure if 'fun' is the word, but 'rewarding'. I feel really the same as I did after my first season. I'd like these players to have a good experience and be rewarded for their work. These rewards are now coming more from outside at a wider level, but that will never override what they feel inside. And that's my focus, is to make sure they are giving their personal best. Because no matter how much of the outside influence comes their way, if they know inside they're not doing there best, it's kind of hollow. So 'fun' really isn't the word, but it's 'gratifying', because I think a lot of hard work has got to at least get to this point, where people are intrigued with what we're doing. The real value will come in sustaining it.
RG: How do you keep that tempered?
BM: They're grounded, but day-to-day expectations, we ask a lot. They don't have time to be acknowledging other things. I'm not saying we're perfect, and I'm not saying they're individuals who don't look ahead, but collectively, our consistency the past couple of years has been focusing on the day and doing the very best we can that day, and that's really helped. I don't read the papers, I don't watch TV, I don't do any of that, and I tell them frequently that I don't, because I don't really care what other people think. All we're trying to do is run the very best program we can for BYU, and they have enough influences trying to pull them away, so I keep trying to bring them back, and that's usually through work ethic and what we ask.
RG: I know it's probably something you guys don't think about, but there's only been a couple teams from non-BCS conferences who have made that run and been playing in a BCS game. Is there anything they did that you think really made that possible? Because that's a lot of pressure towards the end of the season.
BM: It is a lot of pressure. I haven't talked to any of them, I really don't plan to. Someone will do it again this year. I don't know if it's us or who it might be. It might be someone from this league. I think the teams who do it are just excellent at what they do, they have very clear identity, and they're able to focus on the task at hand and able to not look ahead. Our institution and approach is so different that I'm not sure if those other things are relevant. But someone will do it this year, and they'll have to be undefeated to do it. And whether it's us or not, I don't know. But our goals kinda go in order of playing well at home in Lavell Edwards Stadium, which is most important to us. Then conference championships, whatever else comes, comes. The world wants to say 'no, that's most important.' We just keep doing it the way we've done it, and if 11-2 isn't good enough and all that, then they'll find someone else to try to help them be undefeated. But as long as I'm the coach, it'll keep going kinda in the order that it is.
RG: You sound pretty confident that someone will do it this year. Who are some of the other non-BCS teams who have stood out to you?
BM: Hard to predict. Our league always has a great representation. Utah, TCU, it could be anyone else in our league who puts together that year. I know we played Tulsa last year, I was very impressed with them. Boise State, Fresno (State), could be those kind of teams. It's hard to say, but those are ones that just kinda jump out as programs that may be able to do it.
RG: You mention your team knows their identity and what they do. What does that center around this year?
BM: It centers around not only this year, but the institution. It's a faith-based institution run by the LDS church, and part of the mission statement is 'aid individuals in their quest for perfection.' So that's our theme for this year - 'quest for perfection.' And it's not taken from football, it's taken from the institution. So we're just trying to align ourselves with what we're trying to do as people, and that's be the best we can be. And none of us will ever be perfect, and this season might not be perfect for us, but I hope our effort and intent is, and that's what I care about the most.
RG: Of those teams, those non-BCS teams, who have made those runs, they've all had that guy who it all centers around, with Ian Johnson, Alex Smith and Colt Brennan. Does Max Hall have that quality?
BM: I think so. I wouldn't ever compare him to those, but you need a great leader in a position that can make a difference. And those teams have had that. I think Max can do that.
RG: Has he embraced what comes with being a quarterback at BYU?
BM: He's learning. Much like being the head coach at BYU, we're both learning. You can view it first as a burden, but if you stay with it, you'll see it as a great opportunity, and I think he's a lot closer to that than he was.
RG: Technically speaking, what are his strengths as a quarterback? What sets him apart?
BM: Rather than say technically, competitive spirit. He just is a fierce, fierce competitor in his ability to create. He just finds a way to make plays, and he adds poise and an increased understanding of our offense with those traits, I mean he hadn't played a game in four years, and he helped us last year to be 11-2 and win a conference championship, and that's a remarkable thing.
RG: How much does that diversify your offense when you have a quarterback who can just make plays on the fly like that?
BM: Makes it hard to defend, because it's unstructured at times. But we really try to be predictable. That may sound funny in having opponents know exactly what we're going to do, because we don't run many plays. It's just how well we can execute them. There's not a lot of masking or trickery. Max does whatever he has to outside of that. We just rely on our position mastery to really help us perform when we need to in those critical moments rather than a different play or different call. And then if it doesn't work, Max kinda takes over from there.
RG: I know it's so tired at this point, but what's your opinion on non-BCS schools basically needing to go undefeated to get one of those spots? What do you think of the system that's in place?
BM: I think it's wrong. I think a playoff is better, and I have a proposal that I put out there last year. I think the bridge is to have a play-in game. Maybe use the Las Vegas Bowl, and take the two highest-ranked non-BCS teams, and that plays into now an additional BCS game. And that way, you've got a chance without being undefeated. Because all being undefeated is doing is making teams dilute their schedules, to try to be the undefeated team. And that's not right either. I like the idea of a play-in. I like the idea of a plus-one on each end. Let the non-BCS play their way into it, and then let somebody play their way out of it. So that would be my bridge?
RG: How's that proposal been received?
BM: Mixed, which just blows me away. It has a playoff element and it has a national championship element without altering the structure, so that would be my push.