BYU a team 'waiting to be recognized'

Last season, BYU watched as Boise State and Mountain West Conference champion TCU both finished the regular season with undefeated records and played each other in the Fiesta Bowl.

Two years ago, the Cougars watched MWC rival Utah finished unbeaten and upset Alabama, 31-17, in the Sugar Bowl.

“I think it’s motivating for us, and I think it’s fantastic for the league that those teams have been able to do it,” BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “We’ve won the most games, but we don’t have the signature season those teams have had.”

BYU hasn’t been perfect over the past four seasons, but the Cougars have been about as consistent as any team in the country. Since finishing 6-6 in Mendenhall’s first season in 2005, the Cougars are 43-9 and have won at least 10 games in each of the past four seasons. Only four NCAA FBS teams -- Boise State, Florida, Ohio State and Texas -- have won more games than BYU since 2006.

“It’s about as close as you can get,” Mendenhall said. “I’m very pleased with the progress and consistency. Until we have that signature season, we’ll just keep rattling off as many wins as we can. I don’t really view us as one of those teams looking from the outside in. I view us as one of those teams that are waiting to be recognized.”

The Cougars’ good work has hardly gone unnoticed. Among Boise State, BYU, TCU and Utah, the Cougars are the only team that finished each of the past four seasons ranked in the coaches’ Top 25 poll. BYU was the only school from a non-BCS conference to accomplish that feat the past four seasons.

Still, the Cougars’ accomplishments have largely been overlooked by Boise State’s undefeated seasons in 2006 and ’09; Utah’s perfect season in 2008; and TCU’s breakthrough performance last year.

“It’s a credit to those teams,” BYU running back Harvey Unga said. “They’ve got great teams and deserve credit for the seasons they’ve had. I don’t think we’re far away from doing it. There are things to work on, but I don’t think we’re too far away.”

If the Cougars are going to break though during the 2010 season, they’ll have to replace record-setting quarterback Max Hall and star tight end Dennis Pitta. Six starters must be replaced on defense, including All-MWC defensive end Jan Jorgensen.

A year ago, BYU replaced seven offensive starters, including All-America receiver Austin Collie, and four defensive starters. The Cougars finished 11-2 and were ranked No. 12 in the country at season’s end.

“I think every year we’re getting better and closer,” BYU safety Andrew Rich said. “We’ve been close the last couple of years. I think it’s one or two games where we’ve stumbled. But it’s hard when you play teams like TCU and Utah. It’s not so much what we’re doing as what other teams are doing. TCU and Utah have put together really good teams.”

So have the Cougars, who open the 2010 season against Washington at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Sept. 4. BYU also plays at Florida State on Sept. 18, at TCU on Oct. 16 and at Utah on Nov. 27.

“We have to get back to winning our conference before we start worrying about the other stuff,” Rich said. “We have a lot of great teams in our conference. I guess the perception of the Mountain West has been elevated over the last couple of years because of what Utah has done and what TCU has done. We can’t worry about that. We have to worry about what we’re doing.”