Posted by ESPN.com’s Graham Watson
BYU players would be the first to tell you that this has been one of the most enjoyable fall camps in a long time.
The Cougars haven’t been bombarded by questions about the BCS, the undefeated season or the infamous quest for perfection. So, with none of the pressures that accompanied the past two seasons, BYU set out to make this year’s fall camp fun.
“When you consider the previous two years having not lost a conference game for two straight years and the growing anticipation of being the team that would be the BCS buster, so to speak, I think they started then to protect that rather than to go out and look to conquer, so to speak,” BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “I think the team and staff, including myself, became more hesitant rather than more aggressive and as a byproduct didn’t enjoy what we were doing as much thinking that we had more to lose than we had to gain.”
Coming into Saturday’s game against No. 3 Oklahoma, BYU is relaxed. The Cougars know no one thinks they’ll win the game and so there’s no more pressure than the pressure they put on themselves. The underdog role is something the Cougars aren’t used to, but are enjoying.
“I don’t think a whole lot of people outside of our program expect us to win that game,” tight end Dennis Pitta said. “So, it’s kind of a good feeling going in as an underdog, having a lot to prove, kind of having a chip on our shoulder, and being able to play loose and relaxed because nobody really picked us to win. We understand that this is a big game for us and we respect Oklahoma and understand that they are a very good football team. But being able to beat a team like that would really set things up for us this season.”
A lot of BYU’s attitude now comes from looking back on the way it overreacted to the loss to TCU last season. The Cougars were 6-0, but the Horned Frogs jumped all over them and used their speedy defense to unsettle BYU quarterback Max Hall and ultimately win 32-7. After the game, it was like a funeral. BYU players had all but laid their regular season to rest with six games remaining.
“We put a lot of pressure on ourselves and as soon as we lost we were kind of deflated and didn’t really recover throughout the later part of the season,” Pitta said. “We’re not putting as much pressure on ourselves and we understand that it’s just one football game. If it doesn’t work out Week 1, we’ve still got 11 other games to prove ourselves and hopefully make a run at this thing. We understand that a lot better because of what we went through last year. So we’re a lot more relaxed going into it.”
So, at the end of last season, BYU started its preparation for Oklahoma carefree. It wasn’t that the Cougars thought they couldn’t beat Oklahoma, it’s that they didn’t want to handicap themselves before the game even kicked off.
They know the implications of the game and what a win could do to set up the rest of their season, but thinking about that and making it the focal point, after everything they went through last year, would only ruin the progress that they've made.
“We’re not scared of Oklahoma,” Pitta said. “Like I said, we respect them and understand they’re good. But we’re not scared and we’re excited about the challenge.
“It’s just a game and I think we better understand that now. And we understand that we need to have fun at the same time. That’s kind of been our attitude. We’re a team that works very hard and we’re going to prepare well. But I think this year we’re going to incorporate more of a fun and comfortable aspect to it.”