Dear Doug: Talk me in off the ledge; what's wrong with BYU football? -- A fan.

Dear Moron: Why do you media types write negative stories about BYU? Why don't you focus on the positive? -- A fan.Here it is, something for both of you: The post-mortem on the BYU football team -- the "positive" and "negative."

"POSITIVE" -- Why are BYU fans so upset? Yes, the Cougars ended the season on a downer, losing the conference championship game to Air Force and the Liberty Bowl to Tulane, but that's no reason for an uproar.

Why? Hmmm, wait a minute, it'll come to me.

Oh. The Cougars weren't that good. No, by that I mean the Cougars did well to get as far as they did. They played for the conference championship and secured a berth in a good bowl game against a Top 10, undefeated team.

What's wrong with that?

Air Force and Tulane, which lost one game between them (by one point) all season, probably should rank among the top seven or eight teams in the country. A loss to them is hardly an embarrassment.

In some ways, the Cougars exceeded expectations. They improved from a 6-5 team a year ago to a 9-5 team this year. If they hadn't faltered in the final minutes of the Air Force game, they would have won 10 games and another conference championship, and we wouldn't be having this conversation.

The defense was one of the nation's best statistically. The offense performed about the way you would expect a unit that returned only five starters from last season.

The Cougars led the conference in passing offense, and Kevin Feterik led the league in pass efficiency while Ronney Jenkins rushed for 1,300 yards. All this despite employing three new starters in the offensive line and a virtually new receiving corps.

All things considered, the Cougars had an exceptional season.

"NEGATIVE" -- But it should have been a lot better. The holidays are over. Let's take off the gloves.

The Cougars played a schedule of cupcakes. Yeah, they won nine games, but only three were against teams that finished with winning records -- Murray State (7-4), San Diego State (7-5) and Utah (7-4). And Division 1-AA Murray State doesn't count.

The Cougars made a bad start and a bad finish, which were the only times they faced formidable opponents. The performance in the bowl game was an embarrassment, especially if they really were sulking over the honor-code suspensions and/or the loss to Air Force.

Something is wrong with BYU football. The pass offense isn't what it used to be and hasn't been for years, with a couple of exceptions. It's difficult to tell if the problem this season was quarterback Kevin Feterik, the scheme, the receivers, or all of the above.

The receivers haven't caught the ball well for two straight seasons. With the departure of backup quarterback Drew Miller to Montana, the Cougars are committed to Feterik, but he played poorly down the homestretch of the season.

The Cougars vowed to return to their passing roots this season and throw the ball more. It didn't happen. They ran more than they passed. That isn't how they became a Top 20 program.

The most disturbing thing about BYU's offense is that the quarterbacks and receivers don't seem to read coverages as well as they used to, for whatever reason. In their golden years, they didn't have to have the best athletes; they simply knew how to recognize a defense and how to beat it. Tulane baffled and beat the Cougars with a little-league defense.

BYU quarterbacks are their own worst enemy, demanding to play before they've really learned the game, never mind that Jim McMahon, Steve Young, Robbie Bosco, Marc Wilson and so forth all spent two or three years on the sideline.

The golden days of BYU football are finished. The Cougars really haven't been the same since the 1985 season. During the 10 years from 1976 to 1985, the Cougars were 104-21. During the next 10 years they were 85-40-2. In the three years since then they followed their glamorous 14-1 season of 1996 with 6-5 and 9-5 marks.

The common defense is that the WAC is getting better. No way. It got worse, which is why they broke up the league at the end of the year.

In the '90s, the Cougars have suffered repeated setbacks because of honor-code violations (at least 24 players have run afoul of the law or the honor code in the past eight years). That certainly hasn't helped matters.

The positive: The Cougars will continue to improve next year.

The negative: The new conference will be more difficult next season; they better be improved.