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New . . . and improved?

Cougars hope changes mean a reversal of fortunes in 2005

PROVO — What a difference a year makes for the BYU football program.

There's a new head coach (Bronco Mendenhall), a new offensive coordinator (Robert Anae), a new quarterbacks coach (Brandon Doman) a new offense (a variation of the high-flying, high-scoring scheme run at Texas Tech), a new look (a return to the traditional helmets and uniforms) and a new attitude.

Will those changes reverse the Cougars' fortunes?

BYU has suffered three consecutive losing seasons and is looking to get back on top of the Mountain West Conference.

Mendenhall, who took over for Gary Crowton last December, has worked hard to ensure that the Cougars live up to the legacy established by legendary coach LaVell Edwards. He demands excellence from his team, both on and off the field.

So what are Mendenhall's expectations for his first season?

"My first expectation is alignment," he said. "Are these young men living, behaving and competing in a way that represents this place and the tradition it has? I expect them to do their best every day.

That's where we'll start. I'm not going to put a win-loss total on them. I'm not going to say anything else other than, I expect their best. The result of that should be something that is a special outcome."

Here's a preview of BYU's 2005 season.

FAVORABLE SCHEDULE: For the first time since 2002, Southern California — winners of back-to-back national championships — is not on the schedule. While BYU finished 5-6 last season, it faced three nationally ranked opponents (USC, Boise State and Utah) that finished with a combined 35-1 record.

Overall, the schedule is not as difficult as it has been in recent years. The season-opener features a meeting in Provo with a very talented Boston College squad that has been ranked No. 22 in the preseason. But given BYU's track record for success in home season-openers (4-0 in the last four years), particularly against teams east of the Mississippi, it's a game the Cougars can win.

In October, BYU travels to Notre Dame for the final installment in a three-game series against the Fighting Irish. The Cougars will be looking to tie the all-time series at three apiece.

In conference play, BYU hosts league newcomer Texas Christian as well as Colorado State, Air Force and Utah. One potential pitfall could be playing at Wyoming in mid-November.

RETURNING EXPERIENCE: As bad as the 2004 Cougars played at times, they lost three games by a total of 12 points. Take away three missed field goals (against Boise State and New Mexico) and a crucial late-game fumble (against UNLV), BYU could have finished with an 8-3 record and a bowl berth.

The Cougars return 13 starters from a year ago. This year's squad is built to win, with veterans like quarterback John Beck, wide receiver Todd Watkins, running back Curtis Brown, offensive linemen Jake Kuresa and Lance Reynolds Jr., defensive lineman Manaia Brown, linebacker Cameron Jensen and safety Spencer White.

ATTITUDE ADJUSTMENT: None of those aforementioned players has experienced a winning season in a BYU uniform. How will they deal with adversity when it comes? The Cougars have posted a miserable 12-21 record in their last 33 games. Can Mendenhall instill a winning attitude that will help them win close games in the fourth quarter?

RECAPTURING HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE: No doubt, BYU must win at home. Over the past two seasons, BYU is 4-8 at LaVell Edwards Stadium. For the Cougars to return to their dominance, they must once again make Provo the most feared place to play in the conference.

ACCOUNTABILITY FACTOR: One of the dubious hallmarks of BYU's team in recent years has been its penchant for mistakes in the form of fumbles, interceptions, dropped passes and penalties. Mendenhall and Anae have worked on cutting down on miscues. Those players who don't execute won't play.

INTRIGUING NEWCOMERS: Tight end Jonny Harline has turned heads since spring ball, and he could turn out to be a star. Nathan Meikle, a walk-on H-back, could catch a lot of passes, while freshman receiver Luke Ashworth, who played at Timpview High, could make a big impact, too.

The Cougars also benefit from the transfer of punter Derek McLaughlin, who played for two years at Washington before going on an LDS mission. And linebacker Paul Walkenhorst, who has missed the past two seasons due to injuries and other off-field issues, is back.

BOTTOM LINE: BYU embarks on the 2005 season with a rookie head coach, a rookie offensive coordinator and a rookie quarterbacks coach. Can the Cougars make this "Texas Tech" offense, installed by Anae, work? Can BYU put big points on the board? Can the Cougars contend for a conference title, beat archrival Utah and go bowling for the first time since 2001?

Over the next three months, the answers to those questions will come.


2005 BYU football schedule

Date Opponent Site Time TV

Sept. 3 Boston College Provo 1:30 p.m. ABC

Sept. 10 Eastern Illinois Provo 1 p.m. KSL

Sept. 24 TCU Provo 1 p.m. ESPN+Plus

Oct. 1 San Diego St. San Diego 8 p.m. ESPN Classic

Oct. 8 New Mexico Albuquerque 6 p.m. KSL

Oct. 15 Colorado State Provo TBA

Oct. 22 Notre Dame South Bend, Ind. 12:30 p.m. NBC

Oct. 29 Air Force Provo TBA

Nov. 5 UNLV Las Vegas TBA

Nov. 12 Wyoming Laramie TBA

Nov. 22 Utah Provo TBA

All times Mountain


E-mail: jeffc@desnews.com