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TCU first on conference docket for Y.

PROVO — They struggled in a season-opening defeat to Boston College. They finally scored touchdowns in a win against Division I-AA opponent Eastern Illinois. Then came a bye week.

Now, the BYU Cougars are focused on the games that count most.

The Cougars open Mountain West Conference play Saturday (1 p.m., Ch. 14) when they host league newcomer Texas Christian, beginning a stretch of four consecutive conference games.

The Horned Frogs knocked off two-time defending conference champion Utah in overtime, 23-20, last Thursday in Fort Worth and snapped the Utes' 18-game winning streak.

BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said he's done everything in his power to elevate his team's level of intensity in preparation for this week's conference opener, which will mark TCU's first-ever MWC road game and Mendenhall's first-ever MWC game as a head coach.

"Conference is the first and most important goal — to play well in the Mountain West and win this conference," he said. "I'd like to see us perform at a higher level in everything that we're doing, regardless of who we're playing. I saw some improvement from week one to week two, and I hope to see some more this week but at an accelerated pace because for us, to be a contender in this conference, and play at a high level, that's what is going to have to happen."

Mendenhall is impressed with the Horned Frogs.

"I think they're fast, I think they're athletic and I think they're confident," he said. "Those are the words that come to my mind. They're a very good football team."

Mendenhall said TCU, in its victory over Utah, didn't deviate much from what they did in their first two games — a shocking win at Oklahoma and an equally shocking loss at Southern Methodist. The one difference, he noted, was the fact the Frogs unveiled freshman running back Aaron Brown, who, in his collegiate debut, rolled up 163 yards on 17 carries against the Ute defense.

"He's very athletic, and he's certainly very capable at this level already," Mendenhall said. "I think he showed that."

Despite the bye week, Mendenhall doesn't believe his team has a significant advantage over TCU.

"You could argue that playing a game advances your preparation as opposed to not playing a game," he said. "I think you could argue it either way. We've had a few extra days to practice against their scheme. I'm sure (TCU) coach (Gary) Patterson sees the positives from his point of view, and I see the positives from ours."

Mendenhall was pleased with the way his team and his staff used their time during the bye week.

"I had a chance to watch every play from the first two games and we got a chance to get some players healthy," he said. "We had a chance to develop some young players. When you're talking about a new head coach and a new staff, it was great for me to, without the pressure of a game coming up, to sit back and watch our team play with a fresh set of eyes, so to speak. It was helpful."

Coaches left Thursday night to go on recruiting trips and and watched almost every player that has verbally committed to sign with the Cougars in February.

On Saturday, Mendenhall spent time with his family. His second-oldest son, Breaker, turns 4 on Friday.

"It's birthday week, basically starting last Saturday," Mendenhall said. "We took him up to Timpanogos Cave. We asked him to hike up there, which he did, without stopping. Kind of a rite of passage. It was good."

NOTES: Receiver/kick return specialist Bryce Mahuika is scheduled to undergo season-ending surgery soon. The team plans to appeal to the NCAA so that he can receive a medical redshirt and not lose any eligibility. Mahuika played sparingly in the first two games of the season . . . With Mahuika out, Nathan Meikle will take over punt return duties while Justin Robinson will handle kickoff returns along with Brett Cooper . . . Wide receiver Joe Griffin had both knees scoped during the bye week and is not expected to play Saturday. He could possibly play next week at San Diego State, according to Mendenhall.


E-mail: jeffc@desnews.com