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BYU football: Hungry Cougars seeking redemption

PROVO — For most programs, a 10-3 season is considered to be a major accomplishment.

But at BYU in 2008, it was a major disappointment.

The Cougars posted back-to-back 11-2 campaigns and won outright Mountain West Conference championships in 2006 and 2007. Last season, BYU finished third in the MWC and suffered bitter losses to arch-rival Utah and to Arizona in the Las Vegas Bowl to end the year.

As fall camp opens this afternoon in preparation for the 2009 season, the Cougars are looking to redeem themselves.

"We're excited to start the upcoming season," said coach Bronco Mendenhall, whose team is ranked No. 24 in the preseason USA Today poll released Friday. "We feel like we have a strong football team. I think we have a hungry football team, a team that's anxious to continue to improve and compete — not only at the conference level but at a national level."

BYU will be tested early with a game against national power Oklahoma, which is ranked No. 3 in the USA Today poll, on Sept. 5 at Arlington, Texas.

"It's a fantastic opportunity that our team has earned the right to play in," Mendenhall said of that contest. "I viewed it as a great reward to allow our team to play in that. We were selected for the game as one of only five or six teams that have won 10 games the past three years. So that matchup was set and I think our team deserved a chance to play in that game. I think they're looking forward to it and it will be a lifetime experience for all of us. We intend to play well to represent our school and our league."

Over the next several weeks, heading into that contest, the Cougars have work to do and questions to answer.

Offensively, BYU must replace four starters on the line as well as the leading receiver in school history, Austin Collie, who was a fourth-round NFL draft pick of the Indianapolis Colts.

Coming out of spring ball, the Cougars liked what they saw from their O-line, led by left tackle and returning starter Matt Reynolds. R.J. Willing figures to have the center job locked down. Terence Brown, Nick Alletto, Jason Speredon and Braden Hansen are expected to see the most playing time at the other spots.

At receiver, McKay Jacobson, a returned missionary who was sidelined for much of the spring due to a hamstring injury, is expected to make a big impact this season.

Quarterback Max Hall, who is entering what will be his third season as a starter, has plenty of other weapons at his disposal, including tight ends Dennis Pitta and Andrew George, and wide receivers Luke Ashworth, O'Neill Chambers and true freshman Brett Thompson.

Running back Harvey Unga has surpassed the 1,000-yard rushing plateau in each of his two seasons in the program.

On the defensive side of the ball, there are concerns, particularly in the secondary. Last year's starting cornerback, Brandon Howard, has withdrawn from school and the other starter, Scott Johnson, has switched to safety.

Brandon Bradley came out of spring ball as the projected starter at the boundary corner, and now several players are expected to vie for the field corner position — returned missionary Robbie Buckner, redshirt freshman Garrett Nicholson and junior college transfers Corby Eason, Lee Aguirre and Brian Logan.

email: jeffc@desnews.com