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BYU football: Back in national spotlight after win

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BYU's JJ Di Luigi, left, tries to run out of the grasp of Oklahoma's Cordero Moore, right.

BYU’s JJ Di Luigi, left, tries to run out of the grasp of Oklahoma’s Cordero Moore, right.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

ARLINGTON, Texas — Just like that, the bull's-eye is back on BYU football.

A year ago, astronomical expectations were placed on the Cougars as potential BCS-busters — until they got destroyed by TCU and, later, Utah. After that, BYU slipped into relative anonymity, hidden in the shadow of the Horned Frogs and Utes.

That is, until Saturday's landmark 14-13 upset of No. 3 Oklahoma. Now, the Cougars have been catapulted once again into the national spotlight.

The epicenter of a college-football shakeup over the weekend was at the Cowboys' new stadium in Arlington, Texas, where BYU players, coaches and fans partied like it was 1984 amid a stunned sea of Crimson & Cream in the wake of a stunning victory.

Suddenly, some national observers are penciling the Cougars into a Bowl Championship Series game.

"In addition to beating a top-five opponent in a de facto road game, the Cougars get a chance to play Florida State in Provo on Sept. 19 and should have quality Mountain West Conference competition from TCU (in Provo on Oct. 24) and Utah (in Provo on Nov. 28)," wrote ESPN.com’s Pat Forde. "Run that table and BYU will get a BCS bid, count on it. Even with one loss, the Cougars could have a stronger resume than Boise (State)."

BYU was ranked No. 5 by the Wall Street Journal poll released Sunday.

Former BYU offensive lineman Trevor Matich, who was on the Cougars' 1984 national championship team and is now a college football analyst for ESPN, told the Deseret News Sunday, "Some will say that Oklahoma lost their star quarterback and tight end, but BYU lost their star running back and defensive signal caller. They will say that Oklahoma had two turnovers, but BYU had four. They will say that Oklahoma had 12 penalties, but BYU had 10. It was an ugly brawl. Those clean-cut, married, returned missionaries from Provo slugged it out man to man with the Oklahoma Sooners, and beat them."

So how does Cougar coach Bronco Mendenhall deal with these suddenly heightened expectations for his team?

"It will be a great test. The next test," he said after Saturday's victory. "There was a unique test last year with high expectations. I didn't have much fun and neither did the players. I promised them and I'm determined to enjoy everything that comes this year. Maybe that will help them do it."

The Cougars certainly had fun Saturday in Arlington and Mendenhall allowed his players to celebrate as long as they wanted.

And why not?

"It means a lot to me and the team. With the way things ended last year, it was a long off-season," said quarterback Max Hall, who completed 9-of-10 passes on a 78-yard, game-winning, fourth-quarter drive that culminated with a seven-yard touchdown pass to McKay Jacobson with 3:03 remaining. "We made a lot of mistakes, but to keep battling and to win this game was big for us. This is absolutely unbelievable. For us to come out and pull out a win, it's unbelievable. I'll never forget it."

But, as Mendenhall pointed out, it was just the season-opener. Plenty of challenges remain on the schedule. The Cougars visit Tulane Saturday.

"Coach Mendenhall does a great job helping us stay focused," said defensive lineman Brett Denney. "It's a great win, but it's over. Sunday at midnight, it's on to Tulane. We definitely have to focus on our next game."

"I'm really happy. I'm trying to soak it in," said defensive lineman Jan Jorgensen. "But at the same time, all I can think about is how we have another game next week. It was an incredible win and it felt great out there on the field. We've got to start getting ready for another game. If we go flat after this, it means nothing."

e-mail: jeffc@desnews.com