Talk is always cheap and when discussing BYU football in June, even “cheap” is on sale.
Talk, talk, talk — it’s the name of the game as the Cougars prepare to roll out their 11th and final self-driven media day next Wednesday.
It will be historic on two fronts. First, it is the beginning of the end to BYU’s era of independence, and second, it kickstarts the Cougars’ future life in the Big 12.
“We would love to be in the Big 12. I would love to be a member of that conference. I think it would make a lot of sense.” — former BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall during 2014 BYU media day
Bronco Mendenhall was on center stage when BYU launched its first media day of independence on July 12, 2011, with an announcement of Mendenhall’s contract extension through 2013.
ESPN also announced 10 of the Cougars’ first 11 games as an independent would be televised on its family of networks. Legendary quarterbacks Steve Young and Ty Detmer were on hand for a special roundtable discussion on BYU’s football history.
The excitement that comes with the unknown dominated the day, while at the same time, fear of an uncertain future was palpable. Could independence really work?
“We will play anyone, anytime, anywhere,” declared athletic director Tom Holmoe.
Media day moved to June in 2012, when the news of the day was the formation of a four-team College Football Playoff to replace the Bowl Championship Series in 2014.
“I know we’ll have to go undefeated against very good teams and maybe we’ll have to do it twice to get a chance,” Mendenhall told the Deseret News. “I think it’s still possible. I’m still absolutely passionate to pursue it.”
BYU charged right out of the gate on media day in 2013. The Cougars announced a three-game series against USC, a two-game deal with the Poinsettia Bowl and another three-year contract extension for Mendenhall.
Looking back, BYU went 2-1 against the Trojans, wrapping up the series with a 35-31 victory last November in Los Angeles. The Cougars went 2-0 in Poinsettia Bowls, defeating former Mountain West Conference foes San Diego State and Wyoming.
No major news from media day 2014 but Mendenhall expounded on a statement he made a few weeks earlier in the Austin American-Statesman. “We would love to be in the Big 12. I would love to be a member of that conference,” he said. “I think it would make a lot of sense.”
Seven years down the road, BYU would accept an invitation to join the Big 12 and become a member on July 1, 2023.
Media day 2015 discussed the possibility of ESPN bringing BYU and Utah together in the Las Vegas Bowl.
“That would be awesome,” said Mendenhall, who also announced he would serve as both head coach and run the defense for the upcoming season.
As circumstances played out, the Cougars and Utes did meet in Las Vegas in Mendenhall’s final game at BYU before leaving for the head job at Virginia. The defeat left Mendenhall with 99 career wins.
Kalani Sitake made his head coaching debut at media day 2016. The former Cougar and former assistant head coach and defensive coordinator at Utah make it clear that the Sept. 10 game in Salt Lake City was a high priority.
“We know each other, and we’ll always be friends,” Sitake said of Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “But I want to beat him so bad.”
Holmoe addressed reports of possible Big 12 expansion and BYU. “The Big 12 has gone through this process very professionally,” he said. “They’re not wanting to make it a public discussion. It’s not in our best interest to be pushing the envelope and to be out there every single day. They are well aware of what we’ve done … the stats and the records speak for themselves.”
Jamaal Williams discussed his return to BYU after sitting out 2015 due to off-the-field issues. “I’m grateful to be back with my teammates again and to finish my last year with them.”
As the season played out, the Utes stopped Taysom Hill on a two-point conversation try to avoid the upset 20-19. The Big 12 voted against expansion and Williams set the school’s all-time rushing record.
Media day 2017 kicked off with news that BYU would retire jersey No. 6 to honor quarterbacks Marc Wilson, Robbie Bosco and running back Luke Staley. ESPN extended its television contract through 2019. BYU also announced the team will wear a special patch on the uniform to honor the late LaVell Edwards who passed way in December 2016.
Kansas City Chiefs head coach and former BYU player Andy Reid headlined a special tribute to Edwards’ legacy as a coach and mentor.
“It’s the intangible things that we learned, that you can be a good person and still coach,” Reid said. “You don’t have to yell, scream and use profanity. You are a teacher.”
A disappointing 4-7 season preceded media day 2018, where Holmoe described the program in a “period of growth and development.”
Media day 2019 came on the heels of an optimistic 7-6 record that included a 24-21 win at No. 6 Wisconsin and Zach Wilson’s perfect game against Western Michigan in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Wilson completed all 18 of his passes for 317 yards and four touchdowns. The battle cry on media day was to keep it going.
The Cougars did just that in the fall, posting a double-overtime win at Tennessee and an overtime home victory against No. 24 USC in consecutive weeks. But key injuries at quarterback and running back held BYU to a second straight 7-win season.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of media day 2020, but after an 11-1 season, a dominating performance in the Boca Raton Bowl against Central Florida and Wilson’s No. 2 overall draft selection by the Jets, there was a lot to talk about at media day 2021.
Samson and Puka Nacua made their debuts after transferring from Utah and Washington, respectively. There was also a Pac-12 theme, as BYU prepared to play five league opponents.
“The Pac-12 has been good to us,” said Holmoe. “They’re very easy to schedule with.”
With Jaren Hall at quarterback, the Cougars went 5-0 against the Pac-12 and finished 6-1 against P5 opponents. BYU’s 26-17 win against Utah was Sitake’s first against his old boss.
Media day 2022 will be unlike the others because it’s the last one as an independent which also features possibly their toughest schedule in school history. The fact that BYU is 21-4 in its last 25 games, a mainstay in the Top 25, and with membership in the Big 12 on its way — there will be plenty to talk about.
Yes, June is the time for talk. When fall camp opens Aug. 3 it will be time for action.
Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is the studio host for “After Further Review,” co-host for “Countdown to Kickoff” and the “Postgame Show” and play-by-play announcer for BYUtv.