Maybe the first sign of what was to come occurred on the field before the game, when a BYU starter approached me and asked: "Are you ready to broadcast a butt-whooping?"
I was ready, and so were the Cougars.
Saturday's 52-24 win over UTEP in the 5th Annual New Mexico Bowl was a record-setter, with BYU establishing dozens of New Mexico Bowl and BYU bowl standards, including the most BYU points scored in a postseason game--in the Cougars' 29th bowl appearance.
The team that finished the regular season winning four of five game dismantled the team that ended its regular season campaign by losing five of six
By the numbers, UTEP was the second or third worst of the 70 bowl teams participating in the postseason, and the Cougars exposed every Miner weakness; from a 90th ranked rush defense (BYU ran for 219 yards) to an 82nd ranked rush offense (BYU held UTEP to -12 rush yards on the day).
By jumping out to a 24-3 lead only seconds into the 2nd quarter, BYU forced UTEP into "here we go again" mode, and while the occasional UTEP big play touchdown dotted the scoresheet, the Miners were never able to get closer than 21 points the rest of the way.
BYU's ability to hold the Miners without points on a half-ending drive that followed a Cougar turnover was cited by Bronco Mendenhall as a statement-maker; BYU led 31-10 at the time and kept the 21 point lead heading into the lockerroom. The statement was then punctuated by a time-sapping BYU TD to start the second half, signaling the game over at 38-10.
By rushing for 219 yards, BYU improved to 20-2 in the Bronco Mendenhall era when running for 200-plus yards in a game; since 1972, BYU has a record of 103-8 when hitting the 200 mark on the ground.
The best news is that every running back who contributed to BYU's rushing total returns next season, along with redshirts Algie Brown, A.J. Moore and Drew Phillips, not to mention return missionary Adam Hine.
The returning depth in the backfield is matched by returning talent across the offensive side of the ball, starting with quarterback Jake Heaps, who in a postgame conversation with us on KSL reiterated his plans to remain at BYU instead of leaving for an LDS mission.
Heaps' top receiving targets all return in 2011, with the exception of Luke Ashworth. Redshirt Ross Apo is expected to take Ashworth's spot in the rotation, creating a new "big three" of Cody Hoffman, McKay Jacobson and Apo--not bad at all.
Hoffman, by the way, has the look of a player who will rise to the upper reaches of BYU's receiving list by the time his career is done. As a redshirt freshman, Hoffman ended the season with 42 receptions for 527 yards and seven touchdowns. By comparison, BYU's alltime leading WR Austin Collie had a rookie season with 53 catches for 771 yards and eight TDs. Hoffman isn't in the Collie class yet, but he has the physical tools to become one of BYU's best wideouts ever. His eight catch, 137-yard, three-touchdown effort against UTEP represented a season single-game high in receiving yards.
I need to say more about Heaps, who has left no doubt about the identity of this team's offensive leader moving forward. While Bronco Mendenhall has been in no hurry to make proclamations, the only competition at the QB spot is for backup.
Heaps went out an earned the mantle of starting quarterback for as long as he is healthy, and on that note, he played through a fractured rib in winning New Mexico Bowl Most Outstanding Offensive Player honors (25/34, 264, 4 TD, 1 int, 171.4 QB rating).
Heaps is a unique talent, and were he to play all four seasons (by no means a given, considering his rate of progress), he would conceivably threaten some of the hallowed passing marks set by Ty Detmer. Heaps surpassed Detmer's (redshirt) freshman season TD passing total in Saturday's win, and owns every BYU passing record for freshmen QBs, who only rarely saw the field for BYU historically.
Given an entire offseason to work as the #1 QB with an impressive corps of returning offensive teammates, Heaps should start 2011 where left off in 2010. I can hardly wait for September 3rd, 2011 in Oxford, MS.
BYU's defense has more holes to fill next season, but it's a more talented pool from which to draw in the search for replacements.
BYU's linebacker group could be the deepest in program history, with six this season's top eight LBs returning, not to mention Jordan Pendleton, redshirt Uona Kaveinga, and a talented group of return missionaries in Michael Alisa, Spencer Hadley, Iona Pritchard and Daniel Sorensen.
Redshirts may be in the future for some of those RM linebackers who played as true freshmen, but too much depth is a good problem to have, and BYU will be ocean-deep at LB in 2011.
In the secondary, BYU graduates both starting corners and a starting safety, but Corby Eason appears poised to assume one corner spot, with a good group of corners ready to compete opposite Eason. Robbie Buckner, and redshirts Lee Aguirre, Jordan Johnson and DeQuann Everett will be in the mix, while players like juco transfer Joe Sampson will be looked as either a corner or safety.
Jray Galeai would be first in line to replace Andrew Rich at Kat, while Travis Uale showed considerable improvement from his starting FS spot, and would be give first crack to retain that role in 2011.
Up front, BYU will get injured players like NTs Romney Fuga and Jordan Richardson back from knee injuries, while only senior Vic So'oto is lost to graduation. Freshman Graham Rowley and Thomas Bryson saw valuable playing time this season.
Bronco Mendenhall told us postgame that we'll never know about most of the off-field moments that contributed to BYU's turnaround from 1-4 to a 7-6 bowl-winning campaign, but BYU fans saw enough on the field to recognize the impact the head coach had in righting BYU's listing ship this season.
Mendenhall's coaching job in 2010 was nothing short of masterful, and just as he says he his prouder of this year's team than any of his previous five, BYU backers will have a special place in their memory banks for a team that finished one game above .500.
Never did 7-6 feel so satisfying, and so promising.
I was very disappointed to have to follow BYU's basketball game from afar yesterday, and follow along online as the Cougars fell 86-79 to UCLA in Anaheim.
Not having seen the game, I have only been able to scan the stats and hear anecdotal reports to get a feel for what went down in SoCal, but all I needed to see was this: 5 assists/19 turnovers.
A BYU team that was in the top five nationally in turnover percentage and turnover margin, and is perennially a national leader in assist/turnover ratio was off the charts the other way yesterday, and not even 53% shooting could mask the fact that the Cougars were not playing BYU Basketball.
4/17 three-point shooting did not help matters, but it came down to the fact that a team averaging ten miscues per game committed almost twice that many on Saturday.
It was only the fifth time in 113 college games that Jimmer Fredette (25 pts, 1 asst, 7 TO) had as many as four fouls in a game.
In his sixth season as head coach, Dave Rose has lost consecutive regular season games only twice: v. Michigan State/at Lamar in 2006-07, and at New Mexico/v. UNLV in 2008-09. Look for BYU to bounce back against a Damian Lillard-less Weber State team on Tuesday night.