BYU ready to defend MWC title

BYU ready to defend MWC title

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By DOUG ALDEN AP Sports Writer

PROVO, Utah (AP) -- The preseason polls are a good indicator that Brigham Young's reputation as a college football power hasn't been completely restored.

Despite 10 straight wins and an unbeaten run through the Mountain West Conference, the Cougars enter this season unranked. Being a perennial power, as BYU once was, takes more than an 11-2 season.

"In our minds we're back, but we've still got to prove that we're back. One year doesn't mean anything," defensive lineman Jan Jorgensen said.

"I think we have to come out and show the fans and show the country that we're going to sustain that every single year like BYU used to do," he said.

Last season was reminiscent of so many autumns in Provo, with the Cougars dominating their conference with an awesome passing game that simply overwhelmed opponents. BYU averaged nearly 37 points per game and 465.5 yards of offense.

The Cougars started the season unranked and finished at No. 16.

Coach Bronco Mendenhall, in his third year, is out to prove that last season was more of the norm after four straight years without a winning record. But in order to do that, the Cougars will have to show that a tradition of strong quarterbacks stays intact.

John Beck, second only to Ty Detmer in BYU passing history, is a Miami Dolphin, and Max Hall has taken over after being limited to running the scout team last fall. Hall hasn't played in a game since high school -- four years ago.

Hall transferred from Arizona State after redshirting in 2004. He served a Mormon church mission in 2005 and, under NCAA transfer rules, could only practice with the Cougars in 2006.

Hall was named the starter after spring practice and has known all summer he was going to follow Beck on a list that includes Detmer, Jim McMahon and Steve Young.

"When you play at BYU, you've got to follow a bunch of great quarterbacks. And John was another great quarterback," Hall said.

"If I don't put up the same numbers as John, it's not going to be like it's a complete failure. That's just not how it is. ... I just want to win games," Hall said.

He will have plenty of experience around him when the Cougars open at home Sept. 1 against Arizona. BYU has five mammoth linemen up front, including four starters, and plenty of depth at running back and receiver.

The most significant departures were Beck and running back Curtis Brown, BYU's all-time leading rusher. Another missing star: Tight end Jonny Harline, who capped the Cougars' Mountain West championship by cradling a desperate pass from Beck for a touchdown as time expired in BYU's 33-31 win over rival Utah.

Even without the three offensive leaders, scoring isn't expected to be a problem, despite Hall's lack of experience.

Running backs Fui Vakapuna, Harvey Unga and Manase Tonga all weigh more than 220 and can wear down a defense. The receivers also appear solid with returning starter Michael Reed and sophomore Austin Collie, who was the Mountain West freshman of the year in 2004 when he caught 53 passes for 771 yards and eight touchdowns.

Collie was serving a church mission in Argentina the last two years but returned in time for spring practice. He said any rookie nerves Hall has should go away quickly.

"He's extremely confident and that's exactly what we need in a quarterback," Collie said. "He knows where to go and he can read the defenses well. And he's not afraid to put the ball in a tight spot."

On defense, the Cougars lost linebacker Cameron Jensen, the co-captain who led BYU with 107 tackles. Kelly Poppinga has moved from outside linebacker to take that spot.

Poppinga and Jorgensen, who tied for the team lead as a freshman with five sacks, are among the five returning starters on a defense that has already been hurt by injuries.

Lineman Russell Tialavea (knee) and defensive backs David Tafuna (foot) and Dustin Gabriel (foot) are out for the season.

Mendenhall said injuries are something every team has every year. The Cougars just had a bunch before the season even began.

"I think the chemistry and nature of our team is the main contributor to the way they have responded to the injuries," Mendenhall said. "Those are the kind of teams that move forward. From what I have seen so far, this is how this group has responded."

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.) APTV-08-26-07 1529MDT

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