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Noting "the way that college football is shifting and shaping right now," BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall on Monday acknowledged and confirmed that the expansion- minded Big East Conference has expressed interest in BYU.
"There is a push, and there are conversations that are in place, for the Big East to convince, or to have BYU join that conference," said Mendenhall at his weekly press conference. "I trust our athletic director (Tom Holmoe) and President (Cecil O.) Samuelson to deal with all that. I've been informed along the way, and at some point there will be a decision on what our intentions will be. I don't know how fast, nor do I think the time frame is relevant at this point."
"Certainly plenty of questions on our part...but with the landscape changing, the main benefit that I could see on a short-term scale would be inclusion into the BCS system. That's up in two years, and whether the Big East is able to hold that spot, with the new teams going in, my guess would be yes."
"I can't speak as to what we're going to do, other than just verify that...we have been approached, but I wasn't involved in anything else."
Mendenhall later reiterated that the league had approached BYU, adding "I can't speak to the discussions any further, other than, 'that's what happened.' I've been informed, but I wasn't there."
Recent reports have the Big East targeting BYU as a football-only member and prospective addition to a western division that could potentially include Boise State and/or Air Force, programs whose officials have met with Big East representatives.
You can hear the Mendenhall press conference in its entirety and the portion in which the Big East was discussed, by clicking on the respective audio files in "Cougar Cuts," above left.
Mendenhall earlier in the press conference referenced the unsettled college football environment when addressing future BYU schedules, especially in the latter stages of the season.
"There are already changes that have manifest for next year and the year after and the year after. (November scheduling) is more difficult, but it won't be to where there will only be, let's say, teams from a single conference that we'll finish with."
"There will be more diversity, and that's already in place. And with the way that college football is shifting and shaping right now, too, some of our existing contracts might even change that we already have for next year, the following year, and the following year."
"It is more difficult middle to late (in the season), but this was our first attempt, and I think it has gone relatively well."
On any other day, the injury news Mendenhall shared at the beginning of his press conference would have taken precedence, but the conference expansion discussion overshadowed the coach informing the media that linebacker Jordan Pendleton suffered a season-ending knee injury in the October 28th loss to TCU.
"It's been a tough weekend for him and myself as we deal with him having played his last football game at BYU, after working so diligently to fight and come back to help us this season."
Mendenhall noted that he doesn't think Pendleton ever left the TCU game after hurting the knee and "that's the amazing thing; we don't know exactly which play it happened on...the next day it became very sore, not where his (most recent) injury was. It's not uncommon for this current injury to happen in relation to the other injury and the surgery that has happened."
The coach said "there are two (surgical) procedures" Pendleton is considering; "he's seeing a specialist today to see which one might work best."
Asked whether the latest injury might impact Pendleton's pro prospects, Mendenhall said "I certainly hope not."
"There might be questions from NFL scouts because of the timing and the rehab it's going to take...but he's done enough on film and he is an NFL player. I think the body of work on film will show that."
Mendenhall said Pendleton's injury-hampered BYU career will be characterized by "a lot of determination. From his sophomore year, which would probably be the highlight of health and production, to a real shift to just grit and determination and recovery. He has been instrumental in helping us play very good defense this year."
"He has earned my respect and his teammates' respect. I think he's grown and matured as a person, I think he's helped us win a lot of football games, and I would say (his BYU career) is a success. It wouldn't be ideal, in terms of the injury perspective, but I think he has learned a lot along the way."
Jameson Frazier will now start at strong side linebacker, backed up by Alani Fua; Kyle Van Noy remains the first- string weakside backer, backed up by Jadon Wagner. Van Noy is also able to switch over and play on the strong side.
Mendenhall was asked about the possible perception that his team "won't be challenged" in its three-game end to the regular season, consisting of games against WAC teams Idaho, New Mexico State and Hawaii, and the coach rejected the notion, saying "any team we play is capable of beating us; I really believe that. On any given Saturday, if you are not ready to play, you can get beat."
"My focus really isn't on our opponents, nor has it ever been. In my philosophical perspective, we can improve as a football team. We have three weeks to do it in the regular season, and I would like to see significant jumps in relation to how clean we play--I'm talking offense, defense and special teams."
"Idaho is just the next opponent, but the focus is much more on ourselves than anything else, and we can play better than we are currently playing."
The 2-7 Vandals snapped a six-game losing skid with a comeback 32-29 win at San Jose State on Saturday. Mendenhall said "Idaho has had a lot of close losses...from what I saw of their game against San Jose, they're playing hard and they're playing physical. I thought San Jose was a decent football team, and certainly wasn't one that we pulled away from (in a 29-16 win on October 8th), so this is the next challenge."
Mendenhall confirmed that BYU's punt unit is receiving more attention in practice--"more than any other special team"--after the team's punt failings in the TCU loss, with coaches also charting the performances of punters Riley Stephenson and Brian Smith.
Asked about Justin Sorensen's recent drop-off in percentage of kickoffs reaching the end zone, Mendenhall said Sorensen "complains that his leg feels tired."
"I'm not sure if it's over-use...but there's also a mission effect that's always hard to gauge, what that's going to be."
"The easy answer is maybe there is a mission effect. Whether that's the right answer or not, I don't know. He's a very good kicker, a skilled kicker, but there has been a drop off. Maybe the week off has helped; we'll see."
In the first five games, Sorensen had touchbacks in every game and eight in 22 kickoffs (36%). In the last four games, Sorensen has recorded touchbacks in only one game, and three in 25 overall (12%).