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With BYU at the .500 mark two-thirds of the way through the 2012 season, head coach Bronco Mendenhall maintains that "there is progress, and I think the program is moving forward."
Mendenhall met with the media after Monday's practice, and addressed the state of the program with BYU at 4-4 and heading into Atlanta to face 3-4 Georgia Tech on Saturday.
Three of BYU's four losses have been to nationally-ranked teams (BCS No. 21 Boise State, No. 7 Oregon State and No. 5 Notre Dame), and two of those three losses have been by three points or fewer. Mendenhall says "we're playing better football against better teams; that's what's coming next and I welcome it, but we have to execute at a higher level."
"When I started this job to where it is now, expectations are even higher," Mendenhall said. "The schedule is more demanding." BYU has just played consecutive games against Top 10 teams for the first time in school history.
Despite back-to-back losses and with his team still two wins shy of bowl eligibility, Mendnenhall continues to accentuate the positive, saying "I think there is progress, and I think the program is moving forward. I think we're taking on kind of an 'all comers' approach."
On that note, Mendenhall said "when you see 2013's (schedule) you'll see it, when you see 2014's, and when you see 2015's you'll see it. It's not going the other way."
"I like the challenge, and I like the places we're playing, who we're playing...and we're one or twp plays away, and that's the next step."
USA Today's Jeff Sagarin currently ranks BYU 33rd nationally in schedule strength; BYU has future games lined up with Texas, Notre Dame, Georgia Tech, Wisconsin, Boise State, Nebraska and West Virginia.
Asked about quarterback Riley Nelson's statistical dip from a passer rating of 152.9 to a 114.9 mark in 2012, Mendenhall said "injuries are certainly a part of it, and strength of schedule is certainly a part of it."
"We're really close," said Mendenhall. "I still think we're gaining momentum and making progress, and Riley is leading us while we do it. It might not be the prolific breakthrough that people want...but I still see us inching really close to breaking through."
BYU is 5-5 in its most recent ten games decided by seven points or fewer, after winning 14 consecutive such games before the 17-16 loss at Utah in 2010 started BYU on its 50-50 slide.
Mendenhall said of the close losses: "They hurt more, knowing you're right there--one, two or three plays are the difference. But we're playing good teams."
BYU's Eight-game Records Under Bronco Mendenhall
|Season||Record||Games v. Ranked Teams||Wins v. Ranked Teams||Losses by 7 pts or fewer||Losses by 10 pts or more|
You can hear Mendenhall's post-practice interview session, and conversations with Nelson, CB Jordan Johnson and CB Preston Hadley, in "Cougar Cuts," above left.