Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes
The news that Karl Dorrell will not coach the Bruins in the Las Vegas bowl means a former Cougar coach will be coaching against the Cougars in Vegas. UCLA defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker has assumed the interim head coaching mantle, making him the man in charge on December 22nd.
Walker spent one season on Lavell Edwards' staff, coaching defensive backs in 1994. That season, BYU ended up 8th in the WAC and 90th nationally in pass defense.
Interestingly, the last game Walker coached with the Cougars was against a team that had just fired its head coach. But, in 1994, Oklahoma's Gary Gibbs elected to stay on as head coach for the Sooners' Copper Bowl meeting with the Cougars. It did not go well for OU--BYU won 31-6.
The Mountain West Conference all-conference selections were, as usual, puzzling in places. The most glaring omission was Harvey Unga's absence from the 1st team. Simply put, placing UNM's Rodney Ferguson ahead of Harvey is unjustifiable.
Unga was second to Chad Hall in conference rushing, third in overall rushing, and ahead of Ferguson in both categories. He was second to Hall in overall and conference all-purpose yardage (ahead of Ferguson by 30 yards per game overall--40 yards per game in conference), outscored Ferguson, etc., etc.
I know some voters submitted their ballots prior to BYU's final game of the season. If a few more voters had waited to examine the final numbers (after another near 200-yard game by Unga), the balloting might have ended up differently.
Either way, Unga's snub was egregious, but no stranger than seeing 6 Lobos on the 13-man Offensive 1st team. The Lobos finished 7th in total and scoring offense (7th and 8th in conference play), were shut out at TCU, and yet occupy half of the skill position slots. Odd.
It is a tribute to BYU's defensive philosophy that (if memory serves) the school only nominated 4 players for defensive honors (from arguably the top defensive unit in the league), and three of the four were named to the 1st or 2nd team--Quinn Gooch received honorable mention. While Jan Jorgensen was my pick for Defensive Player of the Year, BYU's defense was characterized by team scheme mastery, and not individual standouts.
I felt Defensive POY winner Beau Bell's impact was perhaps more pronounced earlier in the season, while Jorgensen's play improved as the season went along and conference play heated up. Jorgensen's ability to make an impact from a confined area of the field is magnified when compared to Bell's ability to roam sideline to sideline and line make his presence felt. Jorgensen's contributions to the only defense in the country not to allow a 100-yard rusher this season, while leading the league in sacks and tackles for loss, made him the most valuable defensive player in the conference, in my book.
I voted for Bronco Mendenhall as Coach of the Year, primarily for leading a vastly different collection of talent to the same results that a more heralded group of players obtained the year before. Going undefeated through the MWC in consecutive seasons had never been done before, and such sustained excellence must be recognized.
AFA's Troy Calhoun did a wonderful job incorporating new schemes with experienced players who had underachievd for the previous staff. But as is usually the case with Coach of the Year contests, it seemed to reward the coach of the team "which was predicted to perform terribly, but actually did quite well."
This was the case with Troy Calhoun at Air Force--a team expected to finish near the bottom of the league, that finished near the top. Kudos, but not Coach of the Year worthy. If the league wants to create an award for "Coach of the Most Improved Team," I'll vote for a guy like Calhoun. But if you want to reward the best coach in the league, give the honor to the guy whose team wins every conference game it plays--and does it the right way.
I am a MWC postseason awards voter, and here were my BYU picks (in addition to the individual honors mentioned above):
Unga-1st team RB
Hall-1st team QB
Collie-1st team WR and 2nd team KR
Pitta-1st team TE
Feinga-1st team OL
Reynolds-1st team OL
(note: BYU only nominated Feinga and Reynolds as OL honorees. Bear in mind, voters can "write-in" any candidate they deem worthy. I think Travis Bright could have been a write-in submission.)
Jorgensen-1st team DL
Kehl-1st team LB
Poppinga-2nd team LB
Gooch-2nd team DB
As I write this, #10 Michigan State's hoopsters are trailing in the second half at Bradley. That the Spartans are struggling a bit is not surprising--this is their first and ONLY true road game of the preseason. Of the 13 games on the Spartans' schedule, 8 are home games, 4 are neutral floor affairs, and the Bradley game is the one contest in an enemy gym. Of the 13 games, 9 will be played in Michigan. MSU plays BYU at ESA Saturday.
(**UPDATE**: Michigan State came back and held on to win 66-61 in Peoria. If BYU can beat Weber State tomorrow night, it'll be two nationally-ranked, 7-1 teams going head-to-head in Salt Lake City on the weekend. Things could go nuclear at Energy Solutions Arena!!)
Just for comparison, BYU is playing 15 preseason games--8 at home, 4 on the road, and 3 on neutral floors. Nine of the 15 games will be played in Utah. Dave Rose knows the need for "balance" in scheduling is paramount when playing for postseason positioning, and this year's schedule seems to meet every criteria for a docket that includes chances for confidence-bulding road wins, opportunities for headline-making upsets, and home games that can build and maintain momentum for conference play.
By the way, BYU's strong effort against North Carolina in Vegas continues to hold up--the Tar Heels are only getting stronger, and as "good losses" go, that's a great one for the Cougars.
Around the MWC so far tonight, Air Force has lost at previously 1-6 Northern Illinois--ending the Falcons's non-conference road win streak at 5. New Mexico lost at previously 3-6 New Mexico State. The notoriously home-heavy Lobos (6-0 at the Pit, 1-2 on the road) have now dropped back-to-back games, both away from home.