As Thursday's Poinsettia Bowl between BYU and San Diego State inches closer, BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall and San Diego State head coach Rocky Long took part in Wednesday morning's press conference to preview the match-up.
It's been almost a month since the Cougars played their final regular season game at New Mexico State, and Bronco is ready to get back on the field.
"Each year about this time, I feel a huge relief once we get back onto the game field. The practices seem to have gone longer and the preparation; you kinda run out of things to do other than start to worry...anxious at this point to just play the game."
There was a funny exchange between Rocky and Bronco when Long was asked if it was difficult to prepare for an offense that hasn't named a starting quarterback.
"He's gonna play both quarterbacks", Long said. Then Rocky looked over to Bronco and said, "Can you tell me now"? Bronco very quickly replied, "I like to build the intrigue; it's good for ratings."
I can't argue with Bronco on that one; we've been talking about it non-stop since the final game of the regular season.
For years, San Diego State's football program has been an underachiever in most observers' eyes. The common thought was that the Aztecs were a program that could get a ton of talent, but couldn't put it all together. Long said he had the same impression, until he got to SDSU four years ago.
"There was this image that this team was so talented and never could win. That was a falsehood; that was absolutely false, because when I actually started working with the the kids, the talent level was not anywhere near what I thought it was when I was standing on the other sidelines playing against them. But what was here, were a bunch of great kids that wanted to be good. And if you have a bunch of great kids that want to be good...it's really fun to coach."
It appears that those "good kids" can play some football. Not only is this Aztec team 9-3, they've won seven in a row and are playing in their third straight bowl game.
Even though BYU is playing in its first Poinsettia Bowl, the Cougars are no strangers to bowl games in San Diego. BYU played in 11 Holiday Bowls in San Diego back in the day, including the "Miracle Bowl" when Jim McMahon led the team from down 20 points with four minutes left in the game to win 46-45 over SMU. For Bronco Mendenhall, returning to San Diego for a bowl game seems right.
"To me it's coming full circle; I sat in the stands as a little kid watching my brother play in the first Holiday Bowl...and I think now that I'll be standing on the sideline as the coach of the team that my brother played for; in the same city, in the same setting--it's kind of made me reflect as to what's happened in that time in my life, and how it is that I reached that point...I care a lot about representing the institution well and having our team play well with the long tradition it's had."
While BYU will be losing 23 seniors after Thursday's game, junior linebacker Kyle Van Noy and junior wide receiver Cody Hoffman must decide if they'll turn pro or return to Provo in 2013. Bronco said he is happy to offer advice if the player asks for it.
"There are teachable moments, most of those are initiated by the players; very few are initiated by the coach. When they come to me interested in what they might do, then I have a great chance to talk to them."
Most believe Van Noy will leave for the NFL, so the bigger question is whether or not Hoffman will stay or go. Bronco seems to feel that Cody isn't as likely to leave.
"In Kyle's case, we had a lot of discussions about it; Cody, I don't think is considering it nearly as strongly as Kyle is and was."
Even though everyone is focused on the bowl game, the news of Utah State head coach Gary Andersen taking the Wisconsin job made it's way into the press conference. When asked what he thought about the news, Bronco said he hadn't heard about it until just then.
While Bronco was happy for Gary, he is concerned with what he sees as the college game turning into the pros.
"There is a point where coaches being at a certain place for the players that they actually committed to come there, and promised that they would have a good experience; I'm worried about that part of college football...as I look at the conferences realigning and teams racing here or there, it seems like it's moving more away from the true amateur sport that college football once was with natural traditions and rivalries and I think money has a lot to do with it. Having said all that, he's an excellent coach and deserving."
You can hear press conference audio from Bronco Mendenhall and Rocky Long by clicking on the links to the above left in "Cougar Cuts."
Thursday's Poinsettia Bowl gets underway at 6:00pm MT on KSL Newsradio 102.7 FM/1160 AM. Pregame coverage starts at 4:00pm MT with the Cougar Countdown Show.