Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes
For the eighth time, and a sixth time in South Bend, BYU and Notre Dame are set to meet on the gridiron Saturday--the second game of a contracted six-game series between the two schools.
When the deal was originally done, the Cougars and Fighting Irish were committed to play six times between 2012 and 2020. Notre Dame's recent scheduling alliance with the ACC has led to some schedule shuffling in South Bend, but not involving games with BYU.
Asked if there was any fear that the six-game series might be modified moving forward, Cougar head coach Bronco Mendenhall on Monday said "not on our part, and I trust them to keep their agreement."
Mendenhall acknowledged that "Notre Dame has a lot of teams that would love to play them, and we're fortunate enough that we get that opportunity."
"Now we get it hopefully through a six-year agreement, and we have to do our share of winning."
Notre Dame owns a five-games-to-two series advantage, with BYU winning once in South Bend (21-14, in 1994) and once in Provo (20-17, in 2004).
Last season at Notre Dame Stadium, an Irish team that would play in the BCS Championship Game needed a fourth-quarter comeback to defeat BYU 17-14; after his team's Monday practice, Mendenhall said he wouldn't be surprised by another low-scoring affair.
"It's hard to say, but if you use this season and (2012), we're not giving up many (points)...21-ish (per game)...and if we're able to do that, it should be a great game."
While Notre Dame's 7-3 record this season falls short of the Irish's undefeated regular-season run in 2012, Mendenhall said the 2013 team closely approximates last year's group in many ways.
"Same quarterback, physical offensive line, tight ends, skilled running back, skilled receivers, tough on defense," said Mendenhall. "So (they're) very similar to a year ago."
BYU enters Saturday's game with hopes of winning out and securing the sixth double-digit win season of the Mendenhall era. The coach has noted that goal, in conjunction with hopes of a fifth straight bowl win and return to the Top 25 polls.
As for the Notre Dame game, with its attendant nationally-televised spectacle, he refuses to put too much emphasis on that particular contest.
"It's just exposure," says Mendenhall of the increased profile presented by playing in South Bend. "It's just another chance for a quality win, on a big stage, so it's not life or death and it's not a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but its a great opportunity."
"We intend to do the very best we can, and I'm looking forward to it."
This will be Mendenhall's fourth trip to Notre Dame, having traveled there as BYU's defensive coordinator in 2003 (a 33-14 Notre Dame win), and then as the Cougars' head coach in 2005 (a 49-23 Notre Dame win) and 2012.
He says that as a return visitor to Notre Dame Stadium, "it's not as much of an awe factor for me, as the first time I went to South Bend."
"All I can try to do is pass on that it's a great experience," said Mendenhall of any help he might be to young players making their first trip to Notre Dame Stadium, "but we are going there to play well, and the (players) can look around the stadium afterwards, and hopefully with a positive experience."
Defensive lineman Eathyn Manumaleuna, who was one of 22 players honored after last weekend's Senior Day win over Idaho State, says that "this week is just all about winning."
"It's the same kind of trip--just a business trip. Not trying to take away from the history they have there and everything, but it's a business trip going up to win and going against a great program."
Mendenhall says BYU's 27-17 loss at Wisconsin earlier this month provides some motivation and an expectation of the kind of game the Cougars can expect this coming Saturday.
"We have a great opportunity," Mendenhall said on Monday, "and I need to prepare our team, and they need to prepare to capitalize on it, and that's what our focus is."
BYU safety Chris Badger has a unique perspective on this weekend's game, having recently transferred out of the Fighting Irish program.
A 2010 Notre Dame enrollee, Badger redshirted the 2012 season following his two-year church mission, before transferring to BYU in time for fall practice in 2013.
He says now that "both schools are really similar. I loved my time at Notre Dame; I definitely had a positive experience. Overall, the transition here to BYU has been wonderful and (I'm) 100% happy with my decision."
Asked if coaches or teammates are picking his brain about Notre Dame, Badger said "to be 100% honest, there's not much I can tell that's not on the film."
Mendenhall said that linebacker Spencer Hadley, who suffered a torn MCL in the Wisconsin loss, "is probably a ways off" from a return to the lineup.
Receiver/punt returner JD Falslev, who has missed the last two games with a broken hand, has returned to practice in a limited fashion. It is expected that he'll travel to Notre Dame, with his playing status likely to be a gameday decision.
TEs Kaneakua Friel (hamstring), Devin Mahina (adductor) and Brett Thompson (quad) are in a position similar to Falslev, relative to their playing status this weekend.
It is anticipated that offensive linemen Brock Stringham (missed Idaho State game) and Ryker Mathews (missed Wisconsin and Idaho State games) could be available to play on Saturday. Receiver Eric Thornton's season is done; he's expected to undergo surgery to repair a groin-related injury.
You can hear post-practice interviews with Mendenhall, Manumaleuna and Badger, in "Cougar Cuts," top left.