On his radio show last night, Bronco Mendenhall pronounced himself "pleased with the program," but was less a little pleased with fans who might be prone to criticize the manner in which BYU has been winning games.
I invite you to listen to the entire "Bronco Mendenhall Show," but here's a general show recap--
: Bronco re-stated that he has made clear to BYU AD Tom Holmoe that he would like to play the Utah State game on a yearly basis for reasons of "substance" and "balance."
: the coach revealed that he helped hire both Utah State head coach Gary Andersen and defensive coordinator Bill Busch when they were brought in to coach at Northern Arizona. Soon after their hire, Bronco left for Oregon State, and he says Andersen and Busch stayed in Bronco's apartment, since he had already paid an extra month's rent.
: asked to reflect on last year's 34-14 win at Utah State, Bronco said his team did not "play a full football game," and had the "mental edge come off." He said when that happens, it's always tough to put it back on.
: Bronco says the Aggies have a "unique," "wide open" philosophy on offense, and anticipates that the Utah State coaches are expecting a "breakthrough" game soon.
: responding to an e-mail question on the subject, Bronco noted that three types of helmet stickers are now being awarded to the players; an "HC" (head coach) sticker now being added to the blue and gold stickers previously awarded. Bronco says the new stickers are part of his daily "Top Ten" program, in which he recognizes ten exemplary everyday efforts of his players--on the field, in the classroom, or as teammates.
: talking about the team generally, Bronco says he "likes them as much as any team I've coached, maybe more."
: answering a question about fan criticism of QB Max Hall and CB Brian Logan, Bronco said "people find negative things most easy to talk about," and added that he would use the word "fantastic" to describe the efforts of both players.
: the coach reiterated that he would like to get backup QB Riley Nelson "up to 12 quarters" of action this season, and that Nelson's potential activity may not be as closely tied to game score from this point on. He said the former Aggie "would like to play" in Friday's game.
: while making clear that the football team has set high standards and that fans have the right to be critical, Bronco echoed Herm Edwards ("you play to win the game"), and said "the intent isn't to lead the nation in defensive or offensive statistics," but to secure wins. Winning, he said, "doesn't seem to be enough" for some fans. "Let's remember how difficult it is to win any game, let alone 10 games in any given year."
The Mountain West Conference is in great shape at the top of the league, with the "Big Three" clearly leading the way, and respected, improving programs at Air Force and Colorado State helping to strengthen the middle of the pack. The bottom of the conference, however, is in pretty rough shape. Wyoming may end up making progress under Dave Christensen, but UNLV, San Diego State and New Mexico are doing little to help the MWC.
In his fifth season and with a record of 13-38, UNLV's Mike Sanford has not rewarded the school's patience and has still yet to record a single league road win (0-17); the latest blow was a loss in Laramie last weekend.
Sanford's teams have followed the same pattern for five years: an early notable win or impressive close call, followed by Sanford euphoria, followed by a crushing setback, followed by mediocrity and malaise for the remainder of the season.
This year, it was a near miss versus nationally-ranked Oregon State that was soon followed by a hard-fought home win over Hawaii. Sanford went memorably nuts after that win, yet the very next week, there he was again, left looking for answers after the loss to Wyoming. The next three weeks will determine whether UNLV follows the script, or stages an uprising that Sanford likely needs to save his job. The Rebels are at Nevada, home to BYU and home to Utah in their next three games; losses in all three would leave the Rebels 2-5 with one FBS win in late-October--probably enough to end the Sanford era in Las Vegas. I wouldn't be surprised with a 4-8 record and a new coach next season.
Brade Hoke appears to be a decent coach who has made good coaching hires around him, but the Aztecs are very much a work in progress. At 1-3 with zero FBS wins, the Aztecs have already lost at Idaho. The problems in San Diego are exacerbated by the apathy in the stands, and who knows how long it will take to resurrect a once-thriving program.
New Mexico is a bit of a disaster, and Lobo fans are now realizing just how good they had it under Rocky Long. The hiring of head coach Mike Locksley was a head-scratcher, initially; now it's looking as radioactive as Los Alamos.
Locksley and AD Paul Krebs tried to put "Punch-gate" to bed earlier this week, but the higher-ups in Albuquerque are saying "not so fast, my friend."(see "UNM Launches Locksley Probe").
At 0-4 on the season, with 0-5 staring the team in the face after a trip to Texas Tech, the Lobo fan base has already turned on Locksley. By the time UNM returns to University Stadium for its next home game on October 24th, basketball season will be just around the corner, and the Lobo hoopsters might be outdrawing the football team before long.
I submitted my preseason MWC Basketball media ballot yesterday, and as usual, I agonized way too hard and long over the selections. I'm weird that way--I research and try to think logically and always attempt to be fair, then I submit the ballot and inevitably have second thoughts over a player I snubbed, or a team I underrated.
The biggest challenge this season was coming up with an order of finish after the top spot. BYU is the clear favorite to win the league, but after the Cougars, I think it's kind of a free-for all--at least for the rest of the top-third, and then again the middle third.
For better or worse, here's what I came up with:
Order of Finish
1. BYU: four starters back from the three-peat MWC champions + plus two sought-after freshmen + an inspirational coach leading the deepest BYU team in years = no-brainer #1 pick. The only question is whether the vote will be unanimous, and if not, why not?
2. UNLV: I am sold on Lon Kruger as an excellent coach who gets a lot out of what he's got. While the Rebels admittedly faded down the stretch last season, UNLV has been good at winning without any big bodies to speak of, and they add some legitimate height and bulk to the roster this season--plus big-time transfers in Derrick Jasper (Kentucky) and Chace Stanback (UCLA). Add in the Rebels' always formidable homecourt edge, and it should be enough to carry UNLV to the upper reaches of the league.
3. San Diego State: The Aztecs lost about 46 points per game off of last year's team, but the backcourt-frontcourt combo of D.J. Gay and Billy White provides veteran leadership. As usual, the Aztecs will introduce a handful of impact newcomers, including highly-touted freshman and SoCal sensation Kawhi Leonard.
4. Utah: The Utes are minus players who scored roughly 50 points a game last season, and I just don't see how the Utes can match that productivity with what they have returning. Jim Boylen's defensive philosophy should keep Utah in lots of games, but Utah is due for a post-Nevill dip.
5. Wyoming: here's my wild card, and it's based as much on my faith in Heath Schroyer as a head coach as it is anything else. The Pokes suffered some significant personnel losses, but they have one of the most exciting players in the league in Afam Muojeke, a transfer (JayDee Luster) who was already named a team captain, and an explosive wing (Thomas Manzano) who was a big-time scorer and made waves in the most recent national Juco tourney. There's enough height down low to produce and disrupt, and again, I like Heath in year three--his team could be due for an uptick.
6. New Mexico: The Lobos are not a true sixth-place team, and could easily end up in a multi-way tie for third, or even second. But someone had to go here, and I've picked the Lobos, who have only one senior and two juniors on their roster; that's a lot of youth to be served. Steve Alford's club probably deserves much more respect than I have given it with this pick, and I may have missed on this one--time will tell. I could understand someone picking UNM as high as second, just as I could understand someone picking Utah as low as 6th--there's simply a lot of wiggle room in the top part of the conference.
7. TCU: Versatile big man Zvonko Buljan is the go-to guy with Kevin Langford's graduation, while Buljan's Euro running mate Edvinas Ruzgas is another double-figure scorer. The Frogs will be improved, but is there any room for TCU in the top six? Note: Jim Christian's team has four players from either Croatia, Serbia, or Lithuania.
8. Colorado State: There are six seniors on the CSU roster--only problem is none of them are impact players. Last year's 4-12 season sounds about right once again this year.
9. Air Force: 0-16 in league play last season, with only one starter back.
Jimmer Fredette, BYU: could be first ever three-time all-MWC First Team selection when all is said and done.
Jonathan Tavernari, BYU: it's JT's time to shine.
Billy White, SDSU: two-time all-conference honoree is poised for a breakout season.
Tre'von Willis, UNLV: if the Rebels finish where I think they will, he'll be one of the main straws stirring the drink.
Afam Muojeke, Wyoming: maybe too early for this kind of honor, but I think he will be a special player.
My obvious snubs were TCU's Zvonko Buljan and UNM's Roman Martinez, both of whom could have been selected over any two of White, Willis, or Muojeke. As Buljan and Martinez are seniors, they are more likely to receive preseason and postseason consideration, and they were not easy omissions. Utah's Carlon Brown was also in the mix.
Freshman of the Year
Tyler Haws, BYU: if he ends up starting on this year's BYU team, it means he's good enough to be the FOY.
Newcomer of the Year
Derrick Jasper, UNLV: assuming he has fully recovered from microfracture knee surgery, the former Kentucly Wildcat is an impact player who can do a little bit of everything.
Player of the Year
Jimmer Fredette, BYU: The guy you want with the ball in his hands.