Being the underachiever that I am, I like to temper expectations when it comes to my sports. I like my teams believing they can do great things, but don’t say it. It’s the old “underpromise, overdeliver” motto. That way if you keep your aspirations low and your chosen team exceeds them you enjoy it more. If it just so happens the team fails to live up to your expectations your disappointment is lessened. Call it the realist in me cultivated by the fact I’m a miserable lifelong New York Jets fan.
The BYU football program is taking the optimistic approach–set the bar at it’s highest level. As coach Bronco Mendenhall stated in Tuesday’s Cougar National Media Day their goal is to win a National Championship. The problem is it’s an unrealistic goal setting yourself and your fan base up for failure and here’s why:
(Bronco Mendenhall and Steve Young on ESPN’s College Football Live):
1. The BCS system is stacked against BYU. If you thought the Cougars had issues just getting to a BCS Bowl game, let alone the National Championship game when they were in the Mountain West Conference, it’s worse being an independent. BYU did not get Notre Dame status. They are at the same level as Army and Navy. Sure, if they finish ranked in the top-12 of the BCS standings they’ll be eligible for an at-large berth. However if they would have stayed in the MWC and ended the season as the highest ranked non-AQ they would have gotten the automatic bid. As an independent they don’t get that guarantee and you know how difficult it is for the bowls to select two non-AQ schools to BCS games. It’s happened just once when TCU met Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl in 2010. Mendenhall and Athletic Director Tom Holmoe keep claiming that if they go unbeaten they should get into the BCS and accomplish the National Championship game goal but that leads us to…
2. Perfection. Remember 2008? When that year’s motto for BYU was “Quest for Perfection”? They put it on t-shirts etc. How did that go? It put an inordinate amount of pressure and a target on the back of the players. And when that perfect season ended seven games into the year with a humiliating 32-7 loss to TCU the team was never the same. They went on to beat the MWC cream puffs but then they closed with an embarrassing loss to Utah and Arizona in the Las Vegas Bowl. It’s difficult to go unbeaten when you play in a weak conference let alone a more difficult schedule which leads us to No. 3…
3. Scheduling: Holmoe says BYU will “play anybody, anywhere, anytime” which I assume means the schedule will be more difficult going forward than in the past. You’ll still have your standard cream puffs for “schedule balance” like this year’s Idaho, Idaho State and San Jose State but it also means rival Utah, a program that should continue to improve with Pac-12 resources behind them, as well as Texas, Notre Dame, West Virginia, Oregon State, Boise State and Georgia Tech. Plus Mendenhall said he’s willing to do more 2-for-1 deals which means playing better opponents on the road. If the Cougars couldn’t go unbeaten in it’s MWC days it will be even harder against better competition in the independence world.
4. BYU’s unique challenges remain. While the program will get more exposure due to it’s impressive ESPN deal and it’s own network like BYUtv, etc. it sill recruits among a smaller pool of athletes than most schools due to the honor code. Add in the ongoing challenges of managing the missionary program, and the Cougars still have an uphill climb to bring in the athletes to compete at the highest level with the elite schools.
I still commend BYU for rolling the dice and taking the independence route. I just think openly setting the bar to that highest level when clearly it will take perfection has them walking on a dangerous tightrope, that if they fall, will result in more harm than good. Maybe they should start by just setting a goal to get to the BCS for the first time as opposed to winning a national championship.