PROVO, Utah -- I bet you can guess the hot topic of conversation during BYU media day on Tuesday.
Talk of going independent dominated sessions with coach Bronco Mendenhall, athletic director Tom Holmoe and players as well. Everyone is excited about the prospects of partnering with ESPN, having an exclusive network in BYUtv and testing the waters in an unconventional way.
Will independence work? We have to wait for the answers. But here are some notes and nuggets off a day spent visiting with a variety of BYU officials.
Scheduling: Despite rampant speculation, there were no scheduling announcements made Tuesday. Getting games on the schedule as an independent has been a bit tricky, because other teams are tied into their conference schedules past September. Many others already have games planned through 2018, and there are those who want 2-for-1 deals instead of home-and-homes. Holmoe said he would like to take BYU all over the country, and would like to schedule games against the service academies, possibly even Northwestern or Vanderbilt. Mendenhall mentioned getting games against teams like Boston College, and playing in the Southeast, Midwest and Northwest.
The 2-for-1 deals, like the one with Texas, are not ideal. But Mendenhall said, "I’m willing to play some 2-for-1s for the sake of establishing credibility. Hopefully after that, more will want to come to Provo and view us on equal footing."
BCS: BYU does not have an automatic berth guaranteed into the BCS. If the Cougars finish ranked in the top 12 of the BCS standings, then they would be eligible for an at-large berth. But both Mendenhall and Holmoe are confident that an undefeated BYU team with the schedule it has lined up for this year would get into the BCS -- something that has never been done before at the school. Mendenhall also seems confident that in the future, a one-loss BYU team might be given consideration if the Cougars string together multiple 11- or 12-win seasons.
Winning: Both Holmoe and Mendenhall know there are risks with going independent. With 10 games set to be aired on ESPN, all national eyes are going to be on the Cougars. They cannot afford another 7-6 season in Year 1 of being an independent. The pressure is on. "I’m willing to take the risk," Mendenhall said. "It’s intriguing. There are many fans that aren’t BYU fans that can’t wait to see BYU stumble with all the exposure. It’s pretty clear our program is strong. We have a worldwide following, we’ve partnered with the worldwide leader in sports. With that, whether folks are BYU fans or not, I bet folks tune in and are anxious to see what happens."
One bit of news emerged today. Mendenhall said he signed a three-year contract extension that will keep him with the school through 2013.
"I would like to coach here as long as I'm wanted and as long as I feel it's where I'm supposed to be," he said. "I was invigorated and so excited by the chance to continue to move the program forward. This idea of independence, while many would have backed away from it, I'm anxious to be the coach to take it on. There's a huge amount of risk but there's also a great opportunity for reward."
A few more nuggets from media day:
Left tackle Matt Reynolds has lost 25 pounds and is down to 308. To lose the weight, he did two hours worth of cardio every day and kept to a tight schedule and watched what he ate. "I feel so much better now," Reynolds said. "I look better, too. All the weight was in my midsection and now this is going to help me move a lot better on the field.
Quarterback Jake Heaps is preparing to take more snaps from center this season as more of a pro-style offense will be featured with new coordinator Brandon Doman. "It's definitely a different feel with the drop-back," said Heaps, a spread quarterback in high school. "I have been working on that a lot this summer, and trying to get my timing down with the receivers as well."
Doman on how he feels headed into his first fall as a coordinator: "In December, I turned 34. Now I feel like I'm 44."
Linebacker Jordan Pendleton makes his return this season after missing half of 2010 with a knee injury. He wasn't quite ready to declare himself 100 percent, but said he does feel better than he has in a long time. He has spent the summer getting back into shape, taking it slowly so he would not suffer any setbacks.