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Kragthorpe: BYU gives Unga no credit for yardage gained

Published May 19, 2010 10:25 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

For those who wondered about the value of 3,455 yards of prime real estate in Provo, the answer came Wednesday.

On the upper campus of BYU, in buildings overlooking the nice athletic facilities, all that yardage gained is meaningless -- and admirably so.

That's the lesson of the administration's ruling that denied Cougars running back Harvey Unga readmission to school until January, effectively costing him his senior season of football.

That's refreshing, in a lot of ways. There's obviously no double standard in play at BYU, no allowance for talent overcoming Honor Code violations. If the Cougars' all-time leading rusher can withdraw from the school, show remorse and yet not be allowed back in on his desired timetable, nobody's exempt.

Apparently, the code is more than just a series of behavioral suggestions.

In its own way, Unga's departure from the program underscores the fact that BYU is playing by different rules than everybody else in college football -- other than maybe Air Force and the other service academies -- and is still managing to win a bunch of games.

That's not to say nobody else has standards. Coaches such as Utah's Kyle Whittingham actually face more-difficult decisions about athletes at times, when there's no Honor Code to make the rulings for them. Wednesday, Whittingham acted decisively and took a scholarship away from quarterback recruit Tyler Shreve, even before awaiting the outcome of legal proceedings.

But BYU is distinct, undoubtedly.

C'mon, you thought Unga somehow would be welcomed back, right?

If you're a BYU fan, you were hopeful. If not, you were cynical.

Either way, you expected No. 45 to trot onto the LaVell Edwards Stadium field Sept. 4 and take the first handoff against Washington.

Now what?

Based on the time-honored theory that what's bad for BYU is good for the rest of the world, this is a victory for a lot of folks.

If there already were questions about BYU's ability to compete for a Mountain West Conference championship, the issues are even more complex and challenging now. Suddenly, the breaking-in process for a new quarterback, whether that's freshman Jake Heaps or Utah State transfer Riley Nelson, is much more demanding.

There's potential among the other running backs, including Bryan Kariya, J.J. Di Luigi, Mike Hague and Joshua Quezada.

Clearly, though, none of them is Harvey Unga. No combination of those guys is capable of gaining 116 yards against Utah, as Unga did in November.

Even with a veteran offensive line and decent receivers, BYU will struggle to finish in the top three in the conference in total offense -- and in the standings. The Cougars' league opener, Sept. 11 at Air Force, becomes a very good gauge of where this team is headed in 2010.

Overall, even winning seven games will require the development of a young defense and some of offensive coordinator Robert Anae's best work, including a willingness to design running plays for Nelson, even if he's not the starter.

Beyond that, Wednesday's news is a reminder that BYU faces limitations that make the Cougars' success all the more impressive. For all of BYU's built-in advantages of LDS athletes and the missionary program, the restrictions associated with campus life create an environment that naturally reduces the recruiting pool.

So for this program to have gone 43-9 over the past four seasons, with two conference championships, coach Bronco Mendenhall obviously has discovered how to make the whole thing work.

And without Harvey Unga in the backfield, Mendenhall and his staff will have to figure it out even better.

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