Once again, BYU’s athletics program routinely made national headlines in 2011. Thanks to consensus national college basketball player Jimmer Fredette’s rise to prominence, the school’s unique honor code and how it was applied when star basketball player Brandon Davies ran afoul of it, and the ever-changing college sports landscape in regard to conference realignment issues, BYU often found itself as the center of attention not just locally, but nationally.
Here’s The Tribune’s top 10 BYU sports-related stories in 2011:
10. BYU gets its coveted national exposure via ESPN/BYUtv
A bad television deal drove BYU out of the MWC, and in 2011 the school’s quest for more access to its fans and more national television exposure was realized in a big way as 11 of its 13 games were televised nationally by an ESPN platform and the two others were available via BYUtv and/or a special arrangement with Fox College Sports and KBYU. However, BYU’s insistence on keeping those television rights became a stumbling block when conferences such as the Big 12 and Big East expressed interested in adding the school. Also, ESPN dictating some late football starting times in November angered some longtime fans.
9. Football coaching staff shakeup
Shortly after BYU’s 52-24 bowl win late in 2010, a win that set school records for offense and scoring in a bowl game, coach Bronco Mendenhall gathered his offensive coaches together and suggested that some look for employment elsewhere. Offensive coordinator Robert Anae left for Arizona and receivers coach Patrick Higgins left for Purdue. Quarterbacks coach Brandon Doman was promoted to OC, while Navy’s Joe DuPaix (running backs coach, recruiting coordinator) and retired CFL receiver Ben Cahoon (receivers) were added to the staff.
8. Poor football start bottoms out with record home loss to Utah
After Jake Heaps led the Cougar football team to wins in five of its last six games in 2010 and won MVP honors in the New Mexico Bowl, expectations were high for BYU’s offense in 2011. But the Cougars started slowly, eking out a 14-13 win at Ole Miss before falling 17-16 at Texas. New offensive coordinator Brandon Doman immediately came under fire, along with Heaps, and it bottomed out on Sept. 17 when the Cougars committed seven turnovers and were walloped 54-10 by archrival Utah at home.
7. Riley Nelson leads comeback over USU, earns starting quarterback job
Seemingly forgotten after shoulder surgery cut short his 2010 season and sophomore Jake Heaps seized the starting role for 2011, Riley Nelson roared back in a big way to reclaim his starting quarterback position, most notably in a crazy, Hollywood script-like performance off the bench in BYU’s 27-24 win over Utah State on Sept. 30. Nelson was named the starter the following week against San Jose State and kept the job when he returned from an injury, prompting Heaps to announce he is transferring.
6. Coaches’ contracts extended
BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe’s legacy in Provo will be tied to the bold move to football independence and leaving the Mountain West Conference, but there’s no doubting that he made two excellent hires in football coach Bronco Mendenhall and Dave Rose. Both men signed contract extensions in 2011 that should keep them in Provo for a long time to come, although Mendenhall’s new deal was kept quiet until he casually mentioned it during July’s football media day. Rose signed a new five-year contract in early April after schools such as Houston and Oklahoma expressed interest.
5. Jake Heaps announces he is transferring
Named the nation’s top high school quarterback among the 2010 recruiting class by at least one recruiting website, Jake Heaps came to Provo with more promise than any athlete in school history, and started 10 games his freshman year. But he struggled in his first five starts of 2011, and was benched in favor of junior Riley Nelson. Saying he needed a change of scenery and perhaps sensing that his playing time next year would be limited as well, Heaps announced on Dec. 5 that he was transferring. Soon after, he signed with Kansas and new coach Charlie Weis.
4. Cougars make it to Sweet 16
With Brandon Davies watching in street clothes from the bench and Fredette, Jackson Emery, Noah Hartsock and others racking up a school-record 32 wins, the Cougars exorcised some past NCAA Tournament demons and made it to the Sweet 16 for the first time since a Danny Ainge-led team did that 30 years ago, in 1981. Without Davies, who was sorely missed inside, the Cougars fell to Florida 83-74 in overtime in New Orleans after knocking off Wofford and Gonzaga in Denver.
3. Brandon Davies and the honor code
BYU’s men’s basketball team was in the top five and coming off a rousing 80-67 win at San Diego State when on March 1 the school announced it would no longer allow star center Brandon Davies to represent it on the court due to an undisclosed honor code violation that The Salt Lake Tribune later learned was for having premarital sex. That Davies was kicked off the team for a non-criminal act and the way BYU handled the situation was the subject of dozens of national news reports.
2. BYU and conference realignment
After announcing its football independence and move to the West Coast Conference for most of its other sports in 2010, the Cougars found themselves in discussions with several conferences about membership in 2011, including the Big 12 and the Big East, but opted for now to stay where it is. The Cougars’ first year as a football independent had its rough spots in terms of scheduling that was less-than-ideal, but overall not too bad.
1. Jimmermania sweeps the state, country
Jimmer Fredette was mostly a locally-known college basketball star until the night of Jan. 11 when his 47-point scoring outburst against Utah included a halfcourt shot, 32 first-half points and a collection of his trademark circus-like shots. The performance propelled him to national prominence. Suddenly, Fredette was doing interviews everywhere, including on ESPN, No. 32 jerseys became the rage and Jimmermania swept through not only Utah, but the country. Fredette became BYU’s first consensus national player of the year before being drafted by the Sacramento Kings.