Provo • After BYU defeated Tulsa in the Armed Forces Bowl last December, quarterback Riley Nelson sat in a team meeting room at Gerald J. Ford Stadium in Dallas and spoke excitedly about the prospects for the 2012 season.
He said his optimism was based on the fact that more than two dozen contributors in that 24-21 win would be seniors this year, and that they had already assured each other they would work as hard as necessary in the offseason to produce a successful and memorable final season.
Twenty-three of those seniors will be honored Saturday night before the 5-4 Cougars take on 1-8 Idaho at LaVell Edwards Stadium (8:15 p.m., ESPNU) as BYU plays its final home game in what is expected to be cold, wintry conditions.
“It has been a fun season. It hasn’t been perfect, obviously,” said senior cornerback Preston Hadley. “At the end of the year, I will look back and I will remember it. No matter what team you are playing for, or what sport, you wish you could have pulled out those games you lost. We’re no different.”
After Saturday’s game, the Cougars play at 7-2 San Jose State on Nov. 17 before wrapping up the regular season on Nov. 24 at New Mexico State. A win in any of the three remaining games will ensure the Cougars go to the Poinsettia Bowl on Dec. 20 in San Diego.
Nelson, who suffered rib and lung injuries in last year’s 42-7 win over Idaho that caused him to miss the following week’s game against NMSU, said it is too early to talk about the legacy this group of seniors will leave behind.
“We’ve still got one-fourth of our season left, so we can’t think of this as the end,” he said. “... No question, we expected to [have a better record] than we do. It’s been an interesting year.”
Because of missions, redshirts, transfers and injuries that allowed players to get a year back — such as Nelson — this group didn’t all sign in the same year or enter BYU at the same time. For instance, defensive tackle Russell Tialavea signed way back in 2005 and Nelson signed in 2009, after a year at Utah State and two years of missionary service.
But linebacker and defensive captain Brandon Ogletree said they’ve become a tight-knit group.
“I don’t know that it is up to us to decide [what the legacy will be],” Ogletree said. “If I had to choose what it was, it would be a bunch of dedicated, hard-working dudes that love each other and play hard.”
One of the seniors whom BYU expected to recognize — safety Joe Sampson — won’t be around because he was suspended earlier this week for a violation of team rules and has withdrawn from school.
Several players, such as receiver Rhen Brown, defensive ends Jordan Richardson and Ian Dulan and offensive lineman Walter Kahaiali’i, had to give up football due to chronic injuries but will still be honored.
Safety Mike Hague and defensive lineman Eathyn Manumaleuna were also with this group entering the year, but suffered season-ending injuries early in the season and will petition the NCAA to get their senior seasons back next year.
“Obviously, we are disappointed as a team because of the number of games where we were right in there at the end, but lost,” said senior offensive tackle Braden Brown. “You always want to go out undefeated, have a chance to be a BCS buster. But we stuck together as a team and battled together, and loved each other. So in that regard, it has been a successful season.”
Idaho at BYU
P At LaVell Edwards Stadium (Provo)
Kickoff • Saturday, 8:15 p.m.
TV • ESPNU. Radio • 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
Records • BYU 5-4; Idaho 1-8
Series history • Tied, 2-2
Last meeting • BYU 42, Idaho 7 (Nov. 12, 2011)
About the Vandals • They are coming off a 42-13 loss to San Jose State in a game that marked the debut of interim coach Jason Gesser, the former Utah Blaze quarterback.
About the Cougars • They can become eligible for their eighth straight bowl with a win over the Vandals. ... They are 8-1 after bye weeks under coach Bronco Mendenhall. ... WR Cody Hoffman has caught a pass in 28 straight games, tied for 10th best in the nation. ... Sophomore Craig Bills will get the start at free safety in the place of senior Joe Sampson, who was dismissed from the team.
BYU seniors to be honored
Riley Nelson, James Lark, David Foote, Braden Brown, Braden Hansen, Riley Stephenson, Zed Mendenhall, Reed Hornung, Ezekiel Ansay, Romney Fuga, Simote Vea, Russell Tialavea, Uona Kaveinga, Brandon Ogletree, Preston Hadley, Robbie Buckner, Ian Dulan, DeQuan Everett, Ryan Freeman, Austen Jorgensen, Rhen Brown, Walter Kahaiali’i, Jordan Richardson.