BYU football: Cougars brace for rare visit from one of college football's elite Texas
Provo • Now this is more like it.
After the first two seasons of college football independence saw them host the likes of Idaho, New Mexico State and Idaho State, the BYU Cougars finally embark on what athletic director Tom Holmoe promised back in 2010: a big-time schedule, both home and away.
Mighty Texas is in town, giving BYU perhaps its most significant home opener since Notre Dame visited back in 2004. The 0-1 Cougars and 1-0 Longhorns, whose seasons are threatening to go in vastly different directions, meet at 5 p.m. on Saturday at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
"With scheduling it is hard to know [which teams will be good from year to year]," BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "But we get to play Texas; as an independent, I like that."
The 15th-ranked Longhorns, for the uninformed, are one of those elite teams that the Cougars said they wanted to mess with on a weekly, or at least monthly, basis when they left the Mountain West Conference a few years ago.
Win or lose, BYU fans had better enjoy it, because an opponent with as high of a national profile as Texas might not visit for a while; Notre Dame owes BYU two home games between now and 2020, but neither of those visits is set. Wisconsin is scheduled to visit in 2017.
Suddenly, the Cougars seem ill-prepared to take on Bevo and Burnt Orange Nation, after losing 19-16 and looking awful doing it last week at Virginia.
At the same time, Texas was racking up a school-record 715 yards in a 56-7 win over New Mexico State.
"We designed [the schedule] to jump right into it and go," Mendenhall said, making no apologies. "I am looking forward to it. Our team is looking forward to it. I think we have a good chance."
Las Vegas oddsmakers, who have made the Longhorns slightly better than touchdown favorites, certainly don't. Texas defeated BYU 17-16 at Royal-Memorial Stadium in Austin two years ago when many of the same players were freshmen and sophomores. They are juniors and seniors now, with designs on a Big 12 title and perhaps even a national championship.
For their part, Texas coach Mack Brown and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz have preached all week that the team they face at LES won't be the same, mistake-prone one that went 7 of 23 on third down and couldn't block better than a high school team against Virginia.
"We know they're very dangerous," Diaz said. "They will be a little bit like a wounded animal. We will get a better version of BYU than what we saw on tape from the Virginia game ... Hard to put a lot of stock in their performance on Saturday. We know they've got some really good players. They will be eager to show that they're better than how they presented themselves in Week One."
Added Brown: "The team that played Virginia is not the one we will see. ... They are tough at home. They've won 88.9 percent of their home games in the last seven years. They're 40-5."
BYU was without one of its few difference-makers, receiver Cody Hoffman (hamstring), against Virginia. The senior is listed as "probable" for this game.
Texas is almost completely healthy and rarin' to go, and even says it isn't worried about playing at elevation, nearly a mile-high (4,549 feet), in Provo. But the Cougars are hoping that gives them an edge in a game where the Longhorns figure to have better athletes at almost every position.
"I think it is going to be different for them, being at elevation," said BYU junior receiver Ross Apo, from Arlington, Texas. "When I came here from Texas, I was dying, I was on the ground trying to get air. It is a big difference. It is going to be good for us."
Just getting Texas to come to Provo is a plus for BYU, Mendenhall said, noting that he expects every game this season, including this one, to be close and go down to the wire.
"I think we will have a good chance in every game," Mendenhall said. "Certainly, we need to improve, and improve substantially. But I am looking forward to this game."
After Saturday's game, the Cougars will have a bye next weekend and then host rival Utah on Sept. 21.
Texas at BYU
At LaVell Edwards Stadium, Provo
Kickoff • 5 p.m. MDT
TV • ESPN2
Radio • 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
Records • BYU 0-1; Texas 1-0
Series history • BYU leads, 2-1
Last meeting • Texas 17, BYU 16 (Sept. 10, 2011)
About the Longhorns • They set a school record in total offense with 715 yards in last week's 56-7 win over New Mexico State. ... They have 19 returning starters off a team that went 9-4 last year, tied for most in the nation. ... QB David Ash threw for 343 yards and rushed for 91 last week in the opener at Austin. ... They held NMSU to 2.7 yards per rush.
About the Cougars • Receiver Cody Hoffman, who is listed as probable for the game, needs just three touchdowns, 538 yards and 19 receptions to become the all-time BYU record-holder in all three categories. ... They are 15-19 against Big 12 foes. .... Linebacker Uani Unga, who is listed as possible for the game, had a career-high 10 tackles in last week's 19-16 loss to Virginia. Senior Eathyn Manumaleuna had 10 tackles and Alani Fua had eight.