Provo • There was a lot of talk about raising the bar and taking the football program to another level.
But unlike last year, the words "national championship" were barely mentioned as BYU held its annual football media day on Wednesday at the BYU Broadcast Center.
"To put it bluntly, there's going to be more expected now than ever before," BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said in a lengthy interview with print reporters. "I am after more. That's the main message to our program this offseason."
After touting his program's accomplishments in his seven-year tenure, Mendenhall said the next goal is a top-10 national ranking at season's end, but he stopped short of declaring a goal of making it to the BCS and perhaps playing for a national title, as he has in the past.
"Certainly, this team is capable of finishing in the top 10," he said.
With the opening of preseason camp more than a month away BYU begins preparations for the 2012 season on Aug. 1 and the opener against Washington State is Aug. 30 at LaVell Edwards Stadium the Cougars agreed the focus of offseason workouts has been on better fitness, conditioning and nutrition.
"If you want to see how much the team has changed in that area, look at how much the offensive line has trimmed down," said running back Mike Alisa. "Those guys look cut. ... Our offensive line looks like an NFL line."
Mendenhall acknowledged in the get-together's televised opening hour that the players' conditioning and fitness level last year was less than satisfactory, then clarified later that he was mostly referring to the work done in the summer when coaches are not allowed to conduct practices and workout sessions.
Just a few minutes into the opening hour, the lack of a scheduling contract with rival Utah was brought up, and not because the Utes had just announced a two-game series with Michigan.
As of now, the Utes and Cougars aren't scheduled to play after Sept. 15 in Salt Lake City.
"I can say, from where we are, we would like to play them every year," Mendenhall said. "... It is an intriguing matchup, one of the best rivalries in the world, in any sport, and to think it might go away doesn't make a lot of sense to me."
Athletic director Tom Holmoe said he believes the game will still be played, but acknowledged Utah has reservations.
"Utah has made some overtures that there may be reasons why they want to drop it," he said. "If they do, that's their choosing. But we do not want to drop it."
Mendenhall said he "likes the idea" of moving the annual BYU-Utah State game to the last week of the season and said USU coach Gary Andersen "has a lot of class and is doing a fantastic job."
Another major topic of the day was the announcement by a presidential oversight committee on Tuesday that college football will turn to a seeded, four-team playoff to determine a national champion after the 2014 season and do away with the controversial Bowl Championship Series.
"It is better than the system that was set up before," said Holmoe. "It is a move in the right direction."
But is it better for BYU?
"If we are good, we will be recognized by the nation," Holmoe said, confidently.
Mendenhall said the four-team playoff "will clear up the naming of a national champion, which is something I think every coach wants." He said BYU will probably have to be undefeated against a strong schedule to be considered for one of the four spots.
"We may have to do it twice," he said.
Regarding BYU's future as a football independent, Holmoe said: "We are who we are, and we like who we are."
In personnel news, Mendenhall said safety Jray Galea'i and receiver Rhen Brown have been forced to quit football due to chronic injuries but will remain in school.
Media day highlights
• BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall and athletic director Tom Holmoe reiterated their desire to continue the football rivalry with Utah but said the ball is in Utah's court.
• Fitness and nutrition has been the theme of offseason workouts, with the Cougars vowing they will be better conditioned in 2012.
• Mendenhall and Holmoe are in favor of the four-team playoff to determine a national champion, saying it is better than the BCS system, which ends after the 2013 season.