Games don't come a whole lot bigger than Saturday's BYU-TCU match-up, and that's not especially good news for the Cougars.
Their record in the biggies under Bronco Mendenhall isn't particularly promising for them or impressive to anyone else. Since Mendenhall took over as head coach before the 2005 season, BYU is 9-12 in games that carried a little extra heft.
Why? We'll get to that.
First, a closer look at the record, and the notion used for delineating between games that are big and not so big.
Mendenhall, or any other coach, would say every game is huge. That, of course, is nonsense. Playing Northern Iowa isn't the same as playing Oklahoma. Playing San Diego State isn't playing Notre Dame.
Not every drawn line is quite that obvious, although making the distinction is not dissimilar to what old U.S. Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart said about defining hard-core pornography: "I know it when I see it."
Same thing here. It's inexact in every specific, but identifiable on the whole. Many Mountain West games don't qualify.
Review BYU's schedule this season, or any other, and most of the big games stand out. This year, those games include Oklahoma and Florida State. Mendenhall is 1-1 there, with TCU, Utah, and a bowl game yet to go.
Last season, the Cougars were 1-3 in the bigs, beating UCLA at home -- although including the Bruins is generous -- and losing to the Horned Frogs, the Utes, and Arizona in the Vegas Bowl. (All bowls are big games.)
In 2007, BYU was 4-1, beating Arizona, TCU, Utah, and UCLA, and losing to UCLA. Another loss, Tulsa, is left out here, as is the win over Tulsa the previous year.
In 2006, the Cougars went 3-2, losing to Arizona and Boston College, but defeating TCU, Utah, and Oregon.
In 2005, Mendenhall's first team was 0-5, falling to Boston College, TCU, Notre Dame, Utah, and Cal.
Even if we discard that initial season, the mark isn't exactly stellar at 9-7. Bronco is 44-14 overall. Compare Kyle Whittingham's big-game record, using a similar standard, and he is 14-8, 11-6 without the first season. He's 42-15 overall.
The difference could be traced to Mendenhall's persistency and consistency in staying the same, week to week. He has always thought it best not to get too high, nor too low.
And his management style comes across to the public and his players as though it were tumbling straight out of an organizational behavior text or a leadership methodologies manual.
Just this week, the coach said he does not use bulletin-board material, perceived disparaging comments by those outside the program, to motivate his players.
If a TCU Horned Frog popped off in the paper about the Cougars being a bunch of old, slow, soft, mouth-breathing pantywaists, and one of his own players posted it on a team board to fire up his teammates, Mendenhall said he would tear it down, as "just another thing to do."
That's remarkable, considering the number of coaches who jump all over that kind of device, any kind of lack of respect, real or contrived, to push their players. TCU coach Gary Patterson admitted to featuring a tackling dummy dressed as a Cougar player. Urban Meyer had BYU logo cakes placed in the urinals in the Utes' locker room. Whittingham has rabbit ears when it comes to any hint of disrespect, and passes it freely on to his team.
Not Mendenhall, who leaves spiked emotion and over-the-top drama to the others.
"The way Bronco is with the team, that's who he is," says BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe, who coached as an assistant for the San Francisco 49ers and at Stanford and as head coach at Cal. "He may be somewhat reserved in the manner in which his emotion comes out for a big game, but that's his style. He's the same every week. He's consistent. The players know him, so they trust him. If he gave a Knute Rockne speech, they would know something's wrong."
Holmoe adds: "Bronco's not going to win by giving a speech. He's going to win by being prepared."
There is something cool and reassuring about a coach who stays the same, come what may. And, in theory, a team that shows up, calm and confident, reflecting the same steadiness from the boss, regardless of the magnitude of the circumstances, has its appeal.
But somebody once said you have to play football like someone just hit your mother in the mouth with a two-by-four.
In a madman's game like that, with a bunch of kids playing it, it's easy to wonder if more emotion, beyond so much fervent focus on preparation and execution, might give the Cougars a spark they have lacked in big games past.