BYU looking for share of conference title

By Sean Walker, Special to The Daily Utah Chronicle

It’s been the season of seasons in the Mountain West Conference.

When then-No. 15 Brigham Young University officially announced its campaign for the “Quest for Perfection” in August, most fans and players of other MWC schools mocked coach Bronco Mendenhall’s assertion. The jeers decreased with a few convincing (and some not-so-convincing) wins over non-conference opponents Northern Iowa, Washington, UCLA and Utah State.

With those games out of the way, BYU seemed to draw more believers for the completion of its “quest.” After all, many reasoned, the Cougars were undefeated in conference play for two years running.

Then the game against Texas Christian University happened.

Coach Gary Patterson and his Horned Frogs played the role of the spoiler, derailing the Cougs’ quest in Fort Worth, Texas, on Oct. 16 with a 32-7 victory. The “Quest for Perfection” T-shirts were suddenly obsolete.

BYU still owned a shot at the MWC crown. It just needed a little luck on its side. Ironically, that luck came from the Cougs’ neighbors on the hill, in the form of Brian Johnson and the Utes.

No. 12 TCU picked up a taste of its own medicine Nov. 6, rolling into the “Blackout” in Salt Lake City only to be dealt a last-minute 13-10 loss to then-No. 10 University of Utah.

Now all BYU has to do is beat Utah in the lofty confines of Rice-Eccles Stadium to grab a share of the Mountain West title. Easy enough, right?

The U’s Johnson owns more than 15 touchdowns on the season. Just as impressively, the running back tandem of Matt Asiata and Darrell Mack has split time for more than 1,000 yards in 2008. Superstar kicker Louie Sakoda is also nearing 100 points, an unheard-of feat from a special teams player.

However, the Cougars have a few not-so-secret weapons of their own. Quarterback Max Hall, while tumbling from his once-lofty Heisman Watch position, is still in the running for the Davey O’Brian Award for quarterbacks, and for good reason. The junior from Mesa, Ariz., has thrown for close to 3,000 yards and nearly 30 touchdowns on the year. His favorite target, junior Austin Collie, has posted eight games with at least 100 receiving yards, putting him at more than 1,000 yards on the season coming into the showdown in Salt Lake City.

Running backs Harvey Unga and Fui Vakapuna provide a formidable ground attack, while tight ends Dennis Pitta and Andrew George have been the surprise receivers of the season, combining for double-digit touchdowns.

So with their third championship in as many years on the line, don’t expect the Cougars to fall flat Saturday. They still have plenty of weapons, despite the formidable Ute offensive attack. Johnson might be good, and Max Hall might be better, but this year’s “Holy War” will be a matchup of top-tier schools that will decide the fate of the MWC in the Bowl Championship Series system. Like any time these two schools are pitted against one another, anything can happen.

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Editor’s Note8212;Sean Walker is the sports editor at BYU’s campus newspaper, The Daily Universe.

Lennie Mahler

Harvey Unga and the other Cougars earn a share of their third Mountain West title in three years with a win over the Utes.