Similar records, different methods

By By Bubba Brown

By Bubba Brown

Since Kyle Whittingham and Bronco Mendenhall took over their respective programs in 2005, Utah and BYU have been two of the top teams in the nation.

Whittingham’s Utes have accumulated a 46-16 record in his tenure, and Mendenhall has led the Cougars to a 47-15 mark in the same span.

However, the two schools have compiled these remarkably similar records in different fashions.

In Whittingham’s first three years, the Utes were mediocre, winning seven, eight and nine games in those seasons before jumping to 13 wins in last season’s BCS-busting campaign. This season, the Utes can secure a second straight 10-win season with a victory over BYU or a win in their bowl game. Utah has spent the past two seasons in the polls, entering them after a win over Michigan in its first game last season. The Utes have been ranked ever since.

Whittingham credits the success to the players.

“It just goes back to preparation,” he said. “Our guys do such a good job Monday through Friday.”

During the past five seasons, the Utes have been defined by big wins.

Since 2005, Utah has played in its share of big games and usually come out on top. The Utes have gone 4-0 in bowl games, including wins over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and Georgia Tech in the Emerald Bowl. In 10 games against BCS foes, Utah has gone 7-3.

Senior safety Robert Johnson said he believes the Utes don’t do anything different in perceived big games.

“We play the way we normally play,” Johnson said. “Some people feel we step up and play big, but that’s how we always play.”

During the same period, the Cougars have been one of the most consistent teams in the nation. After posting a 6-6 record in 2005, BYU has posted three consecutive 10-win years, winning 11 games in both 2006 and 2007 and winning 10 games last season. The Cougars can notch a fourth straight 10-win season by beating Utah or winning their bowl game. BYU entered the polls in the last few games of the season and finished ranked in both 2006 and 2007. The team spent all of the past two seasons in the Top 25, except for a one-week span this season after losing to TCU.

Mendenhall compared his teams’ success with that of Utah’s.

“I think consistency. I think on a year-by-year basis (the Utes) are improving and playing good football. So from the on-the-field perspective, I think they’re teams executes well, I think they play hard; I think it’s very similar to what has happened down here.”

Despite remarkable consistency, the Cougars have come close, but have never been able to bust through the BCS bowl door. In 2006, a three-point loss to Arizona and a double-overtime loss to ranked Boston College kept the Cougars out of a big-money bowl. The following year, BYU fell in close games at ranked UCLA and to Tulsa. Last season, road losses to TCU and Utah8212;which both finished in the Top 108212;spoiled BYU’s chance of a perfect record. Two home losses this season to Florida State and TCU ensured the Cougars won’t get there this season either.

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