It'll take BYU football coach Bronco Mendenhall all of about 90 minutes to figure how ready his Cougars are for the 2010 season.
The media decided to start BYU in third place in its annual voting at the Mountain West Conference Football Media Days in Las Vegas on Tuesday, behind TCU and Utah. Mendenhall's critical eye will interpret every slip, blunder and mistake on Aug. 7, when the Cougars take the field for the first time in fall camp, and go from there.
"I'm pretty open minded," Mendenhall said, "but I'll know what kind of summer we had after that first practice. After that I'll know where, as a team, we need build up places where we might have some weaknesses."
That first practice takes place a week from Saturday, but Mendenhall is already in full football mode and will be in his office on Thursday. He said his wife, Holly, counts the MWC meetings as when she loses her husband to football for the next five months.
"I go to another place," Mendenhall admitted.
TCU, which went 12-1 in 2009 and played in the Fiesta Bowl, garnered all 31 first-place votes in the media voting and finished with 279 total points. Utah scored 242 points, followed by BYU (207) and Air Force (195). Wyoming was fifth, San Diego State sixth, Colorado State seventh, UNLV eighth and New Mexico ninth.
BYU must replace some key offensive and defensive talent, but its a problem Mendenhall has faced before. Last year, the Cougars successfully replaced four of five starting offensive linemen. Mendenhall also referenced the 2007 season, where the Cougars had to replace a three-year starting quarterback (John Beck), the school's leading rusher (Curtis Brown) and two excellent tight ends (Johnny Harline and Dan Coats). This year, BYU must replace a three-year starting quarterback (Max Hall), the school's new all-time leading rusher (Harvey Unga) and two excellent tight ends (Dennis Pitta and Andrew George).
"It's not identical but it's a road we've traveled before," Mendenhall said. "We have four new quarterbacks, six running backs and eight tight ends and I'm not sure who will play yet. It takes leadership and resources to have consistency over time."
He said the next generation of players to step up is key not only on the field immediately but for future BYU recruiting.
"We're a program that replaces as much as 40 percent of its roster with graduating seniors and players going on missions," Mendenhall said. "If the next group isn't ready, we can't sustain the program or the recruiting."
Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham jokingly said it had been a "quiet, uneventful summer," knowing the media would ask plenty of questions about the Utes move to the Pac 10 in 2011.
"The key for us will be to focus on this season," he said. "I've met with our leadership council about it, and we have to have the same mindset we had in 2008 when we went to the Sugar Bowl."
Whittingham was asked who had the bigger target on their back, Utah for moving on to the Pac 10 or TCU for being picked to win the conference.
"TCU, without a doubt, it's no contest," Whittingham said. "They are the logical choice because of what they accomplished last year, it's a no brainer. They have so many things going for them."
As usual, Mendenhall didn't give much credence to the media poll and had the final word on the subject.
"The labels people put on the team are more meaningful after the season is over," he said.
Daily Herald Sports Editor Darnell Dickson can be reached at 801-344-2555 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org