In March 2011, BYU's spring football was almost an afterthought compared to raging Jimmer-mania and the success of the talented Cougar basketball team.
Things are different in 2012.
With hoops team beat up and struggling, BYU fans might be ready to turn their attention to football for awhile.
The hiatus between the end of the gridiron season and the start of spring practices is over and the Cougars are ready to get back to work starting Monday.
"Our players and coaches are excited to start practicing again" said BYU head football coach Bronco Mendenhall. "We have a lot of senior leadership this year. We are looking forward to continuing to build the program."
Mendenhall explained that spring ball is very different from fall camp with the focus being on growth and development instead of game preparation.
"We want to be consistent and solidify positions as well as develop players," he said. "We’re always trying to self-scout because we believe we can be better. We also want to make sure we embed the culture of BYU football in this next team and a lot of that has to do with the younger players as they are integrated fully.
“But I’ve learned to keep spring in perspective. I want the players healthy, I want them as experienced as can be and I want our best idea of depth, but it’s not fall yet."
The Cougar coach said he personally enjoys having the chance to get see how the players have improved during the offseason workouts.
"This is so much fun," he said. "Recruiting is a different stage. It is a lot of fun as you work to add the next group of players to your program, but our loyalties and relationships with our current team are so strong that you can’t wait to get back with them."
Mendenhall said he doesn’t expect anything dramatically different this season from any of the past years. He just wants to start getting his team ready.
“Sometimes the positions change year to year in what you need to replace,” he said. “But really we’re looking to establish another strong consistent football team that has a chance to win every game. We’re always looking for ways to push that envelope, but not much has changed. It’s more business as usual with maybe a few innovative ideas.”
Here's a look at the top 10 stories to watch during the next month of practice:
1. Nelson under center
After a spring of uncertainty last year, senior quarterback Riley Nelson enters this season firmly entrenched as the starter. While the team rallied around Nelson's competitiveness and leadership last fall, this is now his team and he needs to be the on-field leader from Day 1.
2. Quarterback development
Senior James Lark appears to be solidly in position as the backup to Nelson, but Mendenhall is looking at the future with players like Jason Munns, Ammon Olson and Taysom Hill. Munns had off-season surgery but the other two will be competing with Alex Kuresa to get more repetitions and experience.
3. The blind side
For much of the last few years, BYU has had a solid, talented player guarding the blind side of the quarterback in Matt Reynolds. Now arguably the best lineman in recent Cougar history is moving on and someone else is going to have to step in and fill that spot. While Nelson can make things happen on his own, that protection is still top priority.
4. Snap decisions
While Reynolds may have been the bigger name, the replacement for center Terence Brown will also need to be ready to shoulder a big load. Not only does he have the responsibility of snapping the ball and blocking, but he will also play a big role in making sure the line is on the same page.
5. The workhorse
Junior Michael Alisa appears to be the headliner in the backfield after his performance late last season, but Mendenhall expects a battle with junior Josh Quezada, plus an addition to the team from a completely different sport.
“We have a player that transferred over from rugby who is one of the best rugby players in the world,” the coach said. “His name is Paul Lasiki and it will be fun to see that continued battle.”
6. Last line of defense
BYU lost some talented secondary players as safety Travis Uale and cornerback Corby Eason both graduated, meaning other Cougars are now battling for those positions. Jordan Johnson and Robbie Buckner will be trying to gain an advantage at corner, while Joe Sampson, Daniel Sorensen and Mike Hague will be looking to play at safety.
7. Making the most of the opportunity
With 14 players scheduled to miss spring practice — including notable starters such as linebacker Kyle Van Noy, kicker Justin Sorensen and cornerback Preston Hadley — this is a chance for other guys to prove themselves. Expect at least one or two guys who have gotten very little publicity to make a name for themselves because they have an opening.
8. Leading the way
Since all four captains last season were seniors, various position groups will have new leaders emerging. Spring is an opportunity for players to establish themselves and prove to the coaches that they are able to get the most from the other guys in their units.
9. Receiver stockpile
With junior Cody Hoffman, sophomore Ross Apo and junior JD Falslev all back, the first line of wideouts appears to be in good shape but Mendenhall said the offense wants to work on developing the next group.
“We’re looking to establish that next tier,” he said. “We have Mitch Mathews, Brett Thompson and Jordan Smith who we want to develop in additions to the ones we have.”
10. The big step forward
Many of BYU’s young coaches barely had started their new roles when spring rolled around last year, but now they have 12 months of experience to draw on. Spring ball will provide an indication of what they have learned and what ideas they might be able to add to the process.