A win over a top-five opponent in its opener had BYU thinking this season could end with a BCS bowl. Those high hopes took a major hit with a rare home loss last week.
Although a BCS bowl seems unlikely, the team still has its sights set on winning the Mountain West Conference.
The 19th-ranked Cougars look to bounce back Saturday when they open conference play against Colorado State, off to its best start in 15 years.
The hype surrounding the BYU program following a 14-13 upset of then-No. 3 Oklahoma in the season opener fizzled last Saturday with a 54-28 loss to then-unranked Florida State. The defeat snapped the Cougars’ 18-game home winning streak and dropped them 12 spots in the rankings to essentially end their BCS aspirations.
“I’ve tried not to acknowledge what was at stake, but it’s hard not to with all the attention,” coach Bronco Mendenhall said.
BYU (2-1) had chances to keep up with the Seminoles but coughed up the ball at crucial moments, committing five turnovers.
The defense wasn’t any better, allowing the Seminoles to convert 12 of 15 third-down attempts and score on all eight trips in the red zone.
A combination of the turnovers and inability to get Florida State off the field left BYU with the ball for 20:09, its smallest time of possession since holding the ball for 19:04 in a loss to Air Force in 2002.
While little went right for the Cougars last weekend, they’re determined not to dwell on it.
“I know this team. I know these guys. We’re going to push through this,” running back Harvey Unga said. “We’ve got a long road ahead of us.”
The road to the program’s second conference title in three years begins against Colorado State (3-0).
BYU, which has won 12 consecutive conference games at LaVell Edwards Stadium, has won five straight over the Rams, including a wild 45-42 victory at Colorado State last season. There were five lead changes in the fourth quarter and the scoring ended with Max Hall’s 17-yard pass to Dennis Pitta with 22 seconds left.
Hall finished with 389 yards and five touchdowns. He’s completed 50 of 65 passes for 744 yards, eight touchdowns and one interception in two career games against the Rams.
The senior quarterback, a Davey O’Brien Award candidate last season, has thrown for over 300 yards in seven of eight games but had a shaky performance against the Seminoles, tossing three interceptions.
While Hall struggled, the Cougars got an encouraging outing from Unga.
After missing the Oklahoma game with a hamstring injury and being limited to three carries in a 54-3 win over Tulane on Sept. 12, Unga finished with 97 yards and a touchdown on 10 rushes.
He hopes to build on that performance against a Colorado State team he ran over for 133 yards and a TD on 24 attempts a year ago. The Rams are susceptible to the run, allowing 169 yards in last Saturday’s 35-20 win over Nevada.
Although Colorado State had trouble stopping the run, it forced five turnovers, setting up 28 points to help the Rams open a season with three straight wins for the first time since starting 7-0 in 1994.
Senior Grant Stucker had another solid game, passing for 165 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 43 yards and a score.
Colorado State coach Steve Fairchild has liked what he has seen from the first-year starter, but how he reacts to playing at LaVell Edwards Stadium remains to be seen.
“I do feel like he is getting better and better and making fewer mistakes,” Fairchild said. “I like what he has done so far. Is he ready for the BYU game? I hope so.”