BRONCO MENDENHALL is aware that BCS busting begins with a dynamic offense. From Utah (45.3 points per game) in 2004 to Boise State (39.7) in '06 to Hawaii (43.4) last year, every mid-major that has broken through has done so with a blazing attack. Coming off two straight 11--2 seasons that produced Mountain West titles—and with an offense that averaged 30.1 points last year and has 10 starters returning, including all-conference quarterback Max Hall—BYU aspires to a berth in one of the five championship series bowls. The Cougars just have to avoid shootouts like last September's 55--47 loss to Tulsa.
While only three full-time starters are back from a defense that ranked ninth in the country in points allowed (18.5), Mendenhall has All-Mountain West defensive end Jan Jorgensen, a 6'3", 256-pound junior, to build around. A native of Helper, Utah, Jorgensen originally signed with Kentucky in 2002, but after spending his first two years out of high school on a Mormon mission in Boise he transferred to BYU. By the time he got back into a game, following a redshirt season, Jorgensen was a 22-year-old starter with freshman eligibility in 2006. Last year he led the conference in tackles for loss (20) and sacks (14). "Jan epitomizes BYU defense," says Mendenhall. "He's much more mature than the kids he's lining up against, he's quick and strong, and he's successful because he's so detail-oriented. His technique is tremendous."
Contributing to Jorgensen's success were linebackers Bryan Kehl and Kelly Poppinga, the principal playmakers in Mendenhall's 3--4 scheme who combined for 204 tackles in '07 but who have moved on to the NFL. This year Jorgensen will have to create most of the havoc and take some of the pressure off a back eight that has one full-time starter returning. "Teams will probably think they'll be able to score on us, but I'm not worried," says Jorgensen. "It was the same situation here two years ago, and we ranked in the top 10 in the country [in scoring defense]."
The Cougars' confidence in their ability to come together quickly on defense is a big reason why they're comfortable talking about making a run at a BCS bid. The offense, with Hall, a junior, looking to exceed his 2007 numbers of 3,848 passing yards and 26 TDs, speaks for itself. "Nobody's going to be satisfied with just winning the Mountain West," says Jorgensen. "Our goals have to be higher than that."