Ole Miss Rebels’ opening foe aims for national title

By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal

The Ole Miss football season will begin with an opponent talking about the national championship – even if it’s a different opponent that was initially scheduled.
Originally the Rebels’ Sept. 3 opener was to be against Boise State. That changed in January when ESPN helped broker a deal to move the Boise State game to 2014 as part of the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff in Atlanta. Part of the agreement gave the Rebels another attractive foe for this season’s opener in Brigham Young.
The game will kick off at 3:45 p.m., and will be on ESPN, which signed an eight-year deal with BYU last September.
At the school’s media day last week, BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall opened the national championship discussion himself.
“Our goal is to win the national championship. We know to do that we have to end up being undefeated. At some point, we will be,” he said.
Mendenhall is 56-21 in his first six seasons at BYU. The Cougars were just 7-6 last year but closed the season with wins in five of their last six games including a 52-24 victory against Rice in the New Mexico Bowl.
The game that got away down the stretch was a 17-16 decision against rival Utah, which has defeated BYU two of the last three years, prompting Mendenhall to focus on the state championship before the national one.
“You have to make sure you’re the best team in the state. Then you can carve your way into the BCS,” Mendenhall said. “You can’t reverse the order.”
Like the Ole Miss staff, the BYU staff has a vastly different look in 2011 including changes in some similar places. The Cougars, like the Rebels, have a new offensive coordinator, Brandon Doman who was promoted, and a new receivers coach in Ben Cahoon.
BYU also has new coaches for the running backs, defensive backs and special teams.
Prior to going 7-6, Mendenhall and the Cougars went 43-9 over a four-year stretch. The BCS hill, though, remains unconquered for BYU.
The Cougars return most of their key offensive players including QB Jake Heaps, who won the job four games into his freshman season last year and went on to pass for 2,136 yards and 15 touchdowns.
“We’re anxious to get to our opening game,” Mendenhall said. “We know we have a lot of work to do, and we know we have to be undefeated to get there (BCS bowl game), but to say that’s not possible, I don’t acknowledge that.”
parrish.alford@journalinc.com.