"If you look at our team, I am not sure if anyone would study the roster and look at the production, how they wouldn't be smiling for the future," Mendenhall said.
Quarterback Jake Heaps gets the most notoriety, and his phenomenal game earned him plenty of airtime on ESPN's Saturday evening highlight shows, but he wasn't the only freshman who shined against the Miners.
From the time redshirt freshman JD Falslev returned a punt 43 yards to set up the Cougars' first touchdown, to the time redshirt freshman Cody Hoffman caught his third touchdown pass of the day, to the time true freshman Josh Quezada capped BYU's scoring with an 8-yard TD run, the young Cougars made followers forget that 1-4 start.
"I am excited for our schedule next year, and I am excited for the future, mostly because now the younger players on this particular team have seen how difficult it is to win games at the college level," Mendenhall said. "This particular season now does a nice job of setting a baseline for what it is really going to take to even reach the level of success we did this year. … This now just becomes a starting point."
Freshman defenders also got into the act: linebacker Zac Stout made three tackles, linebacker Kyle Van Noy had a sack, a pass breakup and a solo tackle, and safety Jray Galea'i and defensive end Graham Rowley also saw meaningful action.
"The future is bright," said senior safety Andrew Rich. "There are athletes everywhere you look."
Rich said starting 1-4 might be the best thing that has happened to the program since he's been there because it taught valuable lessons to the freshmen about having to earn every win with hard work.
"I couldn't be more proud of those guys. They kind of got thrown into the fire at the very beginning," he said.
None of the freshmen who played Saturday has announced plans to go on a church mission. Several other newcomers who redshirted this year running backs Algernon Brown, A.J. Moore and Drew Phillips, receiver Ross Apo (if he's granted a medical redshirt), offensive tackle Jordan Black, tight end/defensive end Alani Fua and safety Kory Gaines are expected to compete for starting spots next year. So far, the only big miss for the coaching staff from the class of 2010 signees is defensive tackle Tayo Fabuluje, who has asked for his release and will transfer.
"We have a great opportunity to have a really bright future, going independent and having the schedule that we have," Heaps said. "We have a lot of potential, and it would be a shame not to reach it."
Key freshman contributors for BYU in 2010
Jake Heaps Quarterback
Showed he's the real deal in last five games
Joshua Quezada Running Back
Had 405 rushing yards in last six games
Cody Hoffman Receiver
Finished second on team in receiving yards
JD Falslev Kick returner
Special teams ace could see bigger role
Devin Mahina Tight end
Six catches for 76 yards in last three games
Richard Wilson Tight end
Got chance and played well in first and last games
Austin Holt Tight end
Probably best blocking TE, although catches were few
Graham Rowley Defensive end
Pressed into duty by injuries, responded well
Thomas Bryson Defensive end
Versatile player also used some at linebacker
Kyle Van Noy Linebacker
Should be a defensive mainstay for years
Note • Hoffman, Falslev, Wilson and Bryson redshirted in 2009