Provo • After he engineered the comeback win a few weeks ago over his former school, BYU quarterback Riley Nelson issued a warning to Cougar followers everywhere.
Get used to this, he said.
"I have told everybody I get asked about the games a lot from the beginning of the season," Nelson said. "Every time I just say it is [going to be] a dogfight. That's just who we are, and the way our schedule is set up. Every game is going to be decided by a touchdown or less."
If Nelson's prediction holds, that should be positive news to BYU fans, because under coach Bronco Mendenhall the Cougars generally win close games, especially since 2007. On the other hand, when they lose, they tend to lose big. But that's a topic for another day.
In his seventh year, Mendenhall is 18-7 in games decided by seven points or fewer. However, in the past five seasons (2007-2011) he is 16-2 in one-touchdown games, with 17-16 losses to Utah last season and Texas last month the only blemishes.
Already this season, the Cougars (4-2) have won their share of close calls, starting with the opener at Ole Miss, a 14-13 win, and continuing with the 24-17 win over Central Florida and 27-24 victory over Nelson's former team, Utah State. It appeared that last week's 29-16 win over San Jose State would go that way as well, until Travis Uale intercepted a pass to thwart an SJSU drive with just over five minutes remaining.
How does he do it? Mendenhall's not sure.
"You know, I have thought about that a lot, and I don't think I have a fantastic or very clear answer," he said. "… I guess my theory might be the maturity of our players. It might be their ability to handle maybe the chaotic situations a little bit better. It might be tied to age, it might be tied to life experience, or it might be tied to preparation. But I don't have a strong enough feel to tell you which one of those it is."
Nelson, who will most likely get his second-straight start of the season on Saturday when the Cougars travel to Oregon State (2 p.m. MDT, KBYU, Fox Sports Pacific), said the team is ready for nail-biters the rest of the way.
"And I hope Cougar fans are too, because this is how it is going to be," he said. "Obviously, in games like that, games that are close, emotions run high and the highs are really high, and the lows are really low. So it is going to be a fun season."
Incidentally, oddsmakers are calling for another close game this week; Oregon State (1-4) is a 1-point favorite at home. A senior, BYU receiver McKay Jacobson has been involved in a lot of close games, including the 14-13 win over Oklahoma in the 2009 opener.
"In a close game, the team that wins is the one that makes the most plays at the end of the game. And that's really key. So I think there are many factors, but I think that's what it comes down to," he said.
BYU's year-by-year record in games decided by seven points or fewer under coach Bronco Mendenhall:
Rec Close wins Close losses
2005 1-3 New Mexico TCU, Utah, Cal.
2006 1-2 Utah Arizona, B.C.*
2007 4-0 N.M., TCU, Utah, UCLA None
2008 3-0 Wash., UNLV, Colo. St. None
2009 3-0 Oklahoma, N.M., Utah None
2010 3-1 Wash., SDSU, Wyoming Utah
2011 3-1 Ole Miss, UCF, USU Texas
BYU at Oregon State
P Saturday, 2 p.m. MDT
TV • KBYU, Fox College Sports Pacific (Comcast 264; DirecTV 698; Dish 409)