In a season featuring several signature victories, BYU achieved an 11-2 record and No. 12 final ranking in the national polls while strengthening its tradition as one of the nation’s top football programs.
The Cougars opened the season with a 14-13 win over No. 3 Oklahoma in Dallas and finished with a 44-20 triumph over No. 16 Oregon State in the Maaco Bowl Las Vegas, going 3-1 overall against nationally ranked opponents including an 26-23 overtime win over No. 19 Utah.
With a 7-1 Mountain West Conference record, BYU was the runner-up to No. 4 TCU in league play, suffering its lone conference defeat at the hands of the Horned Frogs. The team’s only other setback was a loss to Florida State in legendary coach Bobby Bowden’s final season.
The Cougars went 5-2 against bowl teams in 2009 with wins over Oklahoma, Utah, Air Force, Wyoming and Oregon State and losses to TCU and Florida State. BYU earned its highest-ever final BSC standing at No. 14 heading into the best matchup ever in the Las Vegas Bowl. Making their fifth consecutive bowl trip to Las Vegas, the Cougars were the highest-ranked team to ever play in the game at No. 15 in the AP and 14 in the coaches’ poll, while the Beavers entered the contest ranked No. 16 (AP) and No. 20 (USA Today) in the national polls and No. 18 in the final BCS standings to create the first matchup of ranked teams in the bowl’s history.
BYU dominated the Pac-10 second-place Beavers to earn the Cougars’ third bowl victory in the last four years—something last accomplished by BYU teams during a four-year span from 1981-1984. BYU made its fifth straight bowl appearance for the first time since a string of 17 consecutive bowls invitations from 1978 through 1994. BYU head coach Mendenhall is the only coach in BYU football history to take his first five teams to a bowl game.
The Cougars are one of only six schools nationally to be ranked in both final polls and the final BCS standings each of the last four years and the only program to do so from a non-automatic-qualifying BCS conference. With a 43-9 record over the last four years, BYU has won more games than all but four teams in the country (Boise State, Florida, Texas, and Ohio State).
Individually, seven members of the BYU football team were named to the 2009 All-Mountain West Conference teams while six other Cougars received honorable mention.
Senior tight end Dennis Pitta was a unanimous first-team selection and was joined on the first unit by senior defensive end Jan Jorgensen, junior running back Harvey Unga and sophomore offensive tackle Matt Reynolds. Pitta and Jorgensen earned the unique distinction of being first-team selections for the third time as both also earned top recognition in 2007 and 2008. They are two of only six players in league history to earn first-team honors three times during their respective careers.
Senior quarterback Max Hall, senior tight end Andrew George and junior safety Andrew Rich were named to the league’s second team. Cougars receiving honorable mention include senior linebacker Coleby Clawson, senior defensive end Brett Denney, senior safety Scott Johnson, senior center R.J. Willing, junior cornerback Brian Logan and freshman punter Riley Stephenson.
Pitta and TCU defensive lineman Jerry Hughes were the only unanimous selections, an honor both achieved last year as well. With Pitta’s selection, BYU claimed first-team tight end honors each of the past five seasons with Pitta earning the past three awards following Jonny Harline’s back-to-back honors in 2005 and 2006. In 2009 BYU claimed both first- and second-team tight end accolades with George receiving second-team recognition. This marked the first time in MWC history both selections have been garnered by players from the same team.
After second-team honors last year, Unga led the MWC in rushing in 2009 to earn his place on the first team. Hall earned all-conference selection each of his three seasons leading the BYU offense, receiving first-team accolades in 2007 and second-team recognition the past two seasons.
Reynolds, George and Rich were first-time selections to the All-MWC teams, and Reynolds became only the second sophomore to earn first-team offensive lineman accolades since the inception of the MWC.
During the season several BYU players set several records. Among them, Hall passed Ty Detmer as the BYU quarterback with the most wins as a starter. He has led the Cougars to 32 wins in his three seasons behind center. Harvey Unga became the school’s all-time leading rusher with his third straight 1,000-yard season. All-American tight end Dennis Pitta set school records for tight end receiving yards and overall receptions while also setting a new NCAA record for most career receiving yards by a tight end.
Pitta headlined the individual accolades as an NCAA Consensus All-American while being named to 10 different All-America teams. One of three finalists for the Mackey Award, Pitta led all tight ends in receiving yards with 829 yards.
With the team’s third 11-2 season in the last four years, Mendenhall finished the season ranked No. 4 among active FBS coaches for best winning percentage with a .766 success rate at 49-15 overall. Only Urban Meyer of Florida (.842), Bob Stoops of Oklahoma (.801) and Mark Richt of Georgia (.769) have better winning percentages than Mendenhall among coaches with at least five years as a head coach.