As BYU opens its fall football camp, two things are clear:
The pressure is on, and BYU is embracing it.
No, we're not talking about the kind of pressure coaches such as Charlie Weis faces at Kansas after three seasons with a 4-20 record. Bronco Mendenhall is certainly not on the hot seat.
But if there's ever been a time for the Cougars to "Rise Up," it's now.
The college football landscape is changing as the new College Football Playoff era dawns. The so-called Power 5 conferences are looking to consolidate their power over the FBS. Listening to conference commissioners during their media days, it sure sounds like the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC will receive the autonomy they asked for from the NCAA.
The gap between the college football "haves" and "have-nots" is about to get wider.
While BYU is in a better position than most programs outside the "Power 5," the Cougars are still on the outside looking in. Sure, at least one of the "Power 5" likes playing BYU, namely the Pac-12, but new scheduling rules by the ACC and SEC leaving BYU out of Power 5 scheduling status shows how far BYU still has to go.
The Cougars haven't been a bad program by any means since leaving the Mountain West for independence. There are plenty of programs that would love to have a 26-13 record over three seasons, not to mention a 2-1 record in bowl games.
However, BYU's recent record simply isn't good enough in the current college football climate as an independent. The last time BYU finished ranked in the Coaches Poll was 2011, and you have to go back to 2009 for the last time the Cougars finished ranked in the final AP poll. BYU is overdue for a return to the Top 25.
An 8-5 season with losses to the likes of 2-10 Virginia simply won't do in 2014. At least, it won't do given BYU's goal to remain nationally relevent in this new college football landscape.
Mendenhall seems to recognize the position BYU finds itself as an independent under the new playoff system. After all, Mendenhall told the Austin American-Statesman, "We have a chip on our shoulder," during his well-publicized interview about wanting to join the Big 12. “I could have given you that instead of the longer answer. I’m just wondering who fights for us as an independent?"
Hopefully for Cougar fans, that chip on Mendenhall's shoulder will translate into more wins this season.
Now, BYU doesn't have to go 12-0 and bust into the new College Football Playoff for 2014 to be a success. While that would certainly be huge for this program, an undefeated season and an invitation to a playoff game is an unrealistic expectation at this point.
Mendenhall himself set the expectation at BYU's Media Day when KSL's Greg Wrubell asked the head coach what he'd consider a special season.
"Ten wins or more," Mendenhall said with no hesitation. "Ten or more is the bottom line for the BYU football program."
That's not an unreasonable expectation given the players BYU returns as well as a solid but not overly difficult schedule. The Cougars have some difficult road games at Texas, Central Florida and Boise State. While few of BYU's opponents will be easy, this year's schedule is certainly manageable.
Not to mention BYU has its strongest quarterback/running back duo in years with Taysom Hill and Jamaal Williams. While the Cougars still have some question marks to work out this fall, this team appears to have what it takes to win double-digit games against their 2014 opponents.
BYU will probably need at least 10 wins to ensure a Top 25 finish. In this uncertain new world of college football, BYU cannot afford to let another season pass without a national ranking.
The Cougars need a strong start to the season at UConn on Aug. 29. BYU has the unfortunate habit of starting the season on the wrong foot. The Cougars have started 1-2 or worse three of the last four seasons.
There's an awful lot BYU can't control in this brave new world of college football, but there is one thing it can: how it performs on game day. It's up to the Cougars to prove that they belong at the highest levels of college football.
Lafe Peavler is a staff sports writer for the Deseret News. Follow him on Twitter @LafePeavler.