BYU football is staring down a bear of a schedule next season, and now must swallow the prospect of getting through 2010 without the school's all-time leading rusher. The Cougars open with a revamped and revitalized Washington team, and must travel to Florida State, TCU, and Utah, and they'll be doing it all without Harvey Unga, whose plea for readmission to the university in time for football has been denied:
Unga, the leading rusher in school history with 3,455 career yards, withdrew from the school operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on April 16, saying that he had run afoul of the private school's strict honor code.
As first reported by The Salt Lake Tribune on Wednesday morning, BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins said Unga will not be allowed back in school until January 2011 at the earliest.
Unga withdrew from school in April along with his girlfriend, Keilani Moeaki, a BYU women's basketball starter, who will also not be allowed back in for fall. Head coach Bronco Mendenhall has to be going through antacids like candy at the thought of fielding a team without him, but he maintains his support for Unga, who would be the first person in his family to earn a college degree:
Harvey has been a great teammate and valuable member of our program the past four seasons. I know returning to BYU to finish his degree is a high priority for him. We wish him the very best and offer our continued support.
A high priority, sure. But maybe not the highest. Unga went back and forth this past winter as far as returning for his senior season, and the school's ruling may have him jumpstarting his pro career a little early:
Sources close to Unga say the 6-foot, 237-pound running back who would have been a senior this fall has explored the possibility of entering the NFL's supplemental draft in mid-July.
Unga has been a linchpin of the BYU offense practically since he set foot on the field, rushing for over a thousand yards each of the last three seasons. SBN's Mountain West Connection examines what this means for the Cougar's 2010 prospects:
This could put a hampering on Jake Heaps becoming the starting quarterback this fall, because Unga would have been running the ball at least 20-25 times to help keep the pressure off of Heaps. Heaps looks to be the starter, but he may have to provide more separation between himself and Riley Nelson. Also, another loss should be tacked on the schedule and my early off the cuff projection now has BYU at eight or nine games. Not bad but it would be the first time since 2006 that BYU would not have ten wins.
The running game now falls to J.J Di Lugi, Bryan Kariya, and stud freshman Joshua Quezada; while that group is talented it does not equal what Harvey Unga would do for BYU.