Provo • Because they now have six wins after beating New Mexico 40-7 on Saturday, the BYU Cougars (6-5) will go to a bowl game for the sixth straight year.
Ask the players which destination they prefer, and it is sixes as well. Some want to go to the Las Vegas Bowl again Â for the sixth time while others would like a change of postseason scenery.
To a man, though, the Cougars said they don't want to think about any game beyond the next one: Saturday's 1:30 p.m. showdown with the Utah Utes at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Coach Bronco Mendenhall said he would let the Cougars enjoy last week's win the rest of Saturday and all of Sunday, then begin "Utah Week" on Monday.
"For everything that we have been through, [bowl eligibility] means a lot," quarterback Jake Heaps said. "It means a lot to every single one of us. To be able to come back from the adversity that we had, to be able to come together as a team when so many people didn't think we could do it, where we easily could have failed, I think we persevered through all that. I think we are a closer team because of it. â¦ We are happy with getting bowl-eligible, but it is all about finishing this season out right, so let's go and try to get the best bowl we can."
However, most experts seem to think that regardless of what happens in the Utah-BYU game, Utah will be picked to play in the Las Vegas Bowl (if probable MWC champion TCU goes to a BCS game) and the Cougars will get an invite to the Armed Forces Bowl in Dallas on Dec. 30.
The bowl with second pick of non-BCS MWC teams, San Diego's Poinsettia Bowl, is a virtual lock to take hometown San Diego State (7-4) to pit against Navy.
The Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La., has third pick and is expected to take 8-4 Air Force.
The Armed Forces Bowl has fourth pick of MWC bowl-eligible teams not taken by the BCS, and at that point BYU would be the only bowl-eligible MWC team remaining. If the BCS doesn't take TCU Â imagine the outcry if that happens BYU would likely slide to the New Mexico Bowl, which is Dec. 18 in Albuquerque.
"Of all the six seasons so far I have been able to coach, I think this particular team has been given more lessons that might be of substance and value for their lives than the others," Mendenhall said when asked about becoming bowl-eligible. "It has been difficult, and pretty gratifying to have given ourselves a chance to play in the postseason again."
The Cougars entered the New Mexico game as one of the nation's 10 least-penalized teams, but were flagged 14 times for 141 yards against the Lobos and now rank 40th nationally in terms of fewest penalties.
"Too many penalties," said running back J.J. Di Luigi. "We need to stop with the penalties, because that can really hurt a drive, especially in a big game."
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P BYU (6-5) at Utah (9-2), 1:30 p.m.
TV • The Mtn., CBS College