Honolulu • Not counting their chance to claim an unofficial piece of the Western Athletic Conference championship, the independent BYU Cougars seemingly don't have a lot to play for here in this tropical paradise against Hawaii at Aloha Stadium on Saturday.
Win or lose, the 8-3 Cougars will play in the Armed Forces Bowl in Dallas, on Dec. 30 against a team from Conference USA, most likely Tulsa, Southern Miss or SMU.
But to a man, the Cougars are saying the 5:30 p.m. MST game to be televised by ESPN2 means as much as any other. The reason?
"We really, really want to get to 10 wins," said quarterback Riley Nelson, who is recovering from lung and rib cartilage injuries but will most likely start against the 6-6 Warriors. "Not many teams get [to 10 wins]. That would give us a sense of accomplishment."
Hawaii, meanwhile, has plenty of incentive. The Warriors (6-6) need a win to get an invitation to the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl. And the Warriors always play well when BYU is on the other side of the line of scrimmage, dating back to their days together in the WAC.
The Cougars say giving seven-year coach Bronco Mendenhall his fifth season of 10 or more wins has become the goal ever since the loss to TCU last month, a loss that probably ensured BYU would not crack the Top 25 rankings this season.
"We have been talking about it in the locker room, and [10 wins] is something we really want to accomplish this year. So we will be prepared," defensive back Joe Sampson said.
Running back Bryan Kariya, a senior who has just two games left, said he believes the program has moved forward this year, but 10 wins would solidify that notion in the court of public opinion.
"We didn't start as fast we would have liked to at the beginning of the season, dropping a close one [to Texas]. Then the Utah game. We would have liked to have won those. It has been a productive season. â¦ And we are looking to finish strong," Kariya said.
The Cougars arrived here Wednesday night via a charter flight, had some free time Thursday morning, then practiced hard that afternoon at a high school near the team hotel at Ko Olina. Mendenhall said he believes this team is mature enough and has enough senior leaders to stay focused amidst all the distractions Oahu offers.
Coming off a bye, the coach said BYU is eager to show improvement against a WAC team, Hawaii, that is a notch above Idaho and New Mexico State, and a lot better at home than on the mainland.
"We are trying to play as good of football as we can, with the time we have remaining in relation to our potential, which I don't think we have met, yet," Mendenhall said. "We are getting closer, and when that happens, we have a very good team."
Both teams have used two or more quarterbacks this season, and Hawaii coach Greg McMackin says neither team has an advantage in that area.
"It is the same situation with us," McMackin said, when asked if the Warriors are preparing for both Nelson and sophomore Jake Heaps. "So it all evens out. They are a physical team which runs the football. They have guys who can throw it."
Tale of the tape
BYU 2011 stats Hawaii
29.6 Scoring offense (ppg) 32.4
400.0 Total offense (ypg) 412.9
20.4 Scoring defense (ppg) 28.1
317.9 Total defense (ypg) 375.5
BYU at Hawaii
P At Aloha Stadium (Honolulu)
Kickoff • Saturday, 5:30 p.m. MST
TV • ESPN2
Radio • 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
Records • BYU 8-3, Hawaii 6-6
Series history • BYU leads, 19-8
Last meeting • BYU, 35-32 (2002)
About the Cougars • They are tied for second in the nation in fewest tackles for loss allowed with an average of 3.6 per game. â¦ They are fourth in the nation in third-down conversion percentage, 53.25 percent. â¦ Nine players on BYU's roster are from Hawaii, including starting safety Travis Uale.
About the Warriors • They need a win to become bowl eligible and get an invitation to the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl. â¦ Coach Greg McMackin was Utah's defensive coordinator from 1990-92 and is in his fourth season at UH. â¦ They lost three straight games before downing Tulane 35-23 last week at Aloha Stadium to keep their bowl hopes alive.