December 7, 2008

The Wildcats in Las Vegas and a look at BYU's past five bowl games.

No shocker today. BYU is playing Arizona in the XVII (Thanks for clarifying that much needed stat) Pioneer Las Vegas Bowl. I'm excited, I just hope the team is.

Now I know all the expectation this season was to go perfect and be BCS bound but it didn't happen. Oh well, time to move on and get excited for the best matchup we have seen in the Vegas Bowl since coming here in 2005. Both teams know each pretty well and each have a respect for one another. Unlike that clown Mike Bellotti from Oregon in 2006. Cal Head Coach Jeff Tedford came off as arrogant towards BYU it seemed like as well going into the 2005 matchup. Arizona on the other hand, is a team and a program that is just thrilled to be bowl bound. I'm excited for the "Rubber Match" against a talented Arizona team. Just another good bowl team BYU has had over the years. Which got me to thinking about all the good bowl teams that BYU has played as of late. So I give you a little reference quide to BYU's past five bowl games. Enjoy.

2007 Las Vegas Bowl: UCLA, Win, 17-16

BYU had lost earlier in the season to UCLA at the Rose Bowl, 17 to 27; in a game that BYU knew they should have won over the Bruins who were #13 in the nation at that time. The Bruins finished 2007 with a mediocre 6-6 record and fired Head Coach Karl Dorrell. UCLA put Defensive Coordinator Dewayne Walker as the interim coach for the bowl game. The Bruins looked like a team on paper that had no prayer against the Cougs who had just won ten straight games coming in and another Mountain West Championship but the Bruins defense kept them in it playing a spirited game to make a case for Walker to be the next head coach. Defensive End Bruce Davis was a mad man for the Bruins on and off the field, on the field he was causing havoc on BYU's Offensive Line like he did in the first matchup; off the field he was making cutting of the throat gestures towards BYU fans. He looked like a guy who had not taken his steroids that day.

BYU was shooting themselves in the foot the entire first half with UCLA's offense doing nothing and BYU not capitalizing. The biggest play of the first half was when BYU backed up by their own endzone with less than a minute left in the half decided to run the ball rather than take a knee. Harvey Unga fumbled the ball and UCLA capitalized scoring a Touchdown as time expired on the half to bring the score to 17-13, when clearly it should of been a lot more in BYU's favor.

BYU continued to struggle in the second half offensively, not scoring any points but that didn't mean stud Wide Receiver Austin Collie didn't make some amazing catches. Collie earned MVP honors for the game with his six catches for 107 yards and a touchdown. But Collie's efforts were still not enough for BYU to put up points. UCLA's offense put up a drive late in the game with less than two minutes putting the Bruins in Field Goal range which was set up by the key completion from Bethel-Thompson (yeah seriously) to Logan Paulsen for 36 yards and but the Bruins on the BYU 13 yard-line. We all now what happens after that as Eathyn Manumaleuna the stud Freshman who started every game in replace of the injured Russell Tialavea at DT got his big Cougar paw on the Kai Forbath kicked ball and BYU won it's 2nd straight bowl game. The first time that had happened since the '94 and '96 Bowl games.

2006 Las Vegas Bowl: Oregon, W, 38-8

BYU came into this Las Vegas Bowl clicking on all cylinders, 8-0 in Mountain West play and had a historic come from behind win over arch-rival Utah, everything was going right for the Cougs. But there was still unfinished business of beating a Pac-10 opponent and getting the first bowl victory since the 1997 Cotton Bowl.

Going in, it looked like this would be a game that was evenly matched and should be a close one. People mainly thought that because of BYU's lack of success against BCS schools in recent history and that season (losses at Arizona and Boston College), but these were two teams headed in opposite directions. BYU was rolling and Oregon had lost their last three including the Civil War game against Oregon State. This game however, had its bulletin board material with Oregon Head Coach Mike Bellotti saying BYU wouldn't do well in the Pac-10 conference and the Mountain West Conference was inferior to the Pac-10 and at the Fremont Street Extravaganza a fight broke lose when BYU was doing the Haka, a Oregon player got into the fray and started pushing. Nothing serious happened but you could clearly see both teams didn't like one another and it was classic Pac-10 not respecting BYU garbage.

BYU struggled early, with a few dropped passes by Matt Allen but other than that BYU rolled to an easy win over the Ducks who had an ugly yellow helmet with flames. Oregon's offense couldn't do anything on the Cougar D who was starting Cole Miyahira at Cornerback in replace of Ben Criddle who suffered a foot injury due to the horrible turf at Rice Chex Stadium. QBs Dennis Dixon and Brady Leaf were helpless as former BYU HC Gary Crowton's offense was ineffective against the Cougar D. It was a great way to cap off the Comeback season for guys like John Beck, Curtis Brown, Jonny Harline and Cameron Jensen who led the Return To Glory charge for BYU Football. Another thing I loved about this bowl game was that it was one of the few games BYU played up to its potential and played really well.

2005 Las Vegas Bowl: California, L, 28-35

The first bowl game since 2001. BYU was matched up with a Cal team who started the 2005 season ranked #19 in the Coaches Poll. Cal started the season 5-0 but went on to lose four out of their final six due to the loss of QB Nate Longshore due to injury and costly turnovers. The Bears still had future NFL star Marshawn Lynch at Running Back and Justin Forsett, the Bears also had one of the best defenses in all of College Football.

Lynch was too much for BYUs D to handle as he ran for 194 yards and three TDs, as BYU's late comeback effort fell short when John Beck threw a interception to seal the win for the Bears. But there were many positives to take from this game going into 2006. BYU was the only team other than USC to produce 90+ yard scoring drives on the Bear defense, BYU did it three times. Cal was obviously no slouch as that same Bears team practically returned in 2006 and was a Pre-Season Top 10 team in 2006.

You could see John Beck finding his groove though in this game with the new Robert Anae offense and it made BYU hungrier for better results in 2006. I think that story turned out nicely.

2001 Liberty Bowl: Louisville, L, 10-28

This is one of those games I always look back at and wonder what could of been. Doak Walker winning RB Luke Staley was of course out after tearing his ACL in the final minutes at Mississippi State and practically all of BYU's team was banged up and staggering into the bowl game after getting lit up at Hawai'i 72-45, in a game where BYU was playing for nothing already knowing the BCS was out of the question.

BYU was a worn out team already playing 13 games coming into the not fan-friendly Liberty Bowl on New Year's Eve. #22 Louisville was no slouch and was a program on the rise and had one of their best seasons in school history led by QB Dave Ragone and future Super Bowl MVP WR Deion Branch. Louisville was a talented group on both sides of the ball and BYU was struggling to find its idenity again with a defense that was giving up points at will and no rushing attack. It was a sad outing. Offensive Lineman scored the only touchdown for the Cougs in that game as BYU put up a season-low 10 points in a season that saw over 600 points scored in Head Coach Gary Crowton's first season.

Here's some sad stats from this game. Leading rusher: Paul Petersen (73 yards, 15 carries). Leading receiver: Andrew Ord (4 catches-62 yards). No one left to put up a good effort and the program still didn't have the Indoor Practice Facility at this time so the bowl preparation was being done in the sorry Smith Fieldhouse. Not a good combo.

1999 Motor City Bowl: Marshall, L, 3-21

Another BYU team that came into the bowl game reeling. Lost the last two games of the regular season to Wyoming and Utah causing BYU to share the first Mountain West championship in a 3-way tie with both Colorado State and the Utes. Had BYU won one of those last two they would of won the league outright.

Marshall on the other hand, was undefeated coming into the game and looking to prove they should have been considered for a BCS bowl led by future NFL player Chad Pennington at Quarterback. The Thundering Herd were a offensive juggernaut and a Mid-Major powerhouse at the time.

BYU got on the board first with a 28-yard Owen Pochman FG in the opening quarter but that was it for the Cougs as Pennington to WR Doug Chapman was the theme the rest of the afternoon in Mo Town.

Things got ugly for BYU QB Kevin Feterik who was playing in his last game as a Cougar. Feterik got injured with a collarbone injury from all the pressure the Marshall defense caused. Feterik was pissed and got after the O-Lineman grabbing one of their facemasks. If I remember correctly it was John Skiba's facemask he grabbed. Bret Engemann and Charlie Petersen had to finish the game for BYU. Another thing that didn't play into BYU's favor was stud Freshman Luke Staley only played the opening drive, after that he was done due to his lingering knee injury. It was the first 3-game losing skid to end a season in LaVell's coaching tenure at BYU.

I don't want to stop, I'm in the mood to keep going here's quicker recaps for the next five games.

1998 Liberty Bowl: Tulane, L, 27-41

Along with Marshall in '99 Tulane was a undefeated Mid-Major led by a future NFL QB, the Green Wave had Shaun King. King torched BYU's secondary who didn't have Heshimu Robertson due to Grades, so Rob Warcup was getting burned all day. On the other side, Brian Gray, King and the Wave weren't even looking his way. Ronney Jenkins was also suspended in this ball game. The Wave and the '99 Marshall squad are the only undefeated teams in the '90s to go undefeated and not claim at least a share of the National Championship.

1997 Cotton Bowl: Kansas State, W, 19-15

The first ever New Year's Day bowl in BYU's history in the historic Cotton Bowl. Kansas State didn't give BYU any respect leading up to the game and the Cougars proved K-State should of given the Cougs more respect as Steve Sarkisian went to K.O. Kealauhi and James Dye to put BYU up 19-15. Defensively, LB Shay Muirbrook was a beast at Linebacker with five sacks and Omar "The Blanket" Morgan sealed the win with a Interception capping off BYU's 14-1 season.

1994 Copper Bowl: Oklahoma, W, 31-6

Oklahoma had a lame duck coach in Gary Gibbs roaming the sidelines as the next OU HC watched from the Press Box in Howard Schnellenberger. Mr. Fedora got a show, not from his future Sooners but BYU QB John Walsh and the Cougar offense. Walsh threw 454 yards in a rout over the Sooners. Walsh rode that wave of momentum bolting for the NFL thinking he would be a high draft choice because of Mel Kiper dubbing him the #1 prospect for the '95 NFL Draft, he went in the 7th round to the Bengals.

1993 Holiday Bowl: Ohio State, L, 21-28

A mediocre 6-5 BYU team came into the Holiday Bowl as a major underdog to Ohio State who came into the game 9-1-1 on the year. But the Cougs should of won this game. The difference was a blocked punt that Ohio State returned for a Touchdown in the first quarter. BYU tied the game at 21 at Half but couldn't produce any points in the second half as Ohio State got the close win. A Tim Nowatzke dropped pass cost BYU big time.

1992 Aloha Bowl: Kansas, L 20-23

4th string QB Tom Young got the nod to start due to injuries with Ryan Hancock, John Walsh and Steve Clements. BYU still produced yards outgaining the Jayhawks 402 to 372.

BYU got off to a fast start with a Kickoff returned for a TD by Hema Heimuli to open the game but an inability to capitalize kept the game close as BYU lost to the Jayhawks on Christmas Day in Hawai'i.

BYU the past 10 years has played some tough teams and has had some things play against them in these games as well. One thing I will say, is that I have loved the preparation Bronco has had in the program for bowl games. Bowl games are no longer treated like vacations like they once were under LaVell. BYU has better facilities now to prepare for these bowl games and the results are starting to show with more wins and better execution in bowls.

So what would you say is BYU's best bowl opponent in the past 10 bowls? Also what was BYU's best played game in the last 10 bowls? I'd like to hear your opinion. Post in the comments section, love to hear.

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