BYU not tired of Las Vegas, looking forward to game with Beavers

2009-12-09T22:45:00Z BYU not tired of Las Vegas, looking forward to game with BeaversBy Cliff Kirkpatrick, Gazette-Times Reporter Corvallis Gazette Times

A tumble into the fifth-place postseason game associated with the Pacific-10 Conference by the Oregon State football team occurred due to unusual circumstances.

The Beavers played at UNLV earlier in the season and were in the Las Vegas Bowl six years ago. So, excitement coming from the fan base is limited.

However, check out the opponent's pattern of postseason repetition.

No. 15-ranked Brigham Young is making its fifth straight appearance in the Las Vegas Bowl, the Mountain West Conference's top bowl game.

"We are still excited about it," running back Harvey Unga said. "It's an honor to go back to any bowl game. We are just happy to play another game."

The Cougars won the conference title twice in that stretch, but the Vegas card kept turning up when the Mountain West sent a team to a Bowl Championship Series game and they were the runner-up, like this season.

"This is a great bowl game," quarterback Max Hall said. "If we can't go to a BCS game, this is the next-best thing. They treat you well and we get to do a lot of fun things."

This is the only bowl game coach Bronco Mendenhall has known since he took over the program in 2005, even though the Cougars (10-2) have won at least 10 games in the last four seasons.

So he needs some of his best motivational coaching each year to keep his team focused.

"We are thrilled and excited to play in the Las Vegas Bowl again, against an excellent team in Oregon State," Mendenhall said. "The matchup is compelling with two teams playing good football for the bowl game and the city of Las Vegas."

That's not always the case for this game.

Most of the time the Pac-10 representative barely earns bowl eligibility. The Beavers (8-4) knew they were going to a bowl game for some time, and tied for second place in the conference.

"It's sweet, and we love the matchup," said Unga, whose cousins are at OSU, linebackers Devin and Kevin Unga. "Oregon State has done great things. It's going to be a fun game. It's better than seeing Arizona for the third time in three years."

The Cougars lost their first Las Vegas Bowl game in the recent stretch to California in 2005. They beat Oregon in 2006 and UCLA in 2007.

BYU made a run at a BCS game last season, but wound up back in Las Vegas. The honeymoon was over as Arizona won that game.

"A year ago there were some in our program, I don't know if becoming bored or tired of it are the right words, but some of the luster had come off because the expectations were higher," Mendenhall said. "The players were expecting going to a BCS game, and nothing else was going to be satisfying."

And it's different now?

"Now we are of a different mindset," Mendenhall said. "We are looking forward to this game."

Drawing the Beavers made the difference. They were a win away from the Rose Bowl and have been in the national spotlight, with high-profile wins in recent years.

And successful midmajor programs constantly fight for respect. The Mountain West Conference doesn't have an automatic berth to a BCS game.

An opportunity for the Cougars to prove themselves is something that excites them.

"It shows that the Pac-10 is respecting us a little by sending one of the better teams against us," Hall said. "We want to represent our team and our conference well in this game."

National media rank this bowl game in the top-10 matchups, with two top-20 teams. ESPN ranks the Las Vegas Bowl No. 7 of the 34 postseason games.

So football fans will be tuned in.

"It's not about the place," Mendenhall said. "It's about growing our program and the chance to play a good opponent."

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