Brian Nicholson, Deseret News
While disappointed with their heartbreaking 17-16 loss at Utah, the BYU Cougars are happy about the progress they've made this season, and they're looking forward to playing in a bowl game.
That the Cougars have qualified for the postseason is an accomplishment in itself.
After starting 1-4, BYU won five of its last seven games to finish the regular season 6-6.
"We're a ton better (than earlier in the season)," said running back JJ Di Luigi. "We're a different team out there playing. It showed in (Saturday's) game. Five weeks ago, you wouldn't have said (the game against Utah) would be this close or this nail-biting. But it was. That attests to how we've changed."
"We've had a remarkable turnaround. We had this game (against Utah) within our grasp," said coach Bronco Mendenhall. "I think we've made consistent improvement. I think we made improvement again (Saturday). We've got one more game to play."
Where the Cougars will go bowling is still up in the air and an official announcement isn't expected until Sunday.
According to several projections and reports, the Cougars could be headed to the New Mexico Bowl in Albuquerque (Dec. 18) to face a team from the Western Athletic Conference, possibly Fresno State (7-4), although the Bulldogs have played in the last two New Mexico Bowls. Fresno State concludes its regular season Friday against Illinois.
No. 14 Nevada (11-1), which upset Boise State last Friday, is another possibility, although the Cougars and Wolf Pack have already played this season. Nevada defeated BYU, 27-13, on Sept. 25 in Provo.
Even though the Armed Forces Bowl (Dec. 30) is supposed to select a team from the Mountain West Conference to face a Conference USA opponent, the bowl signed a deal last spring with Army that would allow the Black Knights to play in Dallas "should either conference have an opening amongst its lineup of contractual bowl agreements."
The MWC has five bowl agreements and five bowl-eligible teams, but with TCU expected to play in a BCS bowl, the league won't be able to fill all of its bowl obligations, meaning Army could be ticketed to the Armed Forces Bowl.
"Fans can start booking their reservations for the Dallas-Fort Worth area," Army senior executive associate athletic director Bob Beretta told reporters over the weekend. "It looks pretty certain Army is going to the Armed Forces Bowl."
Beretta added that Armed Forces Bowl officials "have a strong desire to have Army in that game."
Army hasn't been in a bowl game since 1996.
This year's Armed Forces Bowl will be played at Southern Methodist's Ford Stadium — because of extension renovations at TCU's Amon G. Carter Stadium — and the bowl could invite the host school, SMU (7-5).
BYU senior safety Andrew Rich doesn't care where his team goes in December.
"I just want to play again," he said. "So I'm excited to move (the Utah loss) past us and try to win a bowl game ... You want to end your career on the right note. So we're going to work our butts off to win the next game, whoever it's against."
"It's real exciting," BYU freshman quarterback Jake Heaps said of the upcoming bowl game. "We've got a lot of practices to get even better. We have an opportunity to finish the season right. It's an opportunity to finish the season with a win and we're going to practice like crazy, regroup and refocus."
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