ALBUQUERQUE — If there's anyone on the BYU coaching staff who knows about UTEP's football program, it's outside receivers/special teams coach Patrick Higgins.

From 1998-1999, Higgins was the Miners' receivers coach and he served as the team's offensive coordinator from 2000-2003, before current coach Mike Price was hired.

Despite his past ties to UTEP, he's treating the upcoming New Mexico Bowl just like another game.

"It's been seven years. Most of the people I know there are gone," Higgins said. "There are a couple of kids that we coached that are on their staff — one's linebacker coach and one's a (graduate assistant). I know their director of football operations. It's mostly people in the administration that are still there. We just want to play well and continue to do a good job in bowl games."

Higgins has plenty of fond memories of his time in El Paso.

"We were the first staff ever to win the WAC championship there (2000)," he said. "That was a great memory. We went to a bowl game for the first time since the 1980s. So it was a pretty big deal."

He recalled defeating Rice at home to tie for the WAC title.

"It was awesome. We sold out the stadium. It was packed. The fans came running out onto the field after the game. It was nice because it had never been done — ever. We'll always be the first. And the people there (in El Paso) are awesome. I have some good friends who will be coming to the bowl game. It will be nice to see them."

WINTRY WEATHER: BYU practiced Thursday morning at a local high school in the rain, which turned to light snow flurries by the time the session concluded.

Coach Bronco Mendenhall liked the effort he saw from his players.

"I think they feel very prepared at this point," he said. "They're having fun and they're appreciating (the bowl experience) but the closer the game gets, the more it is shifting to, 'We came here to play a game.' A lot of energy and enthusiasm, mostly because they wanted to hustle through and get out of the cold."

The weather is expected to be about 50 degrees and partly cloudy for Saturday's game.

FABULUJE AND CHAMBERS: After practice, Mendenhall addressed the status of freshman defensive lineman Tayo Fabuluje and junior wide receiver O'Neill Chambers.

Mendenhall said that Fabuluje, a Texas native who signed with BYU last February, has received permission to transfer to another school.

"He's planning on transferring. Whether he changes his mind or not, I'm not certain, but he's looking to go elsewhere," Mendenhall said. "Hopefully closer to home."

Fabuluje was a high school teammate of another BYU freshman, wide receiver Ross Apo.

Chambers was suspended indefinitely earlier this year but is still attending BYU. Mendenhall said Chambers, who has been looking to transfer, will not be part of the team next season, though he could remain at BYU as a student.

BOWL FESTIVITIES: Both teams participated in a team dinner and then bowled at the Santa Ana Starlight Bowling Alley on Thursday night.

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Today, Mendenhall and team captains Matt Reynolds and Andrew Rich, along with UTEP coach Mike Price and team captains Trevor Vittatoe and Robert Soleyjacks, will attend the bowl's press conference at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino.

Afterward, a luncheon will be served for travel parties for the two schools, bowl staff, sponsors, community leaders and fans. New Mexico Bowl executive director Jeff Siembieda and keynote speaker Dick Tomey will address the crowd.

At 4:45, a pep rally at the northeast end of University Stadium will be held. Free parking is available in the Stadium East lot. Fireworks are scheduled for 5:30.

e-mail: jeffc@desnews.com