Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
PROVO — Will BYU return to Las Vegas for the fifth consecutive year?
Or will the Cougars make an inaugural trip to a relatively new bowl in the city that used to be their postseason home-away-from-home — San Diego?
In the aftermath of BYU's dramatic 26-23 overtime victory over Utah on Saturday, the Cougars (10-2, 7-1), who are now No. 16 in the Associated Press poll, No. 13 in the coaches' poll and No. 14 in the Bowl Championship Series standings, are awaiting to receive a bowl invitation from either the Las Vegas Bowl or the Poinsettia Bowl.
This year's bowl matchups won't be announced until next Sunday, according to Mountain West Conference officials, after the Bowl Championship Series pairings have been released.
The Las Vegas Bowl has the first choice of bowl-eligible Mountain West Conference teams. Last week, Las Vegas Bowl executive director Tina Kunzer-Murphy told the Deseret News that a 32-person committee will determine the participating schools.
"Utah has not been in our game for a long time and there is a mindset that a fresh team is exciting," Kunzer-Murphy said. "We like BYU and they've been a great partner over the years. We feel we have great options."
BYU played in the San Diego-based Holiday Bowl from 1978-1984, and again from 1989-1991. The Cougars' final appearance in the Holiday Bowl was in 1993.
"Either (BYU or Utah) is a win for us," Poinsettia Bowl committee member Scott Flaming told the Deseret News Saturday. "What it comes down to generally is who travels — who puts bodies in the seats."
Senior tight end Andrew George, who caught the game-winning, 25-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Max Hall in the win over Utah, said he doesn't have a preference when it comes to his team's bowl destination.
"It doesn't matter to me. To play in a postseason game is awesome. It's an honor. It's something you earn. So to play in a postseason game is great. The Las Vegas Bowl has done a great job. They treat us well when we're down there. I'm sure the Poinsettia would do the same. So to me, it doesn't matter."
Said coach Bronco Mendenhall: "What I've learned is, I don't have much control over that. The pecking order is already in place. We'll take whatever game we get."
Regardless of the destination, both the Cougars and Utes are assured a meeting with a Pac-10 opponent. The Las Vegas Bowl has the No. 5 pick from the Pac-10 while the Poinsettia Bowl gets the No. 6 selection. The top four Pac-10 teams will go to the Rose, Holiday, Sun and Emerald Bowls, respectively.
Oregon (9-2, 7-1) is in first place in the Pac-10 and faces arch-rival, second-place Oregon State (8-3, 6-2) on Thursday, with the winner headed to the Rose Bowl. Stanford (8-4, 6-3) stands in third place. There is a three-way tie for fourth place between California (8-3, 5-3), USC (8-3, 5-3) and Arizona (7-4, 5-3). This Saturday, the Golden Bears visit Washington (4-7, 3-5) while the Trojans host the Wildcats.
Arizona defeated the Cougars in last year's Las Vegas Bowl.
With last Saturday's win, BYU capped its fourth consecutive season with at least 10 victories.
"It's not easy," Mendenhall said of that accomplishment. "You can only do it with great leadership and great players. Not many teams are doing it. I hope it's appreciated by our fans and those that are supportive of what we're doing."
Of the senior class that helped BYU post a 42-9 record over the past four years, Mendenhall said, "I'm really happy for our seniors. I couldn't be more proud of them, and the work done over the past four or five years. I'm very fortunate to have been their coach."
Mendenhall said donning the throwback, royal blue uniforms against Utah was a tribute not only the 1984 national championship team, but also to this year's seniors.
"It was a way for me to honor our seniors. They were under the impression that it happened in a week's time. They had this notion with about a week to go that they'd like to wear royal blue. We actually started in August. I thought it would be appropriate first to have a chance to honor the national championship team, but this became more about honoring our seniors. It's something they wanted. So I presented them with a single jersey at the team meeting right before we came to the stadium. They didn't know until then."
Junior safety Andrew Rich praised BYU's senior class.
"I couldn't give enough credit to the seniors for the way they've battled over the years. For them to go out on this note is special to be a part of. I just appreciate everything they've done for this program, this team and for myself. It's been an honor to battle with those guys."
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