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Dick Harmon: BYU Cougars have opportunity in Fight Hunger Bowl to shake off disappointments

Published: Thursday, Dec. 26 2013 6:24 p.m. MST

Ross Apo (1) of the Brigham Young Cougars misses a pass against Darius Hillary (5) of the Wisconsin Badgers during NCAA football in Madison, Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013.  (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Ross Apo (1) of the Brigham Young Cougars misses a pass against Darius Hillary (5) of the Wisconsin Badgers during NCAA football in Madison, Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

SAN FRANCISCO — Is it fair to heap one more burden on Taysom Hill, Cody Hoffman, Kyle Van Noy and the rest of Bronco Mendenhall’s BYU football team?

Yes, because they take it on themselves in the Fight Hunger Bowl.

BYU’s athletic programs are among the best in the country. Top to bottom, they are competitive, challenge for championships, take on tough schedules, and are recognized by the NCAA for academic excellence. But at the same time, they have a reputation for tirelessly plodding toward the top of the mountain, getting to the sought-after gate and then misplacing the key.

It isn’t athletic director Tom Holmoe’s fault. It can’t be blamed on any one coach or set of athletes. They take on big tasks, which is admirable. But when the big payoff comes, it’s generally an exercise in great expectations squandered, maximum opportunities lost.

It seems to be the humble lot of the blue and white.

The fall and winter of 2013 followed this script. The pattern? After blowing out Texas 40-21, the BYU football team lost to rival Utah at home for the fourth straight time. Opportunities to gain a national ranking after a five-game win streak were left on the turf at Camp Randall in Wisconsin and Notre Dame Stadium in Indiana.

The pattern has repeated itself during the early part of the basketball season. BYU had impressive wins over Texas and Stanford, and then, after holding thrilling leads over ranked and undefeated Iowa State, Wichita State and Oregon, the Cougars lost.

Thus, the modus operandi: The Big Tease.

Now come the Cougars to beautiful San Francisco, the City by the Bay, a tourist destination that draws 16 million visitors a year.

The Cougars are here with a very good football team — not a great team, but a squad that’s won eight games over six bowl teams. Seven of the teams they’ve defeated have won at least eight games. You can make that eight if Georgia Tech beats Ole Miss in the Music City Bowl on Monday. That’s a rare feat, thus the label of a very good team. Any combo of three wins over the four teams the Cougars lost to this year would've made it borderline great.

But that didn’t happen.

Now is the opportunity to close out 2013 against Washington, an eight-win team in the Pac-12 with the nation’s third-leading rusher in Bishop Sankey. The game is on national TV and is a tone-setter for 2014, a launching pad into next year for Mendenhall and his returning players that include stars Hill and running back Jamaal Williams.

These Cougars are talented — beat up but talented. The seniors have spent their careers setting records and performing outstanding community service all over the country. They work and play hard and deserve a win.

They face a Huskies squad that just lost head coach Steve Sarkisian to USC. His former assistants Johnny Nansen, Keith Heyward and Peter Sirmon are expected to join Sarkisian in Los Angeles after this bowl game.

Washington is considered a slight favorite. The Huskies are a very good football team — not great, but very good.

Either team is capable of winning this one. It is a great matchup and perhaps one of the more intriguing well-balanced matchups of the bowl season.

It’s also a great opportunity game for both teams.

Washington can set up Boise State coach Chris Petersen for his move and send a message to Sarkisian that the school will be just fine without him.

The Cougars are eager and hopefully very hungry to not let this final chance for success elude them on national TV like it did in South Bend, Madison and Provo against the Utes.

They need this one.

A win may not elevate this team to the status of great, but the Cougars will definitely be able to make a statement — of all the notable things accomplished in 2013, at the end, they can proclaim they didn’t get to the final big door and frantically search their pockets for the key.

Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at dharmon@desnews.com.

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