BYU wrapped up another WAC title, another invitation to the Holiday Bowl, and another win over the University of Utah yesterday, all in the same afternoon. This wasn't the first time. In the LaVell Edwards Era/Ice Age (depending on your Utah/BYU point of view), the Cougars have beaten the Utes 17 times in 19 seasons. They have also won the WAC 13 times and gone to nine Holiday Bowls, counting this one.
When BYU Coach LaVell Edwards said to the Holiday Bowl representatives as he accepted their invitation to play in this year's game on Dec. 29, "It's like I said before. There's no better place to spend the winter than San Diego," he wasn't kidding, he's said it before.The Cougars know the way to San Diego. They have this route down pat. They play Jack Murphy Stadium as oten as Wayne Newton plays the Las Vegas Hilton.
"We point to it like Christmas," said BYU Athletic Director Glen Tuckett of the Holiday Bowl. "When you go there, you're the champion."
Others in the BYU locker room, following the academic 45-22 defeat of the Utes, echoed a similar party line. Tight end Chris Smith, who could be a first team All-American any day now, said, "The Holiday Bowl's a great bowl, and our goal all year long is to win the WAC. You have to feel good when you accomplish your goals."
But elsewhere, there was an undercurrent of disappointment; a predominant disgruntlement over being locked into an agreement with a second rate non-New Year's Day bowl game that can't offer perhaps the best team BYU's ever had a large dose of national attention and a chance at being No. 1.
After Richard Circuit and John Reid of the Holiday Bowl made their official locker room announcement, Rich Kaufusi, BYU's senior defensive tackle, pulled them aside and asked, "So, who are we going to play?"
Informed that it will likely be Texas A&M, Kaufusi said, "It's kinda sad. We're No. 4 (in the country) and we're playing . . . is Texas A&M even ranked?"
The Aggies are ranked, but only 20th, and when there's a No. 4 vs. No. 20 matchup, the No. 4 team can move only one direction, which isn't up.
The bowl game that was BYU's ticket to postseason recognition a decade ago has become an albatross this season.
"It's a shame we couldn't play in the Citrus Bowl against Georgia Tech, like someone was saying," said receiver Andy Boyce, "that would be fun. It would let us really see where we stand."
But the only way for the Cougars to get into another bowl was not to win the WAC. And if they hadn't won the WAC, they wouldn't be No. 4 anymore.
Several BYU players hopelessly chanted "Notre Dame, Notre Dame," when the Holiday Bowl invitation was extended. At that moment, the Irish were ranked No. 1 in the country - although they were on their way to a loss to Penn State.
That loss serves to further cloud this season's Who's-No.-1? question. Can it be the Irish or the Miami Hurricanes, with two losses each? Can it be BYU, with a win over Miami and just one loss? Can it be undefeated Georgia Tech? Can it be Colorado, with one loss and one tie? Can it be once-beaten Texas or Florida?
"I'd like to find out," said BYU quarterback Ty Detmer. "I'd like to play whoever's No. 1. We're in the top five. We'd belong in that game."
"But it's not for us to decide," added Detmer. "We'll take whoever they put in front of us."
"Whoever we play," said Boyce. "We can be sure they're not going to roll over and die in front of us - just like Utah didn't today."
The Utes gained a moral victory of sorts with their 23-point defeat. They fared much better than they did last year in a 70-31 loss. They beat the spread (32 points). They kept the Cougars from equalling their 1990 average score over WAC foes of 50-17. And they intercepted Detmer twice while gaining 436 yards total offense.
Utah's inspired showing against one of the best teams in the country gave the Cougars a taste of what the upcoming Holiday Bowl will be like - when another decided underdog gets to take its best shot.
"It is sometimes harder to get motivated for these kinds of games," said running back Mike Salido. "Obviously, when you're a top-ranked team and it gets to the end of the season, you'd like to play another top-ranked team.
"But," added Salido, "The system was in place long before we became a top-ranked team."
Tuckett said BYU may be inclined to ask for different concessions when a new Holiday Bowl contract is negotiated - something along the lines of what the Citrus Bowl has done, allowing for bailouts - by either the bowl or the teams - if a national championship is possibly at stake elsewhere.
But the current Holiday Bowl contract runs through the 1991 season. Until then, LaVell Edwards may be right, there may be no better place to spend the winter than San Diego. But if you're a highly ranked football team, you wouldn't want to play a game there.