The BYU football team arrived in San Diego Christmas afternoon, hoping, for the second year in a row, to prove something in the Holiday Bowl.
What the Cougars hope to show this time around is that the 59-28 loss to Hawaii was not an accurate reflection of their team."We finished the season on a downer at Hawaii, and this will give us a chance to redeem ourselves," BYU Coach LaVell Edwards said of Saturday's matchup between his 10-2 Cougars and the 8-3-1 Aggies of Texas A&M.
BYU players admit it has been tough having more than three weeks to dwell on that season-ending defeat. Even though all kinds of explanations have been offered for that loss, such as the Heisman Trophy announcement being made that day, the game having no bearing on either the WAC standings or their bowl plans, etc., the explanations haven't made it any easier to swallow.
The Cougs know the Hawaii blowout killed their chances for a national championship, and they are eager to re-prove to the country their ability.
BYU quarterback Ty Detmer is especially anxious to get back on the field, after all the suggestions that he wouldn't have won the Heisman Trophy if the vote had occurred after the Hawaii game.
"We're hungry to play again," Detmer said. "We have a lot to prove, a lot of pride to get back."
Last year BYU was in a similar situation, coming into the Holiday Bowl with a 10-2 record but ranked only 15th on the UPI poll and 19th on AP. The biggest blight on the Cougars' record was a 56-14 thrashing by Hawaii.
In the bowl game, the offense boosted its national reputation with a spectacular showing against a highly regarded Penn State defense, even though they lost to the Nittany Lions. Next to the Miami game, that defeat probably had more to do with Detmer winning the Heisman than any other single game.
Last year, however, Edwards' Cougars benefited from a mild December that allowed them to practice outdoors and keep the passing game sharp. This year, bitter cold and snow the past two weeks have forced them to practice inside the Smith Fieldhouse.
"I don't like throwing inside," Detmer said. "You can't get the whole picture. Receivers can't make their splits and you can't throw long."
"Laying off from practice will hurt our timing, but . . . both teams will have problems in timing because of the layoff," Edwards said.
BYU coaches have said they will try to make up for lost practice time by working the team extra hard here this week. The team practiced at San Diego State's field Tuesday and again Wednesday morning, and more drills are scheduled for Thursday morning and Friday evening.
In between all that practice, the team will take time out for the annual Holiday Bowl festivities, including team day at Sea World, a visit to the USS Independence and lunch with the Kiwanis.
All this, of course, means the usual media attention/distractions for Detmer, who spent the time between the Heisman announcement Dec. 1 and the resumption of practice Dec. 13 making numerous public appearances and turning down a lot more. If you missed Detmer on Bob Hope's Christmas special, you can still catch him in a special segment during halftime of the Cotton Bowl.
Kickoff for the 13th annual Holiday Bowl is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. MST. It will be telecast live on ESPN, with radio broadcasts by KSL (1160 AM) and Mutual Radio. KBYU-TV (Channel 11) will rebroadcast the game at 10:30 p.m. New Year's Eve.