PROVO Mountain West Conference champion BYU gets a chance to avenge its September loss to UCLA in the Pioneer Las Vegas Bowl, officials announced Sunday.
Is revenge a big enough factor to motivate BYU and its fans, however?
The Cougars, fresh off a 48-27 win over San Diego State on Saturday, climbed to No. 17 in the BCS final rankings released Sunday.
"We are excited about our football team and the great things it has accomplished over the past three seasons," said BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe. "Coach Bronco Mendenhall, his staff and the players deserve a tremendous amount of credit for getting this program where it is today and as a result, we're excited to be participating in our third-straight bowl game."
This will be the third straight trip to the Las Vegas Bowl for the Cougars, who lost to Cal in 2005 before defeating Oregon in 2006. The Cougars enter the bowl with a 10-2 record and a nine-game win streak, while the Bruins (6-6, 5-4) finished the season losing four of their last five, although they did have a chance to win the Pac-10 before finishing fifth.
"A rematch of BYU and UCLA, both teams that have spent time in the national rankings this season, will bring two of the biggest names in college football to Las Vegas for what is sure to be a memorable battle," said Las Vegas Bowl executive director Tina Kunzer-Murphy.
"We are delighted another sellout crowd will be on hand at Sam Boyd Stadium on Dec. 22 to watch the 16th edition of the Pioneer Las Vegas Bowl."
The rematch of the Bruins and Cougars will be the second of three meetings between the two football programs in 12 months because the Cougars, who lost to the Bruins in September, 27-17, are scheduled to play in Provo in September 2008.
The matchup will feature two teams ending their seasons on different notes. While the Cougars are riding a hot steak, UCLA, who was atop the Pac-10 standings several weeks ago, finished 1-4. After losing to USC on Saturday, Bruins' head coach Karl Dorrell's job may be in jeopardy.
BYU players expressed a desire to play a ranked team, or someone they had not faced this season, but a contract with the MWC and the Las Vegas Bowl gives Las Vegas the first choice of MWC teams pitted against the No. 5 team from the Pac-10.
Bruce Davis, UCLA's talented defensive end, who haunted BYU sophomore Max Hall in the Rose Bowl three months ago, told the Los Angeles Times he didn't care who he played against in a bowl, as long as he got to keep playing.
"I don't care if we play in the Backyard Dirt Bowl. If I get to line up with my guys one more time, I'll be happy," Davis said. "We can play on concrete somewhere, that would be just fine with me."
Once positioned to be in a BCS bowl game or even the Holiday Bowl in San Diego at different stages of the season, Davis said, "We definitely had high hopes and we had our ups and downs. No matter what adversity you hit, you still have to fight through it. We didn't make enough plays. It didn't matter who we had in there."
Mendenhall said BYU entered this season with a lot of new faces on offense and many may have doubted the Cougars could repeat as MWC champs.
"Making our third trip to the Las Vegas Bowl twice as conference champions, with a new group of players, a new group of leadership, I think is a testament to the kind of young men we have here. They deserve a tremendous amount of credit, and I couldn't be more proud.
UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero said the Bruins have enjoyed two previous trips to the Las Vegas Bowl.Dorrell, who may or may not be coaching against Mendenhall, come Dec. 22, said his team is happy to make the trip and play the Cougars. "We are looking forward to facing an outstanding opponent in BYU."
Las Vegas Bowl
BYU (10-2) vs. UCLA (6-6)Dec. 22 at Las Vegas
UCLA AT A GLANCE
Conference finish: Pac-10 fifth 5-4
High point: Beat Oregon State, Oregon and Cal
Low point: Lost to Utah and Notre Dame
Top offensive players: RB Kahil Bell (142 carries for 795 yards), QB Ben Olson 71 of 147 for 1-40 yards, 7 TDs), WR Brandon Breazell (47 catches for 766 yards, 3 TDs),
Top defensive players: DE Bruce Davis, leads the team in sacks.What to expect: The Bruins have struggled with QB injuries and inconsistent offense but have shown playmaking ability on defense. The Cougars bring a balanced attack on offense and a top 10 defense into the game. Turnovers by the Cougars against UCLA in Pasadena, led to a 10-point win by the Bruins in the first meeting.