August Miller, Deseret Morning News
Brigham Young University coach Bronco Mendenhall celebrates his team's 33-31 win over the University of Utah in 2006 at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake. The Cougars have an opportunity to earn respect with this year's bowl game in Las Vegas.

Las Vegas Bowl

BYU (10-2) vs. UCLA (6-6)

6 p.m. (ESPN)

Dec. 22

BYU's had plenty of bowl lore, but it's high time the Cougars started padding its win column in postseason play.

It has been more than 30 years since the Cougars played in their first bowl game, when quarterback Gary Sheide made an early exit with a separated shoulder against Oklahoma State in the 1974 Fiesta Bowl. The storied come-from-behind win over SMU in the 1980 Holiday Bowl remains one of the most exciting comeback victories in college football history, and it was BYU's first bowl win. Ty Detmer set a bowl record for passing against Penn State.

But since that 1980 win in San Diego with Jim McMahon, the wins have come far and few. The Cougars have participated in 25 bowl games and have an 8-16-1 record. In other words, they've been losers the majority of the time their season has been extended.

Now comes Bronco Mendenhall. He's got two sweeps of the Mountain West Conference in three tries. His Cougars have won 21 of their last 25 games and the four losses have come down to a play or two. He is 1-1 in bowl games after losing to California in the 2005 Las Vegas Bowl and clobbering Oregon 38-8 last year in Sam Boyd Stadium.

Things have changed in Provo, and Mendenhall should be the beneficiary of it. Where Ty Detmer prepared for Penn State in the Holiday Bowl wearing sneakers and passing to receivers on a gym floor in the Smith Fieldhouse, the Cougars now enjoy a mammoth, state-of-the-art indoor practice field complete with Fieldturf and climate control.

Mendenhall has found a practice regime that he believes is more suited for preparing his team both in season and out of season, and for bowls.

So, the big question is, are the Cougars going to start winning bowl games?

It all starts with the Bruins on Saturday in Las Vegas, a team the Cougars should have defeated in Pasadena back in September.

With the exception of Utah, if there is any team BYU should have plenty of reasons to defeat, of all the teams they have ever played in the history of the school, it would be the Bruins.

UCLA owns BYU, having won six straight over the Cougars. The Bruins have a 7-1 record in head-to-head competition with BYU. The Bruins have proven to be very good in bowl games and posted one of the most successful runs in Pac-10 history during recent years. From 1982 to 1991, UCLA won eight bowl games in a row.

This is the 29th bowl game for the Bruins, who have a 13-14-1 overall record in postseason play. In the last 25 years, UCLA has won 10 bowl games, the most of any Pac-10 school during that time span.

You can see, regardless of the circumstances surrounding a BYU-UCLA rematch in the same season, this game could be very competitive. UCLA has been ranked as high as No. 11 and did occupy a perch atop the Pac-10 at one point this season. BYU is ranked No. 19 and needs some respect.

When it comes to football, the Cougars and TCU have the most impact on a national level of any of the teams in the Mountain West.

So, it goes with the territory, they should join Utah (winner of six straight bowl games) in leading the way for the conference in postseason victories.

The Cougars have been to 25 bowl games. But TCU went to 13 bowl games by the time the Cougars got to their first in 1974. TCU's first bowl appearance was in 1920, a win over Centre in the Fort Worth Classic. TCU has been to 23 bowls over the years and post a respectable 10-11-1 record.

The Cougars got to Las Vegas with plenty of ammo to get after the Bruins. They last defeated UCLA in the first meeting ever, in 1983 when Steve Young led the Cougars to a win in Pasadena. BYU is 9-2 in Sam Boyd Stadium, a place they consider LaVell Edwards South.

Time for a new BYU bowl trend?


BYU recent bowl history


Year Bowl Opponent Result Score

2006 Las Vegas Bowl Oregon Won 38-8

2005 Las Vegas Bowl California Lost 35-28

2001 Liberty Bowl Louisville Lost 28-10

1999 Motor City Bowl Marshall Lost 21-3

1998 Liberty Bowl Tulane Lost 47-21

1997 Cotton Bowl Kansas State Won 19-15

1994 Copper Bowl Oklahoma Won 31-6

1993 Holiday Bowl Ohio State Lost 28-21

1992 Aloha Bowl Kansas Lost 23-20

1991 Holiday Bowl Iowa Tied 13-13