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Tom Smart, Deseret News
Fumble recovery as Brigham Young University plays New Mexico State University in football Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011, in Provo, Utah.

PROVO — The Armed Forces Bowl announced Saturday, hours before the BYU-New Mexico State game, that it has officially extended an invitation to the Cougars.

BYU, in its first season as an independent, signed a deal last spring to play in this year's Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 30, and it became bowl-eligible weeks ago.

The Cougars will face an opponent from Conference USA. The game will be played at SMU's Gerald J. Ford Stadium in Dallas and will be televised on ESPN. Kickoff is scheduled for 10 a.m. (MT).

"We are pleased to officially extend this invitation to BYU," said Brant B. Ringler, executive director of the Armed Forces Bowl. "Our goal is always to attract schools with a national presence to help us honor the men and women of the United States Armed Forces, and BYU is a great fit as it is a nationally-recognized institution with an outstanding fan base."

"With the great year that Conference USA is having, the 2011 Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl should be a terrific matchup," BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe said. "BYU is excited to return to the Dallas-Fort Worth area to face a tough C-USA team. We are also honored to play in a game that pays tribute to the brave men and women of our armed forces."

It will mark the Cougars' seventh consecutive bowl appearance.

SENIOR NIGHT: BYU honored 19 seniors Saturday night: offensive lineman Terence Brown, running back JJ Di Luigi, defensive back Corby Eason, tight end Matthew Edwards, defensive lineman Hebron Fangupo, linebacker Jameson Frazier, wide receiver Spencer Hafoka, wide receiver McKay Jacobson, running back Bryan Kariya, linebacker Aveni Leung-Wai, wide receiver/holder Matt Marshall, linebacker Jordan Pendleton, defensive lineman Matt Putnam, offensive lineman Matt Reynolds, defensive back Steven Thomas, offensive lineman Marco Thorson, safety Travis Uale, defensive lineman Simote Vea, and linebacker Jadon Wagner.

This week, BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall had high praise for Reynolds, who has started every game in his four-year career. Saturday's game against New Mexico State marked his 50th consecutive start.

"Matt is one of the best players, probably, to play football at BYU," Mendenhall said. "He's the epitome of a BYU football player and a BYU offensive lineman."

PLAYING FOR PENDLETON: BYU linebacker Kyle Van Noy traded in his No. 3 jersey for No. 1, which belongs to Pendleton.

It was Van Noy's way of paying tribute to Pendleton, a senior who underwent season-ending knee surgery a couple of weeks ago.

FLAG-BEARERS: Former BYU tight end Doug Jolley (1998-2001) carried out the alumni flag while offensive lineman Braden Brown carried out the team flag and running back David Foote carried out the special teams flag.

email: jeffc@desnews.com