1 of 2
Eugene Tanner, Associated Press
BYU quarterback Riley Nelson (13) fakes a hand off to Joshua Quezada, left, before passing in the first quarter of an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2011, in Honolulu.
Besides their quality of play, they're hungry to keep winning. We know we have a motivated team to play. … They're a hungry football team. They're a hot football team right now.

PROVO — BYU's opponent in the upcoming Armed Forces Bowl started the 2011 campaign with a 1-3 record.

Then again, Tulsa faced one of the toughest early-season schedules in the country.

The Golden Hurricane opened the year with a 47-14 setback at Oklahoma before picking up a 31-3 win at Tulane. Tulsa then lost back-to-back games to Oklahoma State (59-33) and Boise State (41-21).

From there, the Golden Hurricane won seven consecutive games before losing their regular-season finale to Houston, 48-16.

What do Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Boise State and Houston have in common? They are all nationally ranked and spent much of the season in the top 10. According to the latest BCS Standings, the Sooners are No. 14, the Cowboys are No. 3, the Broncos are No. 7, and the Cougars are No. 19. Combined, they boast a record of 43-6.

"Their losses are to top-10 or top-5 opponents, which means if you're not one of those top-10 or top-5 opponents, you're going to have a hard time beating them, much like our season," BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said during Tuesday's Armed Forces Bowl news conference. "Besides their quality of play, they're hungry to keep winning. We know we have a motivated team to play. … They're a hungry football team. They're a hot football team right now."

Meanwhile, two of BYU's three losses came at the hands of ranked opponents — No. 18 TCU (10-2) and No. 24 Texas (7-5).

The Cougars and Golden Hurricane played one common opponent this season, Central Florida. BYU and Tulsa beat the Knights by the identical score of 24-17.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: The Golden Hurricane's explosive offense is led by senior quarterback G.J. Kinne, who transferred to Tulsa from Texas in 2008. This season, Kinne has completed 230-of-359 passes for 2,876 yards (64 percent) with 25 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

The Golden Hurricane's defense is led by linebacker Cornelius Amick.

"Our leaders without a doubt this year are our quarterback G.J. Kinne, who's finishing up his third year as a starter and was our MVP of last year's team and all-conference," said Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship. "He has had a tremendous season and continues to lead us on offense. Defensively, Cornelius Arnick, our inside linebacker, is one of the leaders in the country in tackles. He's like the quarterback on defense. Those two guys without a doubt are our most valuable players."

Mendenhall is impressed with Kinne. "I love their quarterback and the way he plays the game," the Cougars' coach said. "They're very well-coached and they're led by an excellent quarterback."

ALL-INDEPENDENT HONORS: Mendenhall and a number of BYU players have been recognized in the wake of the Cougars' first season as an independent.

Seventeen BYU players were honored, including freshman wide receiver Ross Apo, who was a 2011 College Football News Freshman All-America honorable mention. Apo, who caught 34 passes for 453 yards and a team-high nine touchdowns, was also named the Yahoo! Sports Independent freshman of the year.

Mendenhall was named Independent coach of the year by Yahoo! Sports.

Riley Nelson was named Phil Steele First-Team Independent quarterback. He was joined on that squad by wide receiver Cody Hoffman, and offensive linemen Braden Hansen and Matt Reynolds. Linebacker Kyle Van Noy and cornerback Corby Eason were on the first-team defense. Placekicker Justin Sorensen, punter Riley Stephenson and punt return specialist JD Falslev were also named to the first-team.

Yahoo! Sports' All-Indy team included Nelson, Hoffman, Reynolds, Hansen, Van Noy, defensive back Preston Hadley, Stephenson and Falslev.

Email: jeffc@desnews.com