PROVO — BYU tight end Matt Bushman earned Freshman All-American honors last year, but a bowl game eluded him and his teammates.
The Cougars finished with a 4-9 record in 2017 and saw their streak of 12 consecutive bowl appearances snapped.
But BYU found out Sunday it is headed to the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in Boise to play Western Michigan (7-5) on Dec. 21.
What did the Cougars think about their bowl destination?
“I was excited. I’ve never been to a bowl before,” Bushman said Monday. “I’m just excited to play another game and have an opportunity to be in a bowl game. Everyone looks forward to it; it’s everyone’s goal. I was grateful and I’m excited to see what the bowl experience is like.”
Last week, the Cougars (6-6), who didn’t have an automatic bowl tie-in, were eagerly waiting to find out where they would go bowling.
“I was excited. I wanted somewhere warm, but Idaho will do,” said safety Dayan Ghanwoloku. “It’s a bowl game. I’m just happy to be going to a bowl game.”
Freshman quarterback Zach Wilson, and some of his teammates, tweeted last week about BYU going to Tampa — as in the Gasparilla Bowl in the Tampa Bay, Florida, area.
“Just trying to make a little stir-up, that’s all,” Wilson said with a smile Monday.
Can’t blame players for lobbying for a warm-weather bowl site. That aside, the Cougars are simply thrilled to have another game.
"I didn’t really care where the game was going to be at and didn’t have an opinion. I know there are other teams that didn’t get a bowl bid," said coach Kalani Sitake. "I’m really thankful for the opportunity to play another game and to do it close to home. And we get to do it before Christmas. My wife is really excited about that.”
Sitake doesn't care about the potential of bad weather.
“Let’s get some snow out there and we’ll play the game,” he said. “We get to play a football game. It doesn’t matter. I don’t really worry about the elements. Our guys are ready for all of it.”
Sitake said he wasn't tipped off beforehand about which bowl might invite the Cougars.
“I was just like everybody else — really anxious. We want to plan and know who we’re facing and where we’re going. I’m looking forward to the time we get to practice, and we have one more opportunity to play a game. After not being in a bowl game last year, we’re really excited about this one. It’s going to be a lot of fun going to Boise and trying to find a way to get a win on that blue turf."
Yes, BYU is very familiar with Albertsons Stadium — the Cougars lost there to Boise State a month ago, 21-16.
“It’s cool to be going back to that field,” Wilson said. “That field, honestly, is crappy. The turf is so bad. That turf is terrible. I left with so many cuts all over my body. It was like I had road burn. It will be cool going back out on that field, and just being able to play another game is the biggest thing.”
BYU will be without senior defensive lineman Corbin Kaufusi, who has undergone season-ending surgery, for the bowl game. Senior running back Matt Hadley suffered a fractured leg in the regular-season finale at Utah and will be sidelined as well, Sitake said.
Running back Squally Canada has been cleared to practice, Sitake said, adding that the team will have to “wait and see” regarding the health of other players. The Cougars started practicing for the bowl game Monday. The plan, Sitake said, is to hold six practices this week and six practices next week. The NCAA allows 15 bowl practices.
For BYU, getting back to a bowl game was a big goal during the offseason. But Sitake made it clear it’s not just about playing in the postseason.
“The whole point of this bowl game is to go and win,” he said.
Still, clinching a bowl berth is satisfying.16 comments on this story
“Coming from a season that we had, going 4-9, knowing that we’re bowl-eligible is a good step for this program,” Bushman said. “Even though we lost some games we should have won and didn’t have the season that we were expecting to have this year, just to know that we were able to make a bowl and have that chance to play another game is awesome for our program, and it’s awesome for recruits to see that. We’ve had a tradition of going to bowls, and unfortunately last year we didn’t go. But it helps recruiting, it helps the whole program and the culture in general. We’re all grateful that we have a chance to play and go to Boise.”