LAS VEGAS (AP) -- The strait-laced Brigham Young football team
has made itself right at home in Sin City, and the school's new
athletic director has mixed feelings.
Not about the blackjack tables, the showgirls and the buffet
eating contest -- Tom Holmoe knows his school's players can handle
any temptation in the days leading up to the Las Vegas Bowl.
Instead, Holmoe must fight his natural instinct to support the few
remaining players he recruited to California, the Cougars' opponent
on Thursday night.
Holmoe led the Golden Bears through five difficult season as
their head coach before moving to BYU, where first-year coach
Bronco Mendenhall has revitalized the Cougars (6-5) with a
turnaround similar to the job done by Jeff Tedford after Holmoe
left in 2002.
Holmoe said he'll always have good feelings toward Cal -- just
not this week.
"We're all kind of laughing that it turned out this way," said
senior Cal center Marvin Philip, a member of Holmoe's talent-rich
recruiting classes that just couldn't win on Saturdays "He's still
an important guy to a lot of our seniors, but hopefully we can show
him what Cal is about now."
Holmoe's 12-43 tenure was a half-decade of disaster for the
Bears, who were even banned from postseason play in Tedford's first
season because of minor NCAA violations committed on Holmoe's
watch. These Bears (7-4) are hoping to finish Tedford's fourth
season in charge with his second bowl victory in three trips.
But they'll have to do it in what's essentially a road game.
Most of the Las Vegas Bowl's first sellout crowd in its 14-year
history at Sam Boyd Stadium is expected to come from Provo -- about
360 miles north -- and southern Nevada's large Mormon population to
support the Cougars.
"Every time we come down here, it's like a home game," BYU
linebacker Cameron Jensen said. "It's great just being out here
still playing football with your best friends. BYU hasn't been in a
bowl game the last three seasons, so this is a great first step to
re-establish that tradition."
While BYU reached the postseason with five wins in six games
before a regular season-ending loss to archrival Utah, the Bears
essentially backed into a bowl after a 5-0 start. Cal lost four of
five games before trouncing its own archrival, Stanford, in a
"We're at the bowl we deserve with our record, but not where
our potential is," said rover Donnie McCleskey, Cal's defensive
MVP. "But half of the Pac-10 is sitting at home, preparing for
next year. We're grateful to be in Vegas, and we're looking forward
to coming out in an enemy stadium. Those are my favorite types of
Cal doesn't believe its late-season inertia will be a factor in
Las Vegas, particularly after a series of solid practices at UNLV's
training complex. The Bears defense needs all the practice it can
get to contend with a BYU spread offense that's similar to the
Texas Tech attack that racked up 597 yards in last season's Holiday
Bowl win over Cal.
Pioneer PureVision Las Vegas Bowl Preview
SportsNation feels strongly that BYU holds the edge on offense, and even stronger that Cal holds the defensive edge. But offense wins out, according to the 'Nation, as the majority have the Cougars winning this one. (Vote) They also expect the game to be won on the ground, with Cal's Marshawn Lynch and BYU's Curtis Brown leading the way.
Mendenhall, whose public calm is similar to Tedford's, will
throw every trick in his Mountain West Conference playbook at
Tedford and Cal defensive coordinator Bob Gregory. The Bears
haven't seen anything like the Cougars this season, from their
3-3-5 defense to their wide-open offense setting up running back
"It was important for us just to get back in the bowl business,
but now I think we want more," Mendenhall said. "I still see this
as the beginning of the road, and not the end of anything in our
Tedford might be interested in professional redemption after
acknowledging his team wasn't properly focused for the Holiday Bowl
after Texas finagled its way past the Bears into the Rose Bowl.
"We practiced very well for that game, but I wasn't aware of
the hangover from the BCS thing until the night before the game,"
Tedford said. "This year, we've told everybody that the game on
Thursday is the only thing that matters. That's where you get a
chance to make a stand."
Steve Levy will make his second career start at quarterback for
Tedford after coolly leading Cal past Stanford. The junior replaced
slumping Joe Ayoob and hopes to spend much of the day handing off
to tailbacks Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett.
But the Cougars hope to answer with John Beck, who finished
fifth in the nation with 3,357 yards passing.
"It comes down to asking, 'Why are we here?"' Beck said. "We
worked hard all season to get here to play a game, and not for the
lights and all the casinos, but to win this game."