Cougars motivated for bowl

It seems every year when bowl season rolls around, there is a lot of talk about which teams are motivated and which teams aren't, and until a playoff is implemented, that is certain to continue. With a 4-2 record in bowl games, Coach Mendenhall's teams seem to have been motivated more often than not, especially when that record is compared to the school's 7-15-1 record in bowls prior to 2005.

After Monday's practice, the team's first in preparation for the Armed Forces Bowl against Tulsa on December 30, Coach Mendenhall was very pleased with his players' enthusiasm and their eagerness to play. That team attitude carried over to Tuesday, when the team had another good practice according to Mendenhall.

"More contact today, and we'll alternate the contact and non-contact days, but I'm impressed," he said.

BYU's all-time in record in bowls is 11-17-1, but the Cougars have won four of their past five bowl games, three of which were won decisively.

Many factors play into whether a team is motivated or not for a bowl game. Some unmotivated teams had hoped to be in more prestigious bowl games, lost their head coach before the bowl, have to face a team they've already played, go to a bowl they've already been to, or play an underwhelming opponent.

However, others are motivated because they can improve their national ranking, send teammates or coaches out with a win in their final game, build momentum for next season, make up for some disappointment in the regular season, beat a high-profile opponent, or prove themselves.

Mendenhall said one prominent element of bowl season is which teams are hungrier and more motivated. In the case of the Armed Forces Bowl, neither team may have an edge over the other in that area.

"In this case I think both teams will be excited to play, and that has to manifest in preparation," Mendenhall said. "Otherwise, you can't just turn it on on game day, so practice is important."

With the exception of the 2001 Liberty Bowl during Gary Crowton's tenure, all of BYU's 23 bowl games prior to Coach Mendenhall were with LaVell Edwards as head coach. The 7-15-1 record in those games isn't overly impressive, though many of those bowls came at a time when there were less bowl games, and thus opponents were typically better teams.

Now, a 6-6 record virtually guarantees a bowl game, as was the case with BYU and its opponent UTEP last bowl season, or BYU's bowl opponent UCLA in 2007. Thirteen different teams with a 6-6 record are playing in bowl games this season, while UCLA is playing in a bowl with a 6-7 record.

Mendenhall said he couldn't really speak about Edwards' bowl record at BYU, as he wasn't there at the time, but he did say that he visited with Edwards some and discussed bowls. From that, Mendenhall gathered that there are differences in the approach to bowl games.

"At that point, the bowl games weren't as important in terms of this national landscape and rankings and the BCS and all that, nor were they televised as heavily," he said. "So the exposure to the programs now, and especially in our position, [makes it] so important to have to play well in those games."

With many people forming impressions of teams based on their bowl games alone, Mendenhall knows it is important to have a good postseason showing. Regarding what's at stake, he said their performance in bowl games will shape how their program is viewed, and also build momentum for national rankings and future bowls.

Should the Cougars defeat Tulsa on December 30, they will finish with a 10-3 record. While a 10-win season is an achievement that Mendenhall would like to reach, it isn't necessarily the driving force behind his motivation.

"Ten wins is important, because not many teams can get 10 wins," Mendenhall said. "I think that would have been five of our last six years [with] 10 or more. That reflects consistency, stability, but I really would just likes us to reach our potential, and we're getting closer and closer and this is one more game to be able to do that. That's really how I presented most of the season to our team. It matters to me more that the seniors finish on a positive note than 10 wins, if I had to prioritize it."

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