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For the Cougars, Postseason Is Still a Proving Ground : College football: Brigham Young wants to reinforce its top-10 status--and to expunge the bitterness from its loss to Hawaii.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before:

Brigham Young’s football team, with an impressive record and high national ranking, covers enough land throwing the ball to make even the best real estate agents’ toes curl with envy. The end of the season arrives, and the Cougars make their bowl reservations.

Surprise, it’s the Holiday Bowl, home of the Western Athletic Conference champion. Game approaches. Cougars prepare for traditional big-time opponent, such as Ohio State or Michigan or Penn State. BYU is averaging something like 250 points and 1,200 first downs a game, and many football fans across the nation yawn in unison.

Wake us up when BYU plays a real team, they say. What was that conference again? The HAC? WAC? What? Wait till the bowl game, when BYU plays a real team.

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Meanwhile, BYU players bristle. They talk about getting respect. And the bowl arrives . . .

Welcome to Holiday Bowl week, 1990. We’re at the last part of the story, the part about the bowl arriving. BYU lands in San Diego on Christmas afternoon to begin final preparations for Saturday’s date with Texas A&M; (8-3-1).

This is BYU’s ninth appearance in the 14-year history of the Holiday Bowl. It’s come to be expected, like finding your newspaper in your driveway each morning. Almost every year, BYU just kind of plops down in San Diego.

The Cougars are 10-2, and maybe what stands out most about their season occurred Sept. 8, when they kicked then-No. 1 Miami in the teeth, 28-21, in Provo. BYU eventually crept as high as fourth in the national rankings and, as recently as 3 1/2 weeks ago, had a chance at the national championship.

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Then they went to Hawaii. It was Saturday, Dec. 1. Quarterback Ty Detmer received word that afternoon that he had won the Heisman Trophy. BYU received a good, old-fashioned whipping that night, 59-28, as four Detmer passes were intercepted.

The chorus of naysayers started crooning practically before word from Hawaii reached the mainland. BYU, a national championship team? Ha! National championship teams don’t get creamed by Hawaii. Ha!

So BYU--now rated 13th in the writers’ poll and ninth in the coaches'-- arrives Tuesday a little red in the face. The Cougars will line up against Texas A&M; (26th in the AP poll; 19th in the UPI poll) and, like most of their bowl games in the past, this one will be about respect.

“Yeah, I think it is,” fullback Matt Bellini said. “We’re out to prove to people we’re a top-10 team. We get wound up to play big opponents, because we don’t get respect because of the conference we play in.

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“And, we throw the football. We’re not three-yards-and-a-cloud of dust.”

No. BYU is ranked second nationally in pass efficiency (155.5), total offense (565.8 yards a game) and scoring (42.5 points a game). Detmer is second in pass efficiency (155.9) and total offense (418.5 yards a game). Receiver Andy Boyce finished fourth in catches per game (6.58) and in reception yardage (1,241).

The most familiar names are Detmer, who has passed for 5,188 yards this season, and Chris Smith, BYU’s All-American tight end. But don’t forget about Boyce. He is a senior wide receiver who caught 79 passes and averaged 15.7 yards per catch and a team-high 103.4 yards per game.

“Andy Boyce has had an outstanding year,” BYU Coach LaVell Edwards said. “Ty and Chris Smith have gotten the attention, but Andy Boyce has been a big plus for us.”

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There is something else you should know about this team. Edwards likes more than just the offense.

“The way we’ve developed defensively, and the way we’ve developed as a team, period,” he said. “When we started last spring, we were a long way away from being a championship-caliber football team. But we stayed healthy. And the defense really played well until that last game against Hawaii.”

BYU is toughest against the run, having limited opponents to an average of 116.3 yards a game (second in the nation). The Cougars’ best defenders are senior defensive end Rich Kaufusi, senior linebacker Alema Fitisemanu and senior defensive back Brian Mitchell. All were first-team all-WAC picks.

But if you ask Edwards what charmed him most this year, and he won’t talk of Miami, or of the Washington State game the following week when the Cougars turned a 29-7 halftime deficit into a 50-36 victory, thanks to 36 fourth-quarter points. He won’t tell you about his 13th WAC championship in 19 years of coaching, or about Detmer’s Heisman.

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His favorite thing about 1990?

“The kind of kids we have,” he said. “I’ve had fewer problems among this team than any I’ve had in some time. They all seem to like each other. Nobody has been jealous of Ty. There have been no personality conflicts.”

The biggest disappointment was the loss in Hawaii. The Cougars were 10-1 at the time, having lost only Sept. 29 at Oregon, 32-16, on a day when five of Detmer’s passes were intercepted. But that was nothing compared to Hawaii, which Edwards said ranked with BYU’s 38-37 loss to Indiana in the 1979 Holiday Bowl as the most disappointing in his career. Maybe it wouldn’t have been quite so bad had the same thing not happened a year earlier, when BYU also was beaten in Hawaii, 56-14.

“Having had that happen to us the year before . . . I just couldn’t believe it,” Edwards said. “We had good practices, good intensity. I don’t know whether the Heisman (earlier in the day) had anything to do with it. You can start figuring out all kinds of reasons.”

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Said Bellini: “It took me a long time to get over it. I still don’t know what happened. They did the same thing the year before. I don’t know if we don’t match up with them or what.”

So the Cougars come to San Diego in search of respect. It was that way when they won their only national championship in 1984, clinched by a 24-17 Holiday Bowl victory over Michigan, and it remains that way this week. Saturday, they will try to rub away some of that Hawaii sting, and prove the Miami victory was no fluke.

“I think that has something to do with it,” Bellini said. “I remember (1988), we lost three of our last four and came into the Freedom Bowl and beat a good Colorado team (20-17). It’s a similar-type situation now.

“Although we have a better team now, I think pride is still involved. Whether we’re ranked sixth or 12th, we’ve got to try to win.

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“I’m sure there are people out there saying they don’t think we’re a good team. I’m looking forward to showing them we can play.”

Holiday Bowl Notes

BYU is scheduled to arrive at the US Air hangar at Lindbergh Field on Christmas Day at about 4:15 p.m. Texas A&M; arrives about 4:45 p.m., also at the US Air hangar. . . . BYU is scheduled to practice Christmas night at San Diego State from 6-8 p.m., and then work out at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday and Thursday at SDSU. Texas A&M; is scheduled to practice at 5 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday at Mesa College. Note to trivia buffs: Unless they decide to change practice times, the Aggies will be the first team in the 13-year Holiday Bowl history to practice in the evening. . . . Kickoff is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Saturday. . . . BYU is 4-4 in previous Holiday Bowls. Texas A&M; is making its first appearance. . . . Brigham Young fullback Matt Bellini is a tentative starter. Bellini tore ligaments in his right ankle at Utah on Nov. 17. He missed the next week’s Utah State game and played sparingly against Hawaii. Although he is a fullback, he is used mainly as a receiver--his 204 receptions ranks ninth on the NCAA career list and second on the WAC career list.


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