There hasn't been a lot of excitement in Columbus, Ohio, about the appearance of the hometown Ohio State Buckeyes in the Thrifty Car Rental Holiday Bowl this Thursday.

"The feeling in Columbus about this game is that it's something less than Ohio State deserves," said Mark Rea, editor of the Buckeye Sports Bulletin, an OSU fan publication. "Playing on a cable station on Dec. 30 is not what people expected. Anything less than a New Year's Day bowl is unacceptable."That hasn't stopped Ohio State from selling out its ticket allotment, but there is strong suspicion that fans are less interested in the game itself than in touring southern California. For three of the last four years, the Buckeyes have played their postseason game in Florida, and since Ohioans vacation in Florida anyway, the Holiday Bowl is a good excuse to see some different territory.

BYU, on the other hand, has had serious problems peddling its tickets. The usually faithful Cougar fans are suddenly finding all the spaces in their Franklin Day Planners filled in for the 30th. BYU has already returned about 5,000 of its 10,000-ticket allotment, and as of late last week had sold about 3-4,000, many in California. And the poor sales were despite an unprecedented sales effort by the Cougar Club.

BYU coach LaVell Edwards is well-aware of the way fans are flocking away from this game, and he has a couple of theories for the indifference.

"I think the fact that we've been to so many (Holiday Bowls) hurts, and I think some people have decided to wait for next year," Edwards said.

That latter statement may say it all. The fact is, BYU fans grew seriously disenchanted with this team way back in midseason, when they were getting drubbed by UCLA and Notre Dame on back-to-back weekends by a combined score of 113-34, while giving up more than 1,000 yards total offense.

"There weren't a lot of things to be happy about toward the end of the season," said Cougar Club director Dale McCann. "I think the fans were a little disappointed with the losses to Utah State and Utah, and that left them a little flat."

And the Buckeyes are much more like the Bruins and Irish than they are the Utes and Aggies. Ohio State is 9-1-1, ranked No. 11, and finished in a tie for the Big Ten title with Wisconsin, which got the Rose Bowl nod because OSU had been more recently.

BYU is 6-5, unranked, and a three-way co-WAC champion that is in the Holiday Bowl because it beat Colorado State (by five points) while Fresno State and Wyoming didn't.

"There's just a feeling here that a 9-1-1 team deserves better than a 6-5 opponent," said Rea. "The fans are getting as excited as they can be."

"The oddsmakers have Ohio State by 14 points, and they're probably right," said McCann. "There are a lot of people who think our team doesn't have a chance against Ohio State."

There's always the chance, of course, that a 9-1-1 team is going to overlook a 6-5 foe, but there are several indications that the Buckeyes will be motivated.

For one thing, they haven't won a bowl game in four years, which just happens to be how long coach John Cooper has been around. Cooper has already stuck his neck out by guaranteeing a win this year, so he has major incentive.

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For another thing, the Buckeyes suffered the death of a teammate - freshman defensive end Jayson Gwinn, who is from Columbus - in a car accident.

"This game is going to be played in honor of their fallen comrade," said Ahmed Burdick, who covers the Buckeyes for the Columbus Call & Post. "They're going to try to win this game for him. It will be an emotional game."

All that, coupled with the fact that the Buckeyes are big, physical, talented and able to run the ball - and teams that can run have caused BYU problems - helps explain why Cougar fans, at least, aren't thrilled about this matchup. Many seem to envision this as a potential repeat of the 1990 Holiday Bowl, when BYU was crushed by an aroused Texas A&M team, 65-14. McCann, for one, thinks the Cougs can't afford to let that happen.

"I think the team has to show character," McCann said. "They don't have to win, but they have to play well enough to restore people's faith. If we get blown away, it's going to be hard times for a while."

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