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CONSIDERING BYU's football team failed to win the WAC championship, lost badly to Arizona State and wrapped up the season with a loss to Utah, it stands to reason this year's Copper Bowl invitation is being viewed as, well, another bowl appearance. The Rose Bowl it ain't.

That doesn't mean the school's army of promoters, marketers and advance men isn't out in force, though. It's just that they're taking a distinctly businesslike approach. You put on your game face, praise the host city, the host bowl, the opponent . . . and you go play the game without complaining.If interest in this year's bowl game isn't at fever pitch, it's understandable. The Cougars had to watch for the second straight November as the Utes tore down the goalposts, which, if you play for the Cougars, is like waking up on the operating table. To make things worse, their old familiar Holiday Bowl has been taken away. No more San Diego Marriott. No more eating at the mess hall on the U.S.S. Constellation. No more whirlwind tours of Sea World. No more AWOL trips to Tijuana.

Instead, they're are heading to Tucson, which is a great place for filming a western, but not noted for its bowl-appeal. The Weiser Lock Copper Bowl falls somewhere between the Poulan Weedeater Bowl and the now-defunct Gotham Bowl on the list of postseason games. Perhaps for the Cougars, the worst part about appearing in the Copper Bowl is knowing it was Utah's third choice.

Nevertheless, BYU is writing up press releases and phoning up the alumni and buying air time on the TV and radio stations and booking plane tickets. "We're 9-3 and ranked in the Top 20 and playing Oklahoma, a team we've never played before," says Val Hale, who is the Cougars' assistant athletic director-media. "That makes for a great game."

There is a chance there is more interest this year than last. A year ago, the Cougs earned their 11th trip to the Holiday Bowl by default when Wyoming lost its last game of the season. BYU lost lost five regular-season games.

"I actually feel there is more interest this year in the bowl game than last year when we went to the Holiday Bowl," continues Hale. "We did end the season on a down note by losing to Utah this year, but people still perceive this as a good team. Oklahoma is a team we haven't played before, and we haven't played a game in Tucson since 1976 . . . . I think there's more interest this year than last. Last year, fans had pretty much given up on the team. They lost to Utah and Utah State. We had no momentum at all. This year there's some momentum."

Officials say they don't know yet how many fans they expect to attend the game. Jim Burton, BYU's director of Alumni Services, cautiously says this year's response "feels about the same as an average bowl game."

"Granted, it's not the (WAC) championship bowl game, which would carry with it more enthusiasm, but there is interest there to follow the team," he adds.

Roy Brinkerhoff, in charge of BYU's fan base in Arizona, says fans there are thrilled to have the Cougars. "There's a lot of enthusiasm down there," he says.

Whether such homilies mean the Cougars will sell out their 10,000-ticket allotment is another matter. BYU's fan base has never been known as a big-spending bunch. The perennial joke is that when Cougar fans came to the Holiday Bowl they'd bring a $50 bill and a copy of the Ten Commandments - and never break either.

Wherever they go after the regular season, the Cougars say they're happy to be invited. "In the WAC," Hale continues, "it's not like being in the Pac-10 and going from the Rose Bowl to the Holiday Bowl. The Holiday Bowl is a fantastic bowl game, and everyone will tell you that's where we'd like to be. But the Freedom and Copper are nice bowl games. They don't have the payout, but it's not like we're stepping down from the Orange Bowl to (play in) the Copper Bowl."

So maybe the Cougars would rather be taking in the tour of the U.S.S. Constellation one more time, or even spending the holidays holed up across the street from Disneyland, as are the Utes. But they also could have five losses as they did last year at this time. Or an unheralded quarterback. Or be playing in Shreveport. Worse yet, they could be watching it all on television.