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COUGARS NOT JUST HAPPY TO PLAY IN ANOTHER BOWL

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The BYU football program has been among the nation's elite during the 23-year LaVell Edwards era. The Cougars have won 200-plus games, 16 WAC titles and were national champions in 1984. Cougar players won a pair of Outland Trophies, a Heisman Trophy and numerous All-America awards.

And they've played in 18 bowl games. Thursday's Copper Bowl game against Oklahoma will be the Cougar's 19th - and 17th in a row.Yet, for all BYU's success on the football field, bowl victories have been scarce - especially in recent years. The Cougars have, well, let's just say, a less than stellar 5-12-1 record in postseason play and haven't won a bowl game since 1988 - when freshman Ty Detmer came off the bench to lead BYU to a Freedom Bowl win over Colorado.

With that in mind, the 9-3 Cougs are taking final preparations for the Copper Bowl seriously. Like the opening of fall camp in August, BYU is holding two-a-day practice sessions at Tucson's Catalina Foothills High School. The Cougars will have Christmas Day off, but that's more because it's a Sunday than due to it being a holiday.

"Having never won a bowl game in my four years at BYU, I'm happy we're having two-a-days if it will help us win," said BYU's second-team all-America guard Evan Pilgrim. "We have a different attitude than we've had in the past."

In 1990, Detmer's Heisman year, the Cougars were embarrassed, 65-14, in the Holiday Bowl against Texas A&M. The next season BYU traveled to San Diego eight days before the bowl game - instead of the usual three or four days - to be able to get in more warm weather practice time. The plan appeared to work, as the underdog Cougars tied 10th ranked Iowa, 13-13.

The Cougars didn't have as much warm weather practice time prior to their 1992 loss to Kansas, 23-20, in the Aloha Bowl. Last year, however, they went to San Diego early again, had a week of good practices and played well in a 28-21 loss to heavily favored Ohio State.

"A lot of years we didn't practice long enough (to get the timing back before a bowl game)," Edwards said. "When we played Iowa we went down eight days early and nearly beat them and last year we had a good shot at beating a pretty good Ohio State team. The extra practice time made a difference."

Perhaps this year the extra practice time in the game city will result in a bowl victory.

BOWL NOTES: BYU is ranked 19th in the CNN-USA Today coaches' poll. Oklahoma, just 6-5 with a lame-duck head coach in Gary Gibbs and a starting quarterback that just recently got out of the hospital and may not play, isn't ranked but received the votes that would make it 39th in the same poll. So BYU is a heavy favorite, right? Wrong. Despite BYU being 20 spots ahead of the Sooners in the rankings, oddsmakers are calling the game a toss-up . . . The Cougars are 1-7-1 in bowl games since the 1984 Holiday Bowl victory over Michigan during the national championship season . . . Oklahoma, meanwhile, has one of the best bowl records in the nation at 20-10-1. The Sooners have won the only two bowl games they've been to in the 1990s.