The banquets, pep rallies, pre-game press conferences and parades are history. For the players, there will be no more sightseeing at movie studios and desert museums or trips to visit the less fortunate at local hospitals or to barter for a better price on a blanket or leather bag south of the border.
The Copper Bowl festivities are over - except for the minor detail of the game itself. Kickoff for the contest pitting the 9-3 BYU Cougars against the 6-5 Oklahoma Sooners is 6 p.m. The game will be broadcast on cable nationally by ESPN and locally by KSL Radio (1160 AM).The highlighted battle of the night will be between the Cougar offense, the ninth most productive in the nation, against the Sooner defense, the country's 12th stingiest.
Both teams know exactly what to expect from each other.
"This game will be a chess match," said Oklahoma coach Gary Gibbs, who has resigned but will be leading the Sooners one final time. "We're not going to throw anything out at them that they haven't seen (on film), and they'll go with what they do best. Both teams will make minor adjustments during the game, and it will probably come down to which team can control the line of scrimmage and which team makes the fewest mistakes."
Oklahoma placed fourth in the tradition-rich, run-oriented, smash-mouth Big Eight Conference this season, while BYU tied for second in the pass-happy, high-scoring WAC.
"(The Cougars) throw the ball extremely well, but they have a good running attack too," Gibbs said. "That's a big misconception people have about BYU. They think they are just a finesse football team, but are really a physical football team. They beat Notre Dame up front. They controlled that game (against Notre Dame) in the third and fourth quarters."
Gibbs is impressed with Cougar junior quarterback John Walsh, who finished the year fifth in the nation in total offense. Walsh threw for 3,712 yards and 29 TDs with just 14 interceptions and completed 61 percent of his passes.
"(Walsh) is one of top quarterbacks in the country," Gibbs said. "We haven't played against any quarterback with his size . . . The thing that impresses me most about him is his ability to take a hit and then get right back up and go at it again."
BYU is expected to go with its usual balanced attack of running and passing. The Cougars threw 475 passes this season while running the ball a school-record 480 times. Jamal Willis (204 carries, 1,042 yards) and Hema Heimuli (126 carries, 552 yards) are the workhorses in the backfield.
"We need to be able to establish a running attack in order to open up our passing game," BYU coach LaVell Edwards said.
The Sooner defense has been particularly stingy this season against the pass. No Oklahoma opponent has thrown for more than 200 yards in a game this year, with Texas A&M's 191 yards passing the most the Sooners surrendered. OU has a good pass rush, with 33 sacks on the season, 14 by defensive end Cedric Jones.
The Sooner offense has struggled throughout much of the year. Quarterback Garrick McGee, who started every game for OU during the regular season, spent a week in the hospital with a viral infection earlier this month, losing 25 pounds in the process. He will not play tonight.
"It's tough not being able to play," McGee said. "But I realize I wouldn't be able to help the team out if I did play, so it wasn't a hard decision (to sit out)."
McGee will be replaced by speedy Terence Brown, a sophomore who has thrown just three passes this season, completing one for four yards.
"(Brown) is a little faster and maybe they'll run more option with him in there," Cougar defensive end Travis Hall said.
Traditionally, the Cougar defense has done a nice job stopping option football teams, especially Air Force. The Sooners have better athletes than the Falcons, however.
"Defending the option is all timing and responsibility. If each guy takes care of his responsibility and assignments, you can control the option," Hall said. "If we don't do our assignments, they will break big plays against us, but we've done a good job against the option in the past."
Oklahoma running backs Jerald Moore (129 carries, 659 yards) and James Allen (136 carries, 532 yards) give the Sooners a strong one-two punch in the backfield. Receiver Albert Hall (36 catches, 515 yards) has great speed and is a deep threat.
The Cougar defense is led by ends Hall (51 tackles) and Randy Brock (53 tackles), an all-WAC selection, linebacker Shay Muirbrook (102 tackles) and safety Cory Cook (73 tackles, two interceptions) this season.
GAME NOTES: Ironically, Gibbs' first game as Oklahoma coach was played at Wildcat Stadium in Tucson, the same place he'll finish his six-year OU head coaching stint. The Sooners lost to Arizona, 6-3 in Gibbs' inaugural game . . . BYU has been a slow starting team this year. The Cougars were outscored 92-80 in first quarters, but had more points than opponents in the other three. BYU tends to come out of the halftime locker room fired up, as it outscored opponents 87-46 in the third quarter . . . Tonight will be the first time BYU and Oklahoma have ever faced each other in football.