Following their disappointing 37-17 loss to BYU Saturday, the Utah football team wanted one more chance to redeem themselves in a bowl game.
"Hopefully this isn't our last game," said Chad Kauhaahaa. "Maybe some bowl will pick us up.""I still think we're one of the better teams in the nation," said Harold Lusk. "It'd be nice to go out my senior year winning a bowl game."
"Everybody would love to play again," added quarterback Mike Fouts.
The Utes, who fell to 8-3 with the loss and into a second-place tie in the WAC Mountain Division at 6-2, are pinning their hopes on the Copper Bowl, which is played in Tucson on Dec. 27.
According to Ute coach Ron McBride, who has close ties to people involved with the bowl (he used to coach at Arizona), and a source in the WAC office, the Utes have a pretty good chance at picking up the WAC spot in the Copper Bowl.
What would help the Utes more than anything would be for BYU to beat Wyoming on Dec. 7 and get invited to an Alliance bowl, such as the Fiesta Bowl. That would then free up another spot for the WAC putting Wyoming in the Holiday Bowl and the Utes in the Copper Bowl, or vice-versa.
If the Cougars beat Wyoming and don't get an Alliance berth, then it would be between the Utes and Cowboys for the Copper Bowl berth. And the Utes might have the edge for several reasons.
1) The Utes had a better non-conference schedule (they beat then-ranked Kansas and bowl-bound Stanford, while the Cowboys defeated Western Michigan, Idaho and Iowa State).
2) Utah would almost certainly bring many more fans to the bowl, always a factor for lesser bowls.
3) Apparently the Copper Bowl folks feel they owe the Utes one after bypassing them last year in favor of Air Force, a team Utah defeated.
4) Wyoming coach Joe Tiller has already accepted the head coaching job at Purdue and
teams with lame-duck coaches traditionally don't perform or draw as well in bowl games.
"I think it's a good possibility," said McBride of a Copper Bowl bid.
Since the Utes won't know about a possible bowl berth until after the WAC championship game, McBride is giving his team this week off and will practice a couple of times next week in case they receive an invitation.
Saturday's loss to BYU magnified several problems that have plagued the Utes all season.
The defensive line has struggled all season, supposedly due to injuries, allowing tons of rushing yards as it did to BYU. But perhaps the D-line just wasn't that good to begin with. The fact that Richard Seals went from third-string tight end to starting defensive tackle in a week's time may have been a good clue about the strength of the defensive line.
Then there was quarterback Mike Fouts, who has been inconsistent all season. He had a couple of brilliant performances against Kansas and Tulsa and was good enough for the Utes to win six other games, but when he was off, such as in the Rice and BYU games, the Ute offense was in deep trouble.
Looking ahead to 1997, the Utes should be strong on both sides of the ball. Offensively, they lose just four starters, center Chad Folk, tackle Barry Sims, receiver Rocky Henry and Fouts.
The Utes are well-stacked at the receiver position and have several talented offensive linemen ready to step in. At the quarterback spot, Ute coaches are genuinely excited about two redshirts from this year, JC transfer Jonathan Crosswhite and freshman Darnell Arceneaux.
The defense loses three linemen, Jeff Kaufusi, Nate Kia and Kauhaahaa along with free safety Harold Lusk, but otherwise everyone is back, including leading tacklers Robert Love and Brandon Dart.
"We have a good nucleus coming back," said McBride, who hopes he won't have to worry about next season for another month.