ON SECOND thought, why would the Alliance Bowls want BYU?

Why would they want a team that backs up its No. 5 ranking with play and talk and gets in the last word to boot?Why would anybody want a team that likes to wait until the 11th hour to pull out victories? And who would want a team that does it all in the sneakiest, cleverest way possible, when the guy with the big mouth and fast feet is on the sideline?

Why would they want a team with a cast of characters named Sark and K.O. and Shay, the kid with the tattoos who, in the shadow of the state fairgrounds, treated KSU quarterback Brian Kavanagh like a Whack-A-Mole game?

Why would you want all this when there are so many other more important considerations, such as fans who will fill bars and stadiums and spend money? What, you thought college football was about touchdowns and tackles and a good game?

But enough diplomacy. "We should have been in the Alliance from the start!" said James Dye seconds after the final gun had sounded on BYU's 19-15 victory over Kansas State in Wednesday's 61st Cotton Bowl (That Really Was A) Classic.

Really, the wonder wasn't that the Cougars scored two touchdowns in the final 11 minutes to win the game. The wonder was they could do all this while carrying a chip on their shoulders the size of a Winnebago.

First, it was the Alliance Bowls, which wouldn't let the New Money Cougars into their snooty club of blue bloods. Next it was the referees, who seemed to ignore a couple of blatant pass interference penalties on KSU defenders. And then there was the Kansas State Wildcats' attitude. In the days leading up to the game, they went out of their way not to shake hands or speak with the Cougars at bowl functions.

"They acted like we had no business being there," said BYU linebacker Brad Martin. "They had no respect."

"I guess they were thinking we'd be thinking, Oh, no, those guys won't talk to us," said quarterback Steve Sarkisian.

Not to worry. The Wildcats were more than sociable come game time. They talked and talked and talked, mostly the trash variety which can't be printed. Except this: "This isn't the WAC, Sark!" they barked across the line of scrimmage. This isn't Kansas anymore, either, Toto.

By the time the fourth quarter arrived, the Cougars were enraged. It was bad enough that they were trailing 15-5 thanks to two fluke plays - a short pass that turned into a long touchdown because of a missed tackle, and a 41-yard Hail Mary pass on the last play of the first half (was this karma for the 41-yard Hail Mary pass BYU used to win the 1980 Miracle Bowl?). All this was bad enough, but the Wildcats were also giving the Cougars an earful, particularly star cornerback Chris Canty.

"Every play he had something to say," said Sarkisian. "I have absolutely no respect for that guy."

Unfortunately for the Cougars, Canty's coverage was as sticky as the Dallas humidity. Speaking of which, the warm humid air caught up with Canty. Early in the fourth quarter, he had to leave the field because of cramps. Canty was taken to the locker room for a drink, which seemed like a bad idea for a guy who had recently been arrested for suspicion of drunk driving.

Noting Canty's departure, quarterback coach Norm Chow decided to play while he was away. He picked on Canty's replacement, Demetric Denmark. Dye, one of BYU's fleetest players, raced past the newcomer and gathered in a 32-yard touchdown pass, cutting KSU's lead to 15-12 with 10:55 remaining.

The game's decisive moment came with less than four minutes remaining and BYU at the KSU 28-yard line. Kaipo McGuire, BYU's flyweight receiver, had just turned upfield after catching a short pass in the flat when he was met by a runaway train named Mario Smith, who hit him so hard and fast that it knocked McGuire's helmet off. A search revealed that McGuire's head was not still in it, but it felt like it.

"I don't remember a thing," said McGuire, and you could almost see a constellation of stars circling his head.

McGuire was laid out on the field like an ironing board for several minutes while his teammates alternately worried over their teammate and seethed over the Wildcats' reaction.

"They were all laughing," said Martin. "It was a good hit, but you don't do that if someone's hurt."

Something else happened on that play. KSU's other star cornerback, Joe Gordon, left the field with an injury. BYU receivers pointed it out to Chow on the sidelines. "Let's go deep on them now," they urged.

Chow obliged and called the play. Receiver K.O. Kealaluhi split wide to the left and sized up his new rival across the line of scrimmage - Lamar Chapman, a freshman playing his first play of the game.

"The other guys (Gordon and Canty) had been lining up only a yard away from me, but this guy was three or four yards back," he said. "You could tell he was scared."

Sarkisian looked over the defense as he called out the signals. "It looked like a zone defense," he said, "but when the ball was snapped, the free safety took (tight end) Chad Lewis. I knew then they were in man coverage."

That meant Chapman would get no help covering Kealaluhi. Kealaluhi got his defender to bite on a slant and then turned toward the corner, wide open. He gathered in the pass for what proved to be the game-winning score with 3:39 left.

While the Cougars celebrated, Sarkisian raced toward the KSU bench to rub it in Canty's face. "I wasn't talking to the bench; I wasn't talking to their coaches or their players; I was talking to one guy," he said. "I'm not going to name names, but there was a guy who was popping off all week and talking smack all game, and I'd had enough. It's interesting to me that a guy would talk so much smack, but then not be in the game when his team needed him."

Sarkisian, who earned an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for his tirade (and wouldn't repeat what he said), was asked how he knew how to find Canty: "We knew he wasn't in the game because we could hear him talking on the sideline."

That notwithstanding, the Cougars celebrated the second biggest win in school history (behind the '84 championship game), which assured them of their second Top Five ranking ever. It was their 14th win in 15 games (both NCAA records). Like the '84 national champs, they were at their best when they had to be; three of their victories were decided in the final minute of play.

Why would the Alliance Bowls want a team like that?