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Bowl invitation could come Saturday

PROVO — It's no secret that the Las Vegas Bowl has long coveted BYU. But the Cougars have never played in that game — either they have been too good or not good enough.

This year, though, the Las Vegas Bowl finally might get its wish and land BYU. Las Vegas Bowl executive director Tina Kunzer-Murphy is attending Saturday's BYU-Utah game along with Mountain West Conference commissioner Craig Thompson.

Kunzer-Murphy could extend an invitation to the Cougars at the conclusion of the contest. The Las Vegas Bowl, which pits an MWC team against the Pac-10's fifth-place team (presuming that team is bowl-eligible), is scheduled for Dec. 22 at Sam Boyd Stadium.

As per its contract with the MWC, the Las Vegas Bowl has the first pick among the league's bowl-eligible teams. TCU (10-1), which is nationally ranked and is the conference champion, could be headed to either the Liberty Bowl or the Houston Bowl.

That aside, BYU appears to be the most attractive team for the Las Vegas Bowl, given Provo's proximity to Las Vegas and the large number of Cougar fans who traditionally travel to bowl games.

BYU draws well whenever it plays at UNLV. It also attracted plenty of fans when it played in the Western Athletic Conference championship game in 1996 and 1998.

Thompson explained the bowls affiliated with the MWC will do what is best for them, not necessarily what is best for the league.

"They have the autonomy to pick who they want," Thompson said. "From my perspective, I'd rather have a team with a better record. But at the end of the day, the bowls are going to want who they choose."

Though it appears BYU will go bowling for the first time since 2001, you won't hear any Cougar players or coaches talking about it.

When asked about his thoughts on a possible bowl, junior linebacker Cameron Jensen replied: "Nothing. This is our last game. Going to a bowl game would be great. Everybody wants to go to a bowl game. But as far as this week is concerned, this is our last game. We want to go out with a win."

When coach Bronco Mendenhall was asked about his team benefiting from three weeks of practice leading up to a bowl, he responded: "I'm not considering that at this point. I'm completely immersed in trying to develop a plan and prepare our team to beat Utah."

INJURY UPDATE: Safeties K.C. Bills and Quinn Gooch and wide receiver Zac Collie likely won't play Saturday due to injuries.

"I don't expect any of them back at this point," Mendenhall said. "I'm hopeful they could all be back but I would say 'doubtful' is the highest category I could place them in."

With Bills and Gooch out, the Cougars are thin at the safety position. David Tafuna and Corby Hodgkiss will probably start against the Utes. As of Wednesday, Mendenhall said he didn't know who his third or fourth safety would be on Saturday.

"We're continuing to work in practice how to manage that position, but we're thin," Mendenhall said.

IGNORING THE MEDIA: In order to remain focused on the game instead of everything that surrounds it, Mendenhall has counseled his team to avoid reading newspapers, watching the news and listening to radio talk shows.

"We're gaining momentum and having success," Mendenhall said, "because of how focused on the things that are really important to winning the game, not what we say or responding to a comment or worrying about what is said about us. But simply going to work. That's been our approach."

IGNORING RECENT HISTORY: For BYU, the past two games against Utah have been miserable experiences. In 2003, the Utes snapped the Cougars' 361-game scoring streak, 3-0, on a cold, snowy day. A year ago, Utah clinched an undefeated season and earned a Fiesta Bowl berth by blasting BYU, 52-21. At the end of that contest, the Utes put defensive lineman Steve Fifita in the offensive backfield and he scored a touchdown with about one minute remaining.

Mendenhall said he isn't referring to that this week.

"I've made it a specific point for history not to be relevant with this team," he said. "In my opinion, after three losing seasons, that's over with. This football team is a winning football team at this point and there is a different and new direction set. I'd like them to define the direction and continue to do that by the way they play this year. We're drawing very little, and not acknowledging much, on recent history, but certainly acknowledging the tradition of the game."


E-mail: jeffc@desnews.com