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BYU stuck in waiting game

Bowl opponent unknown; Cougs already preparing

PROVO — A week after accepting an invitation to play in the Las Vegas Bowl, the BYU football team resumes practice today in preparation for the Dec. 22 game.

Yet the Cougars (6-5) still don't know which opponent they will face.

There are several possibilities and the situation isn't expected to be resolved until after this weekend's big games and the subsequent Bowl Championship series selections on Sunday.

While BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall says it doesn't matter who the opponent is, there's no doubt that a showdown with California (7-4) of the Pac-10 would be a desirable one for the Cougars, who are enjoying their first postseason appearance since 2001.

There's also an intriguing subplot: BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe is the former coach of the Golden Bears.

A BYU-Cal matchup would be attractive for Cougar fans and Las Vegas Bowl officials.

But it may not happen.

Even though the Las Vegas Bowl has a contract to take the No. 5 Pac-10 team, the Pac-10 may not be able to fill the obligation.

In that case, possible opponents for BYU include teams from mid-major conferences: Nevada (8-3), Louisiana Tech (6-4), Toledo (8-3), Western Michigan (7-4) and UTEP (8-3).

None of those aforementioned mid-major teams have as much luster as Cal. Then again, after three straight losing seasons, the Cougars can't complain.

Though no opponent has been announced, that hasn't stopped BYU fans from buying tickets. As of Monday afternoon, the school had sold 9,000 tickets, according to BYU officials. Student tickets go on sale today.

Determining an opponent hinges on what the BCS, the Fiesta Bowl in particular, does Sunday.

The Fiesta Bowl has the first selection to replace Big 12 champion Texas, presuming the Longhorns go to the Rose Bowl. It figures that the folks in Tempe, Ariz., will grab No. 7 Notre Dame (9-2), which defeated BYU in October.

It could come down to the Fiesta Bowl's decision regarding an opponent for the Fighting Irish, which could be either Ohio State or Oregon.

The Ducks (10-1), whose offensive coordinator is former Cougar coach Gary Crowton, are ranked No. 8, with their only loss coming to No. 1 Southern California. There's at least one thing Oregon may have in its favor — the BCS could feel it needs to make it up to the Pac-10 after shutting out a worthy Cal squad last season.

The Buckeyes (9-2), on the other hand, are ranked No. 6 and one of their losses came to No. 2 Texas.

That aside, could the Fiesta Bowl resist the chance at a matchup between two tradition-rich programs from the Midwest — Notre Dame and Ohio State?

If the BCS selects the Ducks, then the Pac-10 won't be able to send its fifth-place team — Cal — to Las Vegas. Instead, the Golden Bears would be ticketed for the Holiday Bowl.

That could open the door for a Western Athletic Conference team to play BYU.

On Monday, WAC commissioner Karl Benson said that Nevada could pick between the Hawaii Bowl on Dec. 24, to meet a Conference USA foe, or the Las Vegas Bowl. The Wolf Pack, which knocked off nationally ranked Fresno, 38-35, last Saturday, might prefer the proximity of Las Vegas.

BYU and Nevada have played seven times, with the series, which began in 1929, standing 4-1-2 in favor of the Cougars. The lone loss to the Wolf Pack came in 2002, in Reno.

WAC officials said the Motor City Bowl, played on Dec. 28 in Detroit, has expressed interest in Nevada as well.

Contributing: Associated Press