LAS VEGAS — There is a generation of BYU football players that will break into the bowl experience for the first time here today when the team charter lands and the team buses pull up and spill luggage and bodies at the front of the Golden Nugget Hotel.

Jake Kuresa is one of those players. He's never played in a bowl game.

And he intends to never miss one again in a BYU uniform.

Amazingly, for a program that's gone to more bowl games (24) than almost two-thirds of the programs around the country, there are bowl novices among the Cougars. In fact, it's a majority on the roster who will go bowling for the first time.

This week, BYU's bowl rookies will taste what it's like to be on an extended road trip. They'll have family and friends hanging around for days as festivities for the Pioneer Purevision Las Vegas Bowl count down.

Players will go to parties, shows and buffets. The NCAA allows each school to take bowl spoils and give players a gift — a bag of goodies that could include everything from electronic gadgets, music boxes and MP3 players to sports gear and warmup wardrobes.

What happens in Vegas won't stay in Vegas for the Cougars.

They've got what amounts to an extra spring practice during December — a time that, for the past three seasons, football has died for BYU players. Kuresa remembers the end of losing seasons the past three years. It hasn't been fun.

There's a bitter taste left in his mouth after losing to Utah in overtime in the final game of this season, but it doesn't have to be what sticks for months on end during class finals, the holidays and the beginning of offseason workouts.

Flushing the Utah loss out of the system is a gift in December.

"Yeah, there is a bitter taste in our mouths, but we need to concentrate on this now," Kuresa said leading up to Thursday's Las Vegas Bowl in Sam Boyd Stadium.

Finishing second in the MWC opened the door.

"We earned this," Kuresa said. "Nobody gave this to us. We went out and we earned the perks, the bowl gifts, the vacation, the bowl game, the trip, so I think the focus is just on that. The more we enjoy it, the more we're likely to want it and work for it again."

Kuresa sees a difference in the attitude of BYU players compared to the three losing seasons and staying home in December. A fire has been stoked for the future.

The last time the Cougars went to the postseason — the 2001 Liberty Bowl — key players like Brandon Doman, Luke Staley, Spencer Nead, Doug Jolley, most of the offensive line and others key performers ended their careers and were gone from the program. Losing set in.

This year, almost everyone on the offense returns in 2006. And this bowl stuff has become a giant carrot for Kuresa, his fellow pass protectors, quarterback John Beck, running back Curtis Brown, tight end Jonny Harline and the rest.

"There is a feeling that the main thing with this bowl game is to make the most of it because we earned it," Kuresa said.

"The more fun we have on this trip the more likely we'll say in the offseason, 'That is what we want, that it is why we work, that it is what we want to have happen at the end of the season.' And it becomes a positive reinforcement instead of saying to ourselves, 'Is it (the season) ever going to end?' "

Kuresa said the Cougars have made the most of the time since the final game of the season. They didn't sit around waiting for the 18 bowl practices to start.

"At first is was kind of hard. We came out and said, 'Dang, we had to do a lot of running,' and it was pretty hard. But the thing is, when we got down to practice, No. 1 it was easier because we were in practice shape because we ran for two and a half weeks. No. 2, our bodies will be more prepared than the average bowl team that takes some time off — we didn't sit around, we put out some work and we're excited about playing this game."

Kuresa said there's nothing he'd rather be doing right now than getting ready for the 2006 season by playing in Las Vegas before Christmas.

"I wouldn't want to be doing anything else. My family gets to come and we'll spend some time together — my brother and sister and mom and dad and my girlfriend. It will be awesome because I've never had the chance to go to a bowl game. I'm excited. I can't wait to see what it's going to be like. I know our coaches will have us prepared."

Enjoy, Jake. Bowl games, even the less prominent ones — and there seem to be a lot of them — don't grow on Christmas trees.