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December 19, 2007
Las Vegas Bowl: BYU vs. UCLA
LAS VEGAS BOWL
WHERE: Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas
WEATHER: Clear, about 42.
TV: ESPN (Brad Nessler will handle the play-by-play, with Bob Griese and Paul Maguire serving as analysts).
THE LINE: BYU by 6.
RECORDS VS. BOWL TEAMS: BYU 4-2, UCLA 4-3.
RECORD VS. BCS TOP 25: BYU 0-0, UCLA 0-2.
BCS RANK: BYU 17th, UCLA N/A.
SCHEDULE STRENGTH: BYU 67th, UCLA 23rd.
COACHES: BYUBronco Mendenhall (1-1 in bowls); UCLADeWayne Walker (interim coach).
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: Hawaii went undefeated and earned a Sugar Bowl bid, but you could make a good argument that BYU was playing the best of any non-BCS team by the end of the season. BYU can strengthen its claim as the nation's top non-BCS program by avenging one of its two regular-season losses. Walker will try to boost his chances of earning UCLA's permanent coaching job by beating Mendenhall, whose name also was mentioned in connection with the vacancy.
KEY STAT: BYU ranks 10th in the nation in total defense at 307.2 yards per game. UCLA ranks 97th in the nation in total offense at 335.1 yards per game.
KEEP AN EYE ON: UCLA's quarterback situation remains shaky. Ben Olson directed the Bruins to a 27-17 victory over BYU on Sept. 8, but he hasn't made a start since injuring his left knee Oct. 6 against Notre Dame. Olson played in a backup role during the Bruins' last two regular-season games going a combined 4-for-15 for 64 yards with an interception and was scheduled to return to the starting lineup this weekend until he aggravated the knee injury in practice this week. Olson's knee problems could force the Bruins to turn to Osaar Rasshan, who has gone 17 of 44 for 259 yards with two interceptions and no touchdown passes in part-time duty this season.
Bowl season ought to give TV viewers a break now that the Writers Guild strike has forced them to watch old episodes of their favorite shows.
Unfortunately, even bowl season doesn't offer a respite from reruns.
The 2007 schedule includes two matchups BYU-UCLA in the Las Vegas Bowl and Purdue-Central Michigan in the Motor City Bowl that took place during the regular season. This marks the first time in history that two bowls in one season have offered rematches, the 2007 official NCAA record book shows.
Ever since these rematches were announced, the teams have tried to put their best spin on the situation.
"You're going to have two teams getting after each other because they know each other well," UCLA strong safety Chris Horton said of Saturday's Las Vegas Bowl showdown.
Nonetheless, it seems rather unusual to schedule rematches of games that weren't particularly interesting the first time around. UCLA beat BYU 27-17 on Sept. 8, while Purdue trounced Central Michigan 45-22 one week later.
Making matters worse, these two matchups will take place again early next season. UCLA plays at BYU on Sept. 6, and Central Michigan heads to Purdue one week later.
"Both teams will do their best every time we play, but there is something to be said about playing an opponent once a year and learning a lesson, and then letting it sink in and play them a year later," BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "That's the way I prefer to have it."
Rematches are unusual but not unprecedented in bowl season.
When Florida State rallied from a 28-point deficit to tie Florida 31-31 in 1993, the Sugar Bowl paired them again and billed the rematch as "The Fifth Quarter in the French Quarter." They staged another rematch in the Sugar Bowl three years later, when the Gators won their first national title by avenging a regular-season loss to the Seminoles.
The first rematch took place because it gave the teams a chance to settle a regular-season tie. The second one occurred after Texas' upset of Nebraska in the Big 12 championship game prevented a potential Florida State-Nebraska showdown for the national title in the Orange Bowl.
But there didn't seem to be a compelling reason for this season's rematches. The limits of bowl tie-ins and the demands for gate attractions helped sway the decisions of the Las Vegas and Motor City officials.
The Las Vegas Bowl had the fifth pick of Pac-10 teams and had to invite UCLA after the Emerald Bowl took Oregon State with the fourth selection. Armed Forces Bowl-bound California couldn't be selected instead because the Golden Bears finished behind UCLA in the Pac-10 standings, Las Vegas Bowl media director Mark Wallington said.
"We didn't have a choice," Wallington said.
Although the Las Vegas Bowl still could have avoided a rematch by inviting a Mountain West team other than BYU, the Cougars' 10-2 record and large fan base made them too enticing to turn down. BYU won the Mountain West title and is expected to make up three-quarters of the sellout crowd for Saturday's game.
"We have the No. 1 choice (of Mountain West teams), and it's going to take an unusual case not to take the champions," Wallington said. "And you're talking about the No. 17 team in the BCS standings. It was kind of a no-brainer to take BYU."
The rematch at least gives BYU a chance for revenge. UCLA has defeated BYU seven consecutive times, including that 27-17 victory Sept. 8 in Pasadena, Calif. The teams have gone in opposite directions since.
BYU enters the Las Vegas Bowl with nine consecutive victories and is seeking to end the year on a 10-game winning streak for the second season in a row. UCLA is 6-6 and coach Karl Dorrell was fired at the end of the regular season.
"The offense was young at that time," BYU linebacker Kelly Poppinga said of the regular-season loss to UCLA. "Considering the way they have progressed, we're a totally different team than we were at the beginning of September."
Central Michigan has more of a revenge motive. The Chippewas fell behind 24-0 in the first quarter on their way to a 45-22 loss at Purdue on Sept. 15. That begs the question of why the Motor City Bowl saw fit to stage a rematch of a game that was so one-sided three months ago.
"Even though it's a rematch, what's compelling about it is three months ago it was in West Lafayette with a (Central Michigan) team that was in its first month of a new coaching staff," Motor City Bowl executive director Ken Hoffman said. "Now that team has come together, they're the Mid-American Conference champions, they're three more months into the program with their new coaching staff, they'll have the incentive to play better than they did the first time around and this time it's in front of their fans rather than Purdue fans."
That large Central Michigan fan contingent is a big reason this rematch is taking place. The Motor City Bowl had the seventh pick from the Big Ten and selected Purdue, the only conference team with a winning record that hadn't already been chosen by another bowl.
The Motor City chose Central Michigan as its MAC representative even though the Chippewas already had played Purdue this season and appeared in the Motor City Bowl last season.
"We will likely have 55,000 (fans)," Hoffman said, "and I think 40,000 of those will be Central Michigan fans."
While the revenge motive might seem like all Central Michigan needs, linebacker Ike Brown said the chance to beat a Big Ten program means more than the possibility of avenging a regular-season loss. The Chippewas (8-5) lost their three regular-season games against BCS foes by an average margin of 41 points.
"You really don't get that recognition when we beat a team in our conference," Brown said. "If you beat a BCS school, that's when you get that recognition. That's what we want to do."
While it might seem a bit unfair for Purdue (7-5) to play a bowl against a team it already beat soundly this season, the Boilermakers are putting their own spin on the possibility of revenge. Purdue cornerback Terrell Vinson believes the Boilers' defense also needs to make amends for its second-half performance in the Sept. 15 victory.
"We were up 31-0 and let them come back and score 22 points in the second half," Vinson said. "We have a lot of incentive as well."
And if he's upset about having to play Central Michigan again, Vinson isn't letting it show.
"We're just happy to make a bowl," Vinson said.
While Vinson may not care whether he's facing a team he already has seen before, bowl officials can only hope that fans and TV audiences feel the same way.
Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.