AP/Douglas C. Pizac
Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2008 | 5:59 p.m.
After climbing as high as No. 8 in the national polls and riding the nation's longest winning streak out to 16 games, returning to the Las Vegas Bowl was not the way the Cougars had hoped their season would end.
But as the players prepared for what will be their fourth consecutive Las Vegas Bowl appearance, it was clear they are motivated for Saturday's game against Arizona, because they want to prove themselves to the rest of the nation.
"Obviously we had bigger goals at the beginning of the season and we came up short on a couple," said tight end Dennis Pitta. "But we plan on winning this game. There's a lot at stake. We want to go out and prove that we're a good football team."
The fact that the team is disappointed by a 10-2 record shows how high its expectations were at the start of the season.
The Cougars sat at No. 16 in the preseason polls and were coming off back-to-back Mountain West Conference championships. They were also carrying a 10-game win streak.
The season started off well as BYU outscored its opponents 241-61 in the first six games before a 32-7 loss to TCU ended their BCS hopes. Some speculated that the Cougars would have a letdown after the loss, but they rose to the challenge and won their next four games before losing the last game on their schedule against Utah.
"That TCU game was hard to swallow," said quarterback Max Hall. "There was a chance for us to get down, but we battled back inch by inch. I'm proud of the guys and we're not forgetting the great season we've had."
The Cougars are looking to win their third consecutive Las Vegas Bowl, after beating Oregon 38-8 in 2006 and squeaking by UCLA in a 17-16 thriller in 2007. They were beat by Cal 35-28 in 2005.
The team is looking to redeem itself after a 48-24 loss to undefeated Utah on Nov. 22. Hall was intercepted a career-worst five times in that game and the defense allowed three unanswered fourth-quarter touchdowns to give the MWC title to the Utes.
"I'm excited to be here because it gives me a chance to play a better football game than I did against Utah," Hall said. "We all want to end the season on a good note."
It's been nearly a month since the loss to Utah and the failed expectations of a BCS-bound season, but players say don't expect the time off to damage the team's determination to win its last game of the year.
"The coaches have done a great job of keeping us focused and prepared," wide receiver Austin Collie said. "They're going to be motivated and we're going to be motivated to prove ourselves after the loss to Utah. Sometimes things don't always work out the way you want them to but we looked good today and we're ready."
Brett Okamoto can be reached at 948-7817 or [email protected].