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December 19, 2007

Las Vegas Bowl: BYU vs. UCLA

Las Vegas Bowl: Who has the edge? | Bowl rematches | Bowl Central | Bowl schedule

BYU (10-2) vs. UCLA (6-6)
WHEN: 8 p.m., Saturday
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).
COACHES: BYU—Bronco Mendenhall (1-1 in bowls); UCLA—DeWayne 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.

History gives BYU and Central Michigan reason to feel confident they can earn revenge in their bowls. A look at the 14 previous regular-season rematches in bowls shows that the regular-season loser has won the bowl more often than the regular-season winner.
YearBowlRegular-Season ResultBowl Result
1943OrangeTexas A&M 28, LSU 13LSU 19, Texas A&M 14
1945GatorS. Carolina 13,
Wake Forest 13
Wake Forest 26,
S. Carolina 14
1956RoseIowa 14, Oregon St. 13Iowa 35, Oregon St. 19
1959SugarLSU 7, Ole Miss 3Ole Miss 21, LSU 0
1965RoseMichigan St. 13, UCLA 3UCLA 14, Michigan St. 12
1975RoseOhio State 41, UCLA 20UCLA 23, Ohio State 10
1978OrangeNebraska 17, Oklahoma 14Oklahoma 31, Nebraska 24
1982RoseUCLA 31, Michigan 27UCLA 24, Michigan 14
1987RoseMichigan St. 27, USC 13Michigan St. 20, USC 17
1994SugarFlorida 31, Florida St. 31Florida St. 23, Florida 17
1995Las VegasToledo 49, Nevada 35Toledo 40, Nevada 37 (OT)
1996SugarFlorida St. 24, Florida 21Florida 52, Florida St. 20
1997IndependenceNotre Dame 24, LSU 6LSU 27, Notre Dame 9
2003OrangeMiami 22, Florida St. 14Miami 16, Florida St. 14
Source: 2007 NCAA record book
Hoffman wanted the MAC champ and pointed out that Central Michigan's proximity to Detroit also played a part in his decision. CMU helped the Motor City Bowl draw a record crowd of 54,113 last season, when the Chippewas beat Middle Tennessee State 31-14.

"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.

Las Vegas Bowl: BYU vs. UCLA
BYU run offense vs. UCLA run defense
EDGE: BYU BYU gained less than 2 yards per carry in a loss to UCLA in September, but Harvey Unga has become a much bigger part of BYU's offense. Unga set a BYU freshman record with 1,211 rushing yards and gained at least 110 yards in five of the Cougars' past seven games. Unga gained a season-low 28 yards on five carries against UCLA in the earlier meeting. UCLA has allowed at least 145 rushing yards in three of its past four games.
BYU pass offense vs. UCLA pass defense
EDGE: BYU BYU QB Max Hall threw for 391 yards with two touchdown passes and one interception, which was returned for a touchdown, in the Cougars' regular-season loss to UCLA. Hall has thrown 10 touchdown passes with only three interceptions in the Cougars' past five games. Hall could have another big game Saturday if he has time to throw against a UCLA defense that averages three sacks per game.
UCLA run offense vs. BYU run defense
EDGE: BYU UCLA hasn't recovered from a season-ending knee injury to Kahlil Bell, who rushed for 79 yards against BYU in September. The Bruins have gained less than 4 yards per carry in five consecutive games. UCLA would love to have another big bowl-game performance from TB Chris Markey, who rushed for 144 yards in an Emerald Bowl loss to Florida State last season. Markey has exceeded the 100-yard mark just once this season. BYU ranks ninth in the nation against the run and has allowed just 2.9 yards per carry.
UCLA pass offense vs. BYU pass defense
EDGE: BYU Ben Olson has regained his starting job for the bowl game, but he didn't play particularly well in the Bruins' final two regular-season games after returning from a midseason knee injury. Olson went 13-of-28 for 126 yards and an interception against BYU earlier this season. BYU ranks 22nd in the nation in pass efficiency defense and is averaging 2.4 sacks per game.
BYU special teams vs. UCLA special teams
EDGE: UCLA BYU K Mitch Payne has gone 9-for-13 on field-goal attempts, including 1-for-4 from at least 40 yards with a long of 42. BYU punter C.J. Santiago is averaging 40.8 yards per attempt. UCLA's Kai Forbath is 22 of 26 on field-goal attempts and 3-for-3 from at least 50 yards. UCLA punter Aaron Perez averages 42.9 yards per attempt. BYU might want to kick away from Matt Slater, who has returned three kickoffs for touchdowns this year.
BYU coaching staff vs. UCLA coaching staff
EDGE: BYU BYU Bronco Mendenhall has led the Cougars to a second consecutive season with double-digit victories. UCLA fired Karl Dorrell after a 6-6 season and made defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker the interim coach for this game.
BYU will win if
The Cougars need to run the ball better than they did in their regular-season loss to UCLA. They also must do a better job of containing UCLA defensive end Bruce Davis, who recorded two sacks and forced a fumble against BYU in September.
UCLA will win if
UCLA needs a steady performance from Olson. If UCLA can hold BYU's rushing attack in check, its talent-laden secondary could force Hall into mistakes and help the Bruins win a low-scoring game. As long as UCLA's defense can keep the game close, its special-teams superiority could make the difference.
UCLA's Davis is probably the best-known defensive player in the game, but he doesn't have the most sacks. That honor instead belongs to BYU defensive end Jan Jorgensen, who has 11.5 sacks, including 8.5 in the Cougars' past six games. If Jorgensen can apply steady pressure, it could be a long night for UCLA.
The picks
Megargee's pick: BYU 24-17
Other Rivals.com expert picks:
Olin Buchanan, national college football writer: BYU 31-20
Mike Huguenin, college football editor: BYU 31-21
Bill King, Rivals Radio host: BYU 30-20
Check out the rest of the Rivals.com Expert Picks.

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.

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