BYU is becoming a fixture in the Las Vegas Bowl, making their fourth consecutive appearance. Arizona is ending a nine-year absence from the postseason and has never played in this game.
The Cougars defeated Oregon and UCLA in the last two meetings, and fell to California in the 2005 edition. Since becoming an annual showdown between Mountain West and PAC-10 teams in 2001, the MWC leads the series 4-3.
Mountain West teams went 6-1 against PAC-10 foes during the 2008 regular season, including BYU's 59-0 win over UCLA, and 28-27 upset escape at Washington.
BYU is 32-6 over the last three seasons, riding the success of a passing game that ranked 6th nationally in 2005, 4th in 2006, 14th in 2007, and 7th this year. Quarterback Max Hall has led that offense the past two years, throwing for a total of 7,477 yards, 60 TD's and 25 INT's. The junior increased his passing rating this year to 160.34 from 137.71 last season and is 6th nationally in that category.
Junior receivers Austin Collie and Dennis Pitta have both topped the 1,000-yard mark with Collie encroaching on 1,500 yards.
The running game hasn't been left out of the playbook, either. Freshman Harvey Unga has rushed for 1,227 yards with a 5.3 yard per carry average. He ha accounted for 94.34 yards per game and 13 TD's.
So if BYU's strength is offense, the weakness must be defense. After surrendering just 61 points through the first 6 games, the Cougars coughed up 193 points in the second half of the season. Not surprisingly, Utah and TCU topped the 30-point mark in victories over the Cougars. But surprisingly, Colorado State and UNLV both scored at least 35 points in narrow BYU wins.
After ranking 1st in the MWC in total defense last season, the Cougars slipped to 6th this year.
Upon closer inspection of its' schedule, the 10-2 record isn't that impressive.
BYU only had two victories this season over FBS teams with records of 6-6 or better - Colorado State (6-6) and Air Force (8-4). In fact, TCU and Utah were the only other BYU opponents from the Football Bowl Subdivision that posted winning seasons.
8-of-10 Cougar victories came against the FCS (Northern Iowa), or versus FBS teams that had a cumulative record of 22-62. Of its' four non-conference opponents, only Northern Iowa (12-2, and in the semi-finals of the FCS playoffs) posted more than 4 wins.
Arizona's 7-5 campaign feasted on weak teams, too. California (8-4) was its' only victory over a team with a winning record. The rest came against Idaho, Toledo, UCLA, Washington, Washington State and Arizona State - six teams that combined to go 16-57. Throw in losses to New Mexico (4-8) and Stanford (5-7) and you see the uphill battle that head coach Mike Stoops still faces in his attempt to turn Arizona into a PAC-10 title contender.
Arizona ranked 16th nationally in scoring offense, and 35th in scoring defense.
The WIldcats ran for 1,968 yards and 31 TD's. Sophomore Nic Grigsby led the way with 1,066 yards and 12 TD's. Freshman Keola Antolin added 525 yards and 10 scores.
The passing attack accounted for 2,847 yards and 22 TD's. Willie Tuitama was 2nd in the league in pass efficiency, and 32nd nationally, with 21 TD passes and 8 INT's.
The 17th annual Las Vegas Bowl is the fourth and final game on the opening day of the bowl season. It will be broadcast on ESPN beginning at 8pm eastern on December 20.