LAS VEGAS (AP) -- The Las Vegas Bowl may have long-term feelings for No. 17 BYU, but coach Bronco Mendenhall says his team has its eyes on its date, not its host.
Mendenhall said Tuesday that the Cougars are looking forward to playing Arizona, a Pac-10 team that earned its first bowl game in a decade by winning last week against rival Arizona State.
"I think there's maybe an overemphasis on playing or preparing for a place that you've been before -- really, the focus is on playing a team," Mendenhall said.
Mendenhall said BYU (10-2, 6-2 Mountain West Conference) is hoping to improve its reputation in college football by winning a third consecutive Las Vegas Bowl in four straight trips.
"I'm looking at it from a much broader perspective of moving forward (as a program)," Mendenhall told The Associated Press. "History starts to build toward your side and say, 'Wait a second, maybe the perception of the leagues is not accurate."'
Arizona's quarterback Willie Tuitama and coach Mike Stoops both described the Dec. 20 bowl at Sam Boyd Stadium as a reward for overcoming several tough years. Arizona (7-5, 5-4 Pac-10 Conference) had not had a winning season since 1998, when the Wildcats went 12-1 and beat Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl.
"We were able to exorcise some demons that have been lingering the last three years," Stoops said.
Beating the Sun Devils to get to the bowl game has made the difference between a successful and unsuccessful season during which Arizona has struggled with consistency, Tuitama said.
"It's just one of those things where you have to finish out games," Tuitama said.
BYU defensive lineman Jan Jorgensen said his team had to look at the game as a springboard to build momentum for next year, even though its goal at the beginning of the year was to end up in a more prestigious bowl.
BYU lost its bid for a share of the conference title when it lost to No. 7 Utah 48-24 in its final regular season game. Utah forced five six turnovers by Cougar quarterback Max Hall, including five interceptions. BYU had won conference championships outright the previous two seasons.
"I think any team starting out a season, their goal should be to win all their football games and to make it to a BCS bowl game," Jorgensen said. "Obviously we want to be there. I'm sure if you asked Arizona that question, they'd want to be there, too. But if we're not going to be there, this is a great place to be."
The Las Vegas Bowl, now in its 17th year, is sponsored by Pioneer and has a total payout of $1 million. ESPN will televise the game with kickoff at 5 p.m. PST.
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