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SAN FRANCISCO - BYU puts its four-year bowl win streak on the line Friday night in the 12th annual Fight Hunger Bowl, taking on a Washington team that like BYU, is 8-4 on the season and looking to finish the 2013 campaign out on a winning note.
The Cougars are led by a tenured coach wrapping up his ninth season as BYU's bench boss, while the Huskies will be helmed by a former UW quarterback and quarterbacks coach serving a one-game stint as the interim head man, before Chris Peterson takes over in Seattle. The teams' records may be identical, but the back-story of each team's bowl preparation is disparate.
"This is a unique situation and circumstance our team has been faced with the last couple of weeks," said Washington interim head coach Marques Tuiasosopo at a bowl week press conference Monday at AT&T Park, "but what I think is more important--and it has really been brought to the fore-front--is the group of young men and their ability to come together as a team and finish what they started four or five years ago."
"Through their hard work and dedication, (going to) four straight bowl games... now finally reaching that eight-win plateau, is just an awesome feat for them."
Bronco Mendenhall's BYU program is one of only nine to have won seven or more games for eight consecutive seasons, and he is one of only three coaches (Georgia' Mark Richt and Oklahoma's Bob Stoops are the others) to have appeared in a bowl game in every season of his FBS head coaching tenure.
"We know the expectations are always to play (in the) postseason," said Mendenhall on Monday. "LaVell Edwards set the precedent a long time ago. We have tried our best to make sure that as a program we have been good stewards over that streak and keeping it alive."
Mendenhall's Cougars have won a school-record four consecutive bowl games, with wins over Oregon State (2009), UTEP (2010), Tulsa (2011) and San Diego State (2012). BYU split the first four postseason games Mendenhall coached, with losses to Cal (2005) and Arizona (2008) sandwiching wins against Oregon (2006) and UCLA (2007). Bronco says of the nine opponents his program has faced in the postseason, Washington tops them all.
"We think we are playing a fantastic opponent," the coach said. "We have watched Washington. 8-4, with the four losses coming to top 20 teams in a strong league--week-in and week-out it's a very difficult league, so we believe this will be the very best opponent we will have played in the postseason in our nine years."
"I think it will be a great match up. We still have a lot of preparation to do to make sure that we are ready to play but we are very thankful for the chance to play in San Francisco."
Bowl Executive Director Gary Cavalli says in its final year at the home of the San Francisco Giants (the bowl moves to the 49ers' new home in Santa Clara next year), "we probably have our best matchup."
"I don't know that we've ever had two better teams than we have this year," Cavalli told the assembled media on Monday. "We're very excited about the game. I've had my eyes on BYU for years. And we've always had our eye on Washington and wanted to get the Huskies down here, so this year is kind of the fulfillment of a dream on both sides of the ball for us."
Cavalli noted that "within five minutes of (BYU's 2010 football-independence) announcement, I called my old friend (BYU AD) Tom Holmoe...and booked BYU on the spot."
Mendenhall says he is proud of his team's eight-win campaign, but that the bowl game is "usually one of the only things you remember from your season...so there's a lot at stake."
"We are anxious to do our part in the match-up and try to make sure that it's a fantastic game and that we represent not only BYU but the bowl game."
Tuiasosopo, who has faced BYU three times as a UW signal-caller and on additional occasions as a Washington coaching staff member, said "to face such a program (as BYU) in this fine bowl...we are extremely honored."
"This is a BYU team that we have a tremendous, tremendous amount of respect for. All year long we've talked about how we wanted to be the fastest (tempo) team in the Pac-12. Obviously, Oregon comes to your mind, then we actually start studying BYU, and we go 'man, these guys are faster than them.'"
"Our players know how hard they play, and they don't quit. Certainly we want to do our part to live up to the billing that this will be a great match-up."
BYU utilized its bowl-week practice venue for the first time on Monday, working out at Laney College in Oakland during the morning hours. Bay Area traffic, combined with extra congestion ahead of the 49ers' final regular-season game at Candlestick Park caused the BYU travel party to be late for the Monday afternoon press conference.
BYU will be the Visiting Team for Friday night's game and will wear white jerseys with blue pants and white helmets. As the home team, Washington will wear dark jerseys with white or dark pants and gold helmets.
Washington's payout is $1,000,000.00; BYU will receive $850,000.00.
Both teams were scheduled for a Monday afternoon bay cruise and tour of Alcatraz Island.
BYU will practice again tomorrow morning at Laney College. The Cougars' final pre-bowl practice will be held on Christmas afternoon, with a walk-through availability on Thursday afternoon at AT&T Park.