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Provo • Although it appears likely that the BYU Cougars' opponent in the Fight Hunger Bowl at San Francisco's AT&T Park on Dec. 27 is going to be 8-4 Washington, nothing will be certain until next Sunday.
But after the Cougars slogged their way past Nevada 28-23 on Saturday at two-thirds full Mackay Stadium in Reno, sophomore running back Jamaal Williams was right about one thing.
"Whoever it is, I know they are going to be a great team to play against, and we are going to have to be at our best, and aggressive and executing, because if we come out the way we did in the first half, it is going to be a mess," Williams said.
The Cougars (8-4) got away with not scoring in the first half and committing penalties that could be excused in the first game, but not the 12th, because Nevada was able to score only a touchdown when it easily could have had three. Whichever Pac-12 team BYU faces two days after Christmas Arizona (7-5) is the other possible candidate will have a much better defense, and much more firepower offensively, than the Wolf Pack.
The Fight Hunger Bowl receives the sixth choice of Pac-12 teams, and selections should come after the BCS Selection Show next Sunday (Dec. 8). BYU was contracted to play in the game nearly three years ago and accepted an invitation when it became bowl eligible in October with a 37-20 win over Boise State.
"I like the sound of all of them. I don't have a preference," BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said, after being told Washington, Washington State and Arizona were in the running. "Right now, we have to get our team healed up, get as many guys healthy as we can. … I am looking forward to one of those three [teams]. I think they will be good opponents."
To have a chance, the Cougars will need to heal up quickly, especially in the secondary, which was so depleted on Saturday that a true freshman who started fall camp as a receiver, Michael Davis, played cornerback for most of the game.
Linebacker Spencer Hadley (knee) didn't play against Nevada, while nose tackle Eathyn Manumaleuna (shoulder) and field corner Robertson Daniel (neck) left the game with injuries and didn't return. Cornerback Mike Hague (foot) is also hurting.
"We've got some significant injuries on both sides of the ball, but especially on defense with Eathyn and Rob out," said safety Daniel Sorensen. "It will be good to have some time off, to get healed up and stuff like that and get some schoolwork done and catch up on that. But yeah, it will be huge for us to get some guys healthy and be ready to play in the bowl game."
Mendenhall said he will hold a team meeting on Monday. Players will lift weights and go through conditioning sessions every other day until Dec. 18 or 19, when bowl practices will begin.
It is a bowl-preparation model he believes in, having won four straight bowl games and six of his last seven.
"The unique challenge coming up as well is we have final [exams] coming up," Mendenhall said. "It comes during bowl preparation. I care a lot about their schoolwork. So it is the next challenge. And it is over Christmas, so those things we will have to manage."
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Fight Hunger Bowl
P BYU vs. sixth selection from Pac-12 (probably Washington), San Francisco, Dec. 27, TV • ESPN Jeff Sagarin/USA Today College Football Power Ratings
Selected Teams Team Rating Strength of Schedule
12 Washington 87.60 15th
28 BYU 79.51 32nd
33 Utah 78.92 1st
42 Utah State 76.66 90th