Mendenhall said there are pros and cons to playing after Christmas.
"Oh, they both have their advantages," he said. "It is fun to have the games done before Christmas so you can have Christmas with your family. However, it means that [players] take their finals with less preparation, and so they are affected."
Mendenhall said the players' grades suffered "on a pretty clear level" when they had to mix finals and bowl practices, like last year when they played in the Poinsettia Bowl on Dec. 20.
"So this has been nice because there is more time," he said. "Last week, which was when most of their projects were due, not all of them, they had a chance to do that and weren't practicing. We went as long as we could, going through Wednesday, to have just the focus on finals. But there is still some crossover. I think it is better academically [to play after Christmas]. We will make the most of the holiday season, and then Christmastime, San Francisco is a pretty unique setting, so we will manage that the best we can."
This will be the fifth bowl trip (but fourth bowl he has played in) for BYU senior defensive tackle Eathyn Manumaleuna. The Timpview High product who blocked a UCLA field goal attempt in the 2007 Las Vegas Bowl says receiving the bowl gifts called bowl swag by the players never gets old.
"There are some things we wish we had, and some things we wish we didn't have," he said. "But beggars can't be choosy with bowl gifts. So we just have to be grateful that we are going to a bowl this year."
Manumaleuna's favorite bowl gift?
"You know, money is always good," he said. "The credit card, I think my wife will appreciate that. The money is something we always look forward to."
The Cougars were scheduled to arrive in San Francisco on Sunday night, and bowl organizers have plenty of activities planned to keep the players busy for the week when they are not practicing across the bay at Laney College in Oakland.
Monday, they will visit Alcatraz, the former prison located on an island in the San Francisco Bay. On Christmas Day (Wednesday), they will visit the Glide Memorial Church Kitchen and St. Anthony's Dining Room.
A luncheon at the Westin St. Francis Hotel in downtown San Francisco is planned for Thursday.
Fight Hunger Bowl
P BYU (8-4) vs. Washington (8-4)
• AT&T Park, San Francisco
• Friday, 7:30 p.m. MST
TV • ESPN