This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
San Diego • When it comes to analyzing how bowl games will go, especially those that are as seemingly insignificant in the overall scheme of college football as the Poinsettia Bowl, one of the biggest factors is motivation.
Always has been, always will be.
In the buildup to Wednesday night's reunion of former WAC and Mountain West enemies BYU and Wyoming at Qualcomm Stadium, the Cougars and Cowboys have both said they are ready, able and motivated to renew what once was a bitter, sometimes nasty series of games before the last meeting in 2010.
Along with the desire to continue the turnaround engineered by third-year coach Craig Bohl, Wyoming is reaching back to those hate-filled days for inspiration in the 78th meeting between opponents from neighboring states that first met in 1922. That has been made abundantly clear in articles and broadcasts emanating from the, um, Equality State.
"The only thing I know is that the fans don't like [BYU]," Wyoming running back Brian Hill said, obviously having been schooled on the past since the matchup was announced on Dec. 4.
At Tuesday's press conference, Bohl said that he's talked to a lot of "old guys, former players," in hotel lobbies and other places who say beating BYU "is a big deal for them." The Cougars lead the series 44-30-3 and have won the past seven matchups, most by large margins.
Bohl acknowledged that "BYU probably has a lot of rivals out there" because the Cougars have been one of the West's most dominant football programs the past four decades. Wyoming held that title in the 1960s, but has had few standout seasons since and watched angrily and somewhat jealously as BYU's program rose above it.
"We didn't care how many missions they went on," former Wyoming linebacker Galand Thaxton told the Casper Star-Tribune, referencing another common complaint the Pokes have BYU's so-called age advantage because a lot of players serve two-year LDS Church missions. "We felt like we could beat them, and we wanted to beat them severely, because we just couldn't stand them."
So hate is clearly motivating the Pokes.
What about the Cougars?
They are taking an altogether different tack, which is head coach Kalani Sitake's way. Sitake has preached respect and admiration for every opponent this season, even the University of Utah, and said the topic of past BYU-Wyoming relations has barely been broached, even though he and coaching staff members such as Ty Detmer, Reno Mahe, Jernaro Gilford, Steve Kaufusi, Ed Lamb, Mike Empey and Ben Cahoon all played against the Cowboys.
"It is an honor to share the field with a program like Wyoming," Sitake said. "It's exciting to go compete against them and I am familiar with them. But like I've said before, the players don't know much about Wyoming other than what we have watched and how impressed we've been watching their team during the season."
To be fair, Bohl had plenty of praise for the Cougars as well, and agreed with Sitake's comment that he is from the "old-school" coaching tree established by Tom Osborne while Sitake is from the coaching tree established by LaVell Edwards. Both were legendary, gentlemanly coaches at Nebraska and BYU, respectively.
Of course, Edwards once said after a loss to Wyoming in a blizzard in Laramie that he would rather lose and live in Provo than win and live in Laramie, a statement that has forever rankled the Pokes and their fans. It's been brought up more than once the past three weeks, even though Edwards' wife, Patti, is from the small Wyoming town of Big Piney as Sitake has said almost as often.
Sitake said his team has not lacked motivation in any game this season, and expects another strong effort. A few players did acknowledge that coaches didn't like the way they practiced Saturday after arriving in San Diego late, late Friday night due to weather conditions in Provo.
"They thought our focus and concentration wasn't there," linebacker Butch Pau'u said.
Sitake said the Cougars' outstanding senior class won't allow a letdown, even if sophomore Tanner Mangum will take over for the injured Taysom Hill and make his first start since last year's 35-28 Las Vegas Bowl loss to Utah.
"Our guys are excited to play together, and play this game, and play their best, and take advantage of playing another game together," Sitake said. "I think that's the approach that we've taken. Just because we have been to bowl games before doesn't make it any less important. The guys really want to compete. I think they have handled themselves well all year long and in all the 12 games prior to this one, and I imagine it will be the same thing [Wednesday]."
Will love overcome hate in terms of motivation?
To borrow from a familiar Sitake refrain: "We will see what happens. Life will go on."
But neither team will get to live in beautiful San Diego.
P BYU vs. Wyoming
At Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego
Kickoff • 7 p.m. MST
TV • ESPN
Radio • 1160 AM, 102.7 FM, Sirius XM 143
Records • BYU 8-4, Wyoming 8-5
Series history • BYU leads 44-30-3
Last meeting • BYU 25, Wyoming 20 (Oct. 23, 2010)
About the Cowboys • Picked to finish last in the Mountain West's Mountain Division, they tied for first with a 6-2 league record. They lost 27-24 to San Diego State in the MW Championship game in Laramie and are making their first bowl appearance since 2011 and 14th overall. … Running back Brian Hill is fourth in the nation in rushing (1,767 yards) and is the school's all-time leading rusher. … Quarterback Josh Allen has completed 56.3 percent of his passes for 2,996 yards with 13 touchdowns and 26 interceptions.
About the Cougars • They are playing in their 12th straight bowl game and are one of only eight teams in the country with a bowl streak of 12 or more years. … They have won seven of their last eight games and have not allowed a point in a second half since Oct. 20 at Boise State. … They are No. 70 in the country in total offense (406.3 ypg.) and No. 32 in total defense (364.3 ypg.).