Dear Friends of the Fight Hunger Bowl,
After several years of sweating out the final weeks of the season, hoping to have the opportunity to select a quality team, I can't tell you how exciting and gratifying it was last Friday night to invite BYU to play in the 2013 Fight Hunger Bowl. The Cougars spanked Boise State, 37-20, to claim their fifth straight win, improve to 6-2 for the year, and qualify for post-season play. As soon as the game ended, I extended the formal invitation to BYU Athletic Director Tom Holmoe, President Cecil Samuelson, and head coach Bronco Mendenhall on the field at LaVell Edwards Stadium. Tom enthusiastically accepted, and tickets went on sale that night.
The game was enjoyable from several standpoints. Not only was it BYU's first-ever win over Boise State (after three consecutive losses), but it also snapped Boise's string of 21 straight wins over teams from the state of Utah. BYU was once again led by quarterback Taysom Hill, who is emerging as one of the most exciting players in the country. After accounting for 545 yards and four touchdowns in the Cougars' previous win over Houston, Hill generated 408 and another four TDs this time around. One of his touchdown passes went to Cody Hoffman, who broke BYU's career TD reception record on the play with his 31st scoring grab. The Cougar defense, led by linebacker Kyle Van Noy and cornerback Craig Bills, forced four turnovers. BYU is the complete package, and we are thrilled to have such a strong team, with its rich tradition and massive "Cougar Nation" fan base, play in San Francisco on .
I spent most ofnight's game in the Athletic Director's box with Tom Holmoe and his family. Tom and I go back a long way to his days as a player with the 49ers and assistant coach at Stanford, where I served as sports information director and associate athletic director. We were both fortunate enough to have the late Bill Walsh as a good friend and mentor. In my mind, Tom is one of the true gentlemen and class acts in the world of college athletics. Midway through the third quarter, his family informed me that one of their traditions was for everyone in the box to do a "Cougar growl" at the end of the third quarter. I had some experience with Indians, Cardinals, Robber Barons and Trees from my days at Stanford, but this was my first attempt at a Cougar. The good news is that, according to the Holmoes, I held my own and did a pretty respectable job. And, who knows? Depending on which team we select from the Pac-12, I may soon have to learn a Husky, Beaver, or Wildcat growl.
A Little History:night's invitation was actually the culmination of a 12-year effort to get BYU in our game. During the Bowl's first four years (from its inception in 2002 as the Diamond Walnut San Francisco Bowl through the 2005 Emerald Bowl), we had an affiliation with the Mountain West Conference. We were always interested in BYU because of the program's stature and enthusiastic fan base, but never had the opportunity to pick them. In those years, the Cougars were either too high in the selection order or (uncharacteristically) did not qualify for the post-season. We subsequently paired the Pac-10 vs. the ACC for four years and then, in the next cycle, matched the Pac-12 vs. either the first pick in the WAC, Army or Navy. When the WAC imploded a few years ago, we needed to find an opponent for the Pac-12 in 2013. The stars must have been aligned because that was about the same time BYU announced it was going independent. I was on the phone to Tom Holmoe within five minutes of that announcement, and we soon had a deal in place for the Cougars to come to San Francisco in 2013.
Pac-12: Last weekend's action was highlighted by Oregon's 42-14 victory over UCLA in Eugene. The game was tied 14-14 at halftime, before the Ducks exploded in the second half to put the game away. Stanford edged Oregon State 20-12, stopping the Beavers on the seven-yard line as the game ended. Washington got back on the winning track with a big win over Cal, while USC and Arizona inched closer to bowl eligibility with wins over Utah and Colorado. Three Pac-12 teams are now eligible for post-season play--No. 2 Oregon (8-0), No. 5 Stanford (7-1) and unranked Oregon State (6-2). Five other Pac-12 teams need one more victory to qualify: Arizona, Arizona State and UCLA are all 5-2, while USC and Washington are now 5-3. Utah and Washington State (both 4-4) are still in the hunt.
This Week: BYU and several Pac-12 teams have byes. Four of the Pac-12's five-win teams are looking to reach the magic number six this week: Arizona is at Cal, Arizona State at WSU, UCLA at home vs. Colorado, and USC at Oregon State. Our assistant executive director, Ryan Oppelt, will be in Corvallis to watch the Trojans battle the Beavers, as both teams appear to be in our pool of potential candidates for the Bowl. I'll be at UCLA-Colorado, watching from the stands with my wife and our daughter, Alyssa, while enjoying "parents' weekend" at UCLA.