Hard to believe the Apple Cup was just 10 days ago ... and now we are two weeks out from our fourth straight post-season appearance.
So much has changed.
On Sunday, the Huskies learned officially what had been pretty solid speculation for weeks, that they would be squaring off against the BYU Cougars in the Fight Hunger Bowl. With all of the hoopla surrounding the resignation of Steve Sarkisian and hiring of Chris Petersen, it is easy to slough off this bowl game and turn our collective attention to 2014. However, there are a lot of seniors who have skin in the game and the small matter of assistant Marques Tuiasosopo getting an opportunity to strut his stuff as interim Head Coach.
Plus, there are those other Cougars. I hate those guys.
So, let's take a first look at the
Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.
When: December 27th, 6:30pm PT
Where: AT&T Park, San Francisco, CA
Who: Washington Huskies (8-4) vs BYU Cougars (8-4)
BYU enters this post-season with one of the most impressive, if not under-appreciated, resumes of long-term success boasted by any program in the nation. Though they've gone relatively unnoticed, first in the MWC and, now, as an independent, the Cougars out of Provo have put together one of the more impressive bowl streaks in the west. This is the ninth straight post-season appearance for the Cougars, a stretch that includes four straight wins and a notable thrashing of Oregon in the 2006 Las Vegas Bowl.
This is the ninth season at the helm for BYU head coach, Bronco Mendenhall. Mendenhall, a former Oregon State player, started at BYU as a defensive coordinator under former head coach Gary Crowton before taking over full time in 2005. He has a ridiculous overall record of 82-33 over his tenure and is widely credited with having pulled BYU out of the doldrums of mediocrity that they had experienced prior to his ascension. Mendenhall is a no-nonsense, no-apologies type of coach who would be a prime target for a lot of "name brand" schools if he weren't so locked in as a perfect-fit kind of guy at BYU.
The Cougars, who have been independent since the 2011 season, had a pretty good run over a challenging schedule in 2013. Despite opening the season with two losses in their first three games, the Cougars leveraged a mid-season five game winning streak to close out with an 8-4 record. Along the way, they scored notable wins against Texas (a 40-21 butt-whipping), Utah State, and Boise State. Their losses were all of the "respectable" variety, having lost to Wisconsin, Notre Dame, and Utah. The only head-scratcher was an opening game loss on the road at Virgina. That game was notable in that Virginia set an NCAA record for the number of punts in a game that they won with 13 (yikes).
The Cougars are spread, HUNH offense captained by the athletic sophomore Taysom Hill. With a completion percentage of 54% and a YPA of just over 6, Hill is not the most efficient QB that the Huskies will have faced all year. However, Hill is a poor man's Marcus Mariota when it comes to his ability to break contain and make plays with his legs. Hill finished the season with over 1200 yards rushing and 9 TDs on the ground. His YPC was nearly 6 indicating that he can be a nightmare for opposing defenses to contain.
Defensively, the Cougars boast a better-than-you-think defense that compares favorably to the Huskies. Advanced metrics indicate that the Cougs have a top-20 type of defense that is pretty well balanced against the run and the pass, despite the fact that their numbers don't pop out in any one category. The big name for the Cougs is NFL prospect LB Kyle Van Noy who has made a move from the DL where, last year, he recorded 13 sacks. While his sacks are down in his new role - just four - he has recorded 15.5 tackles for loss and is a key disruptor in their scheme.
BYU vs Washington
The Huskies and BYU are well known to each other from a geographical point of view. However, the two programs have met on the football field just eight times with each team having claimed four victories.
The most recent meeting of the two teams came, ironically, in Bronco Mendenhall's worst season in Provo - 2010 - with the Cougars handing the Huskies a very disheartening 23-17 loss in front of their home crowd. This game was the first game of Steve Sarkisian's second season and our first hint, as Husky fans, that Sark's "won't take as long as you think" promise may not be able to hold water. The Huskies actually had a 17-13 halftime lead in this one before surrendering 10 second half points to the Cougs on their way to the loss. Interestingly enough, the departed Jake Heaps, a highly-rated Seattle area recruit who spurned UW to go to BYU, started that game at QB as a true freshman before yielding to Riley Nelson - the man who would eventually cause Heaps to transfer to Kansas.
The Huskies and Cougars met previously in 2008. This game was made famous by the celebration penalty that Jake Locker received for throwing the ball in the air following the scoring of what he thought was a game tying touchdown with two seconds left. The resulting penalty pushed a routine PAT into a long attempt that was fortuitously blocked. The loss would send the Huskies on a downward spiral that resulted in the only winless season in program history.
The Huskies have lost their last three matchups to BYU with their last win coming 15 years ago in the old Husky Stadium. Ironically, that last win came while the Huskies interim head coach, Marques Tuiasosopo, was a playing member of the UW Football team.
Notes on the Fight Hunger Bowl
- The Fight Hunger Bowl (FHB) traces its roots back to the San Francisco Bowl / Emerald Bowl, which was first played in 2002 following the opening of the old Pac Bell Park in San Francisco.
- The FHB is one of only three bowl games in the nation played in a baseball stadium. The other two are the Pinstripe Bowl in Yankee Stadium and the Beef O'Brady Bowl in Tropicana Field.
- Because it is a baseball stadium, the two opposing teams have to share the same sideline with a barrier erected at the 50 yard line.
- This is the last season for the Fight Hunger Bowl under current contracts. Beginning next year, it will matchup the Pac 12 vs the Big Ten.
- The record for most appearances in the FHB is held by Boston College, with three. UCLA has represented the Pac 12 twice.
- Last season, ASU crushed Navy 62-28. Marion Grice and Will Sutton were the game's co-MVPs.
- Neither the Huskies nor BYU have ever made an appearance in the FHB.