As the BYU Cougars prepare for their 7th consecutive national championship game this Saturday night against Arkansas State the BYU Cougars find the season-ending scenario comfortably familiar, but strangely different.
The Cougars haven't ended their season outside of the championship bout since 2006, but in each title tilt since then BYU has faced off with Cal Berkeley.
This season however, the Bears opted to forego participation in college rugby's top division and won't be facing the Cougars in what has become a running rivalry that has delivered some of college rugby's most compelling matches over the last six clashes.
"It will be a little strange," said BYU scrumhalf Shaun Davies, who's played in BYU's last four national title matches against Cal, "But [Cal] dropping out has never changed our goals for this season. We've been there before and we want to win no matter who we play."
Despite being the Red Wolves' first appearance in the national championship Arkansas State isn't a new-comer to the Cougars or to top level rugby.
ASU has been a regular contender since first-taking on the Cougars in the 2009 quarterfinals where the Red Wolves held a 3-0 lead over BYU at half time.
But two late tries and a final score of 13-3 by the Cougars propelled BYU on to their first ever national championship two weeks later.
In 2010 ASU fought hard but had the odds stacked against them as they squared off with Cal in their semifinal match and lost 83-37.
While in last year's semifinal the Red Wolves held an early 8-0 lead in the 15th minute before BYU clawed back to beat ASU.
"They're a very a solid team and have contended every year for a while now," said BYU head coach David Smyth regarding the ASU Red Wolves, "They're savvy and they've had an even harder road than we've had to get here, so you know they're firing on all cylinders."
ASU has fought hard to earn their right to the 2012 championship beating Eastern Conference champs Army in West Point 36-20 and then traveling to the other coast and Moraga, California the next weekend and beat Pacific Conference champ St. Mary's 34-17.
After finishing as the Mid-South runner-up to Life University, which BYU beat in last week's semifinal 26-20, the Red Wolves know playing BYU in Rio Tinto Stadium will be a very tough task.
"We expect one of the best BYU teams ever, which is saying a lot," ASU head coach Matt Huckaby said,"I expect nothing short of a classic ASU-BYU nailbiter and we are looking forward to the test."
Despite BYU facing their first different opponent in the title match the Cougars know the environment and excitement for the game will be as intense as ever.
"We've had this day marked on the calendar for a long time now," said BYU captain Ryan Roundy, "It's finally here and we're excited to play in front of a big and loud BYU crowd."
With a season that has included wins over rival Utah, two men's division teams, a Western Conference Championship and an intense 26-20 semifinal against Life in Marietta, Georgia, BYU's Smyth knows the finale to the Cougars' season will be a battle.
"In championship games you can throw out all the past results," he said, "It just comes down to who plays better on the day. We are looking forward to a great game and giving everything we have against a team that we know will do the same."
Kick-off for the momentous clash between the Cougars and Red Wolves is set for 7.30pm MT this Saturday night at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, UT.
The game will also be broadcast live on ESPN3 and will be tape delay broadcast on ESPNU and ESPN International Tuesday, May 21st. Check your local TV listings for details.
Rio Tinto Stadium will also host the collegiate D1-AA and D2 and the High School Club and High School National Championships over the Friday and Saturday weekend. For more details and game times go to www.usarugby.org.
For more information on the Cougars as they prepare for their 7th straight championship bout follow them on Facebookand Twitter.
For ticket details go to www.RioTintoStadium.com.
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