SAN DIEGO — Denny Stolz, San Diego State's coach, has used a low-key approach on his football team this year.
Stolz has repeatedly told the players that any particular result isn't worth making a big deal over.
But today, when SDSU plays Brigham Young, even Stolz can't help but get excited.
"This is championship time," Stolz said. "This is our biggest game of the year. It's for a championship, and it's for a bowl bid."
A victory would give SDSU its first Western Athletic Conference championship and a berth against Iowa in the Holiday Bowl Dec. 30 in San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.
If BYU wins, the Cougars will play Air Force for the WAC championship next Saturday at Colorado Springs, Colo.
"We consider San Diego State a championship game for us, too," BYU Coach LaVell Edwards said. "We're happy to be in this position. I always tell my players if you have a chance for the championship in November, that's all you can ask for."
BYU has won or tied for 10 straight conference championships. SDSU, which entered the WAC in 1978, has never finished higher than second. The Aztecs played BYU for the championship in 1979 and lost, 63-14.
Edwards was BYU's coach then, but some facets of the team have changed.
Steve Lindsley is the BYU quarterback, not the prolific Marc Wilson. The Cougars win by playing good defense and running the ball, not by setting NCAA passing records.
BYU loses by committing too many turnovers. The Cougars have committed 33 turnovers and created 16, a minus-17 ratio, which is 103rd out of 105 teams in the nation.
Conversely, SDSU has created 27 turnovers and committed 18. In the last four games, the Aztecs have a 19-9 edge.
"We have to quit turning the ball over," Edwards said. "If we hadn't turned the ball over so much, we probably would've won a couple more games. We've played very well on defense, ran quite well and thrown fairly well. Our problem has been turning the ball over."
Offensively, BYU has had quite a turnover in philosophy. Though the Cougars still pass, they have rushed for more yards than they passed in three of the last five games.
In last week's 35-21 victory against Utah, three Cougars gained more than 100 yards rushing as BYU rushed for 454 yards. Lindsley completed 12 of 15 passes for 119 yards.
"It felt great handing off the ball," Lindsley said. "It was the best game I've had all year. I'll tell you why: I handed the ball off better than at any time this year, I carried out my fakes well, and I didn't have a single problem with my exchanges."
As a passer, Lindsley is not in the same class as former BYU quarterbacks Wilson, Jim McMahon, Gifford Nielsen, Steve Young or Robbie Bosco.
Lindsley would just as soon hand off to Lakei Heimuli, who has rushed 204 times for 887 yards and 6 touchdowns.
"Put it this way," SDSU safety Steve Lauter said. "They used to be predictable because they passed all the time. This year, you don't know what they'll do."
Lindsley is ranked 18th nationally in passing efficiency. He has completed 176 of 275 passes for 2,202 yards and 12 touchdowns with 16 interceptions.
"If you check his statistics, he's pretty darn good," said Tim McConnell, SDSU's defensive coordinator. "Obviously, they have confidence in him. We'll need a nice blend of run and pass defense. We can't overcompensate. If we gear up for the pass, they can run. If we gear up for the run, they can pass as well as anyone in the nation."
Todd Santos, SDSU's quarterback, is ninth nationally in total offense and 19th in passing efficiency. He has completed 205 of 322 passes for 2,385 yards and 14 touchdowns with 10 interceptions.
However, Santos has been sacked eight times the last two games because he is being protected by a patchwork offensive line. Dave DesRochers has replaced regular right tackle Mike Ariey, who suffered a season-ending knee injury against Colorado State. Mike Knutson has replaced oft-injured Greg Williamson at left tackle.
BYU has the WAC's top defensive tackle duo in Shawn Knight and Jason Buck. Knight has 13 1/2 sacks and Buck has 9 1/2.
"A big part of this game will be how well DesRochers and I do against Buck and Knight," Knutson said. "If we can contain these guys and keep them from sacking the quarterback, I think we'll win."
SDSU also has been running effectively. In last week's 35-5 victory against Hawaii, Chris Hardy rushed for 119 yards and 3 touchdowns, becoming the first Aztec since 1979 to rush for more than 100 yards in consecutive games.