LAS VEGAS — By most accounts, UCLA's 6-5 regular season is a sign of good things to come for second-year Coach Karl Dorrell.
But if the Bruins are tripped up tonight against 6-5 Wyoming in the Las Vegas Bowl, questions will be raised about the program, as they were after UCLA lost, 17-9, to Fresno State in the Silicon Valley Classic a year ago.
A loss would be UCLA's second in two years to a non-bowl championship series conference school in a bowl game. It also would give Dorrell his second consecutive non-winning season since replacing Bob Toledo, who was fired after 7-4 and 7-5 regular seasons.
Dorrell said he doesn't feel any more pressure to win tonight than in any other game since he took over as coach. But he acknowledged that a victory over the Cowboys would be another step for the Bruins.
"It doesn't change regardless," Dorrell said about the Bruins' approach to tonight's game, in which UCLA is a 12-point favorite. "That's what we're looking to do and that's to be in position where we're expected to win.
"I don't believe this game is of that nature. It's two programs hungry to prove themselves and ... get some national recognition."
For Wyoming, however, the pressure to win is not an issue.
Behind second-year Coach Joe Glenn, the Cowboys are making their first bowl appearance in 11 years. Picked to finish at the bottom of the Mountain West Conference, Wyoming was carried by the passing and the running of quarterback Corey Bramlet and qualified as the conference's third bowl team.
With three seniors on the roster, the Cowboys know they have had a successful season. An upset over UCLA would be icing on the cake.
"I'm very proud of our team; it seemed like every member of the media and coaches chose Wyoming last," Glenn said. "It's so fun to see the kids take that ... and have a winning season."
Wyoming fans began arriving in Las Vegas on Monday, and the Cowboy supporters have been visible. Tina Kunzer-Murphy, Las Vegas Bowl executive director, said Wyoming has sold 7,500 tickets, the most for a school other than Nevada Las Vegas that has played in the game.
UCLA, which sold fewer than 3,000 tickets when it played in the Las Vegas Bowl two years ago, has sold nearly 4,000.
"We're really pleased with this year's matchup," said Kunzer-Murphy, who expects a crowd of 25,000 tonight at 36,800-seat Sam Boyd Stadium.
In Wyoming, UCLA will be facing a team that plays a brand of football not often seen in the Pacific 10 Conference.
With Bramlet pulling the trigger, the Cowboys run a spread offense that includes option and misdirection plays. Wyoming doesn't try to overpower opponents, but the Cowboys do a good job of exploiting matchups they want.
"Their offense is sort of like San Diego State's to me," UCLA defensive end Kyle Morgan said. "They throw a lot of different stuff at you. Out of all the teams that we've played, none of them did as many things as they do. They do not really stick with one base thing. They're sort of unique in that way."
It's not going to help the Bruins that junior linebacker Spencer Havner, the Pac-10's leading tackler, will not play because of a knee injury. Havner's backup, senior Ben Lorier, also is out after being sent home earlier in the week for violating team rules.
But because the Cowboys do so many things offensively with a variety of sets, UCLA may end up using more nickel coverages, with safeties Chris Horton and Eric McNeal getting more snaps in place of a linebacker.
"They like to throw the ball, which is good in a way," Morgan said. "I'm excited about getting a chance to get in there and picking up a few sacks."
On offense, UCLA will try to run the ball against Wyoming's mixture of blitzes.
"We're going to have to be on our toes and make sure that we recognize what they're doing," senior running back Manuel White said. "They're kind of tricky. They do have some stuff that they throw at you."
The number of weapons at quarterback Drew Olson's disposal concerns the Cowboys. Wyoming has not faced a ground attack like that of the Bruins, who, with Maurice Drew, Chris Markey and White, averaged 190 yards a game.
"They are a great team with a well-balanced offense," Wyoming safety John Wendling said about the Bruins, who have had 22 plays of at least 40 yards this season, including 15 for touchdowns.
"I have to make sure that I don't let anyone get behind me."
According to Wendling, the Cowboys should not be surprised too much by UCLA tonight.
"We have watched a lot of tape on them," Wendling said. "And I know that I watched the SC game just because I knew we had a chance to play them.
"You can see they've been rebuilding. There's a big difference with the way they played early in the season compared to how they played USC. But we're ready, we've had enough time to break down the things that they do."
Which only adds to a challenge for Dorrell's team, which will get its first big test of playing as a heavy favorite.