There is something boiling beneath the surface here.

At first, this looks like your normal Holiday Bowl: Brigham Young and its incredible, 36-point-per-game scoring machine is back. So is another milquetoast opponent, this time 6-5 Michigan, the sixth-place team in the Big Ten. The sun is out, finally. The palm trees are swaying by the bay. And people are wondering if this will be another point-a-minute game.

But, for its seventh trip here in the bowl's seven years, BYU brought some new, some very heavy baggage -- the No. 1 ranking in the nation.

Which gives Friday night's game at 9 p.m. (WDCA-TV-20 and ESPN cable) at Jack Murphy Stadium a most unlikely label. This serene little game between teams with 12-0 and 6-5 records has become the most important bowl game of the season.

It also has become a test case for college football. This may be the first time in the history of polling in which winning isn't enough for a team to stay No. 1. It isn't a question of BYU winning; it's a question of by how much.

"I think we really have to dominate Michigan," junior wide receiver Glen Kozlowski, who has caught 55 passes for 11 touchdowns, said today, "and I don't know if we can."

A big victory, of which BYU certainly is capable, almost certainly would assure the Cougars their first national title. But if it's a close game -- and Michigan, always defensive-minded, rarely is blown out -- it's likely poll voters will await the results of the Orange Bowl between No. 2 Oklahoma and No. 4 Washington before making their choice.

"They've got to score some points," said Associated Press college football editor Herschel Nissenson, who runs the wire service's poll. "Seven-3 won't do it."

LaVell Edwards, who in 13 seasons as head coach at BYU has a 117-37-1 record against a relatively weak schedule, is not used to seeing the national media surging around his team. They're here now, and while he likes the attention, he's not crazy about the questions.

"I don't feel like I have to prove anything," he said. "I don't think we're on trial. The only thing that gets me upset is that in the minds of some people, we don't just have to win, we have to win big.

"If we win by one point, I think we should be national champions."

BYU will live or die in the air. From the school that gave us quarterbacks Marc Wilson, Jim McMahon and Steve Young in the past six years, we now have junior Robbie Bosco, a Mormon convert who led the nation in total offense with 327.7 yards per game.

Bosco completed 62 percent of his passes and threw 33 touchdowns in 12 games.

The Wolverines suffered through the worst season in Coach Bo Schembechler's 16 seasons in Ann Arbor, but they did defeat two good passing teams: Illinois, 26-18, and then-No. 1 Miami, 22-14, when they intercepted quarterback Bernie Kosar six times.

Yet Michigan, which lost three of its final five games, hardly is an enticing opponent for the top-ranked team in the nation.

But the Holiday Bowl, which has a contract with the Western Athletic Conference and keeps getting BYU, pays just $470,000 to participating teams, well under the million-dollar payoffs of the bigger bowls. It also does not have a network TV contract.

But it does have the most intriguing college game of the season. Herrmann, the captain of what is considered the best defense in BYU history, understands why his team has not been warmly embraced as the nation's best.

"I can see how some people might have some questions about us," he said.

"We've won our conference for nine years or so, but compare that to 50 years of winning football, like Michigan has had. We don't have the tradition."

At least not yet.

He continued. "It's hard for a lot of people to accept a national championship that is not decided in the Rose Bowl or the Orange Bowl."