Talking About Utah’s New Year’s Six Bowl Game Experiences
SALT LAKE CITY- Pro Football Focus’ college football account tweeted out Tuesday morning asking fans to rank the New Year’s Six Bowl Games so it only made sense to posture the question to Utah football. The Utes have now made it to three different NY6 Bowl Games- the Fiesta Bowl in 2005, the Sugar Bowl in 2009, and the Rose Bowl in 2022. All three experiences have significant meaning to the fans and program for different reasons so lets take a trip down memory lane.
The 2005 Fiesta Bowl
Utah’s first ever appearance in a New Year’s Six Bowl in many ways might be the most significant of them all simply from the standpoint it helped to usher in some of the changes we’ve seen to college football today. At the time NY6 Bowls were supposed to be unattainable for smaller, Group of Five schools like Utah and reserved only for the top echelon of college football. Little did anyone realize a relative newcomer to the college football coaching ranks would find a flaw to expose in the system with a team of rag-tag, misfits that no one really believed in.
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Urban Meyer may be a big player in the world of college football now. Athletes like Alex Smith and Eric Weddle could be considered football household names in this day and age. However, in 2004 they were revolutionaries who came out of nowhere and “busted” what many considered an “unbustable” system in the Bowl Championship Series (BCS). That’s right, a coach whose biggest job before Utah was at Bowling Green, and a handful of two-star athletes went undefeated and earned their way into a game that was only meant for the Alabamas, Ohio States, Texas’, and USCs of the world at the time.
Unfortunately for the 2004 Utes, while the system had to concede them the privilege to play in a NY6 game despite not being an automatic-qualifying team, it did not have to concede them the right to test how good they really were. The #5 Utah Utes were pitted against the #19 Pittsburg Panthers in the Fiesta Bowl in Phoenix, Arizona and ran away from the outmatched Big East team, 35-7.
2009 Sugar Bowl
The powers that be in college football would find themselves at another crossroads with the Utes four years later when they “busted” the BCS again. Yes, other teams had slipped through the door Utah cracked open in that span. Boise State, TCU, and Hawai’i all helped to chip away at the BCS’ façade, but no one was supposed to be able to do it twice. Head coach Kyle Whittingham and quarterback Brian Johnson had other ideas during the 2008 college football season.
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Once again Utah found themselves undefeated to finish the regular season, but this time the Utes would get their chance against a worthy opponent. On January 2nd, the #7 ranked Utes would take on the #4 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide in New Orleans. A true David and Goliath matchup. No one on the national level gave Utah a fighting chance in this game. Alabama was too big, and too strong compared to the little Mountain West team. What no one counted on was the little Mountain West team using Alabama’s size against them by spreading the Crimson Tide out and going full Road Runner on them for 60 straight minutes.
Utah would walk away victorious, 31-17, and the only remaining undefeated team that season. They shocked the college football world and challenged everything they thought they knew. Despite the flawless record, the Utes finished second in the polls behind one-loss, National Champion Florida. Still, Utah’s efforts helped to usher in a world of change for college football, eventually leading to conference realignment and the introduction of the College Football Playoff.
2022 “Granddaddy Of Them All”
The Utes’ latest appearance in the NY6 scene was different for many reasons. For starts Utah now belongs to a conference with an easier path to play on or around New Year’s Day. Utah’s Rose Bowl appearance was also the first New Year’s Six Bowl the Utes didn’t win, falling to Ohio State 48-45, but it goes far deeper than even that.
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Reaching the Rose Bowl was the culmination of all the conversations, and trial and error since Utah joined the Pac-12 Conference in 2011. It was a culmination of the blood, sweat, and tears of those who came before and built the program brick-by-brick to its current state with absolutely zero idea of where it would lead. For years, Utah heard about the mystical powers of the Rose Bowl as outsiders desperately wanting their chance to be in. In many ways it seems appropriate the team who has continually pushed boundaries in college football would also be the ones to bring their own magic to a game that never lacked any to begin with.
Reaching the Rose Bowl for the first time in program history in the year 2022 was a culmination of the love and grief a team and a community had for two kids who were taken far too soon. Ty Jordan and Aaron Lowe wanted nothing more than to be a part of Utah’s legacy and the Utes didn’t let them down. That legacy, their legacy, is forever cemented with what many have pegged as one of the greatest games in the “Granddaddy of them All’s” illustrious history.
So What Is Next?
Unlike their first two trips to NY6 Bowls, Utah is set up nicely for a potential back-to-back appearance in 2022/2023. The Utes return a majority of their talent from their 2022 Rose Bowl appearance and expectations are high not only with fans, but amongst themselves.
Is it possible we see the Utes in another Rose Bowl, or possibly even one of the games aligned with the College Football Playoff this year? Only time will tell. One thing is for certain though, Utah’s run in New Year’s Six Bowls has been nothing short of epic so far.
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