Countdown To Utah Football: The 2008 Season

Aug 19, 2022, 10:54 AM
Utah Utes Sugar Bowl...
The Utah Utes celebrate after defeating the Alabama Crimson Tide 31-17 during the 75th Allstate Sugar Bowl at the Louisiana Superdome on January 2, 2009 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY- The Utes are full steam ahead on the 2022 football season which many pundits nationally and locally feel could be the program’s biggest yet. While we all anxiously wait to see how things actually play out on the field, we thought it would be fun to travel back in time to some of Utah’s other big seasons. Last week we  kicked-off our “Countdown To Utah Football” with the 1994 season. This week the focus skipped ahead to the 2008 season on Crimson Corner, as host Michelle Bodkin brought in former linebacker Stevenson Sylvester who was a part of the Utes’ second “BCS Busting” team.

Setting The Stage

Sylvester was clear that none of the ’08 team’s successes were possible without the 2004 team paving the way first. He was adamant they were the ones who cleared the path to even allow them to try their hand at a team like Alabama to finish the year.

“I’ve got to give all credit to the 2004 team,” Sylvester said. “The 2004 team really set the stage to make it possible. Even before us, you had Boise State right after that, and then you had Hawai’i go against Georgia. The fact you had Utah do it’s thing in 2004 gave those schools the opportunity to jump into at-large bid games and make it a thing is purely awesome. They gave us a stage to play against a team like Alabama.”

Like most great teams, the guys in 2008 had a pretty good idea they could make some noise based off of the season before. The Utes had a pretty decent team in 2007, however, a few injuries derailed some of their progress. Sylvester says once their bowl game ended and they took inventory of who would be coming back, it was pretty clear they had a shot to do something special.

“The feelings that year were just- it started right after the 2007 bowl game, that Poinsettia Bowl game against Navy,” Sylvester said. “Honestly, it was just me looking at how many guys were coming back. Just knowing we were going to get Brian Johnson coming back healthy for the next season. All the defensive guys we had- we were coming off of this eight game winning streak. We started the ’07 year really terrible going like 1-3 and then we beat UCLA who was like #11 in the country and then we went on this crazy winning streak.”

While Sylvester was confident in the pieces returning, he noted how important it was that the whole team bought in during the off-season. Sylvester said the team worked as hard off the field building a strong relationship as it did on it and it resulted in wins.

“We trained so hard,” Sylvester recalled. “We did so many things together. I think that’s what a lot of these guys have done in the off-season. It goes beyond the football field. If you want to have success on the field you have to have success everywhere else. You’ve gotta have connection everywhere else.”

We Want ‘Bama, We Got ‘Bama

Utah’s efforts in 2008 earned them the opportunity to take on storied Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and they made the most of it where others have failed. So much of Utah’s success on the field that day according to Sylvester stemmed from nobody thinking they had a shot.

“Going into this Alabama game and it seems like we’re always catching people when they are ‘down’,” Sylvester said. “Even when we were talking about playing Ohio State, ‘oh, well they aren’t having such and such receiver here’, ‘Alabama doesn’t have such and such offensive lineman there’- ok, so what about the other 21 people that are playing on the football field? To our extent, you look at it, you heard all of the pregame ‘ra-ra’- ‘oh man, Alabama looked great, they were perfect through practice.'”

All of the hype surrounding Alabama caused Sylvester to look deeper into them to find out why everyone was so high on them. Sylvester says what he discovered in his film study was that the Crimson Tide really weren’t any different than anyone they had played all season.

“It was all about film study for us,” Sylvester said. “For me, I was so taken aback watching film. What makes these guys so good? Like, why is everybody talking about them? Are they bigger? So I looked at the roster and look up their height and weight. It wasn’t like they were any bigger than anyone else we ever played. It’s not like they are Goliath or anything like that. Are they faster? No. We have some of the fastest players in the country. Nick Saban said it before the game, ‘I am afraid of Utah’s speed’.”

Sylvester and Utah’s film study made them all the more confident going into the Sugar Bowl that they could take down the national media’s “Goliath”. Utah wasted zero time letting Alabama know they were there to play big boy football and it resulted in a 31-17 final score in favor of the Utes.

“That just brought me more confidence going into the game,” Sylvester said. “And then we got started right off the bat. If you noticed right at the coin toss, I’m like ‘lets get this started right now.’ Lets start this fight right now so you know you ain’t in for no walk in the park. This is going to be a dog fight and we are going to fight till the end and you’re going to know that from the beginning.”

Sylvester and the 2008 Utes would go on to finish second in the AP Poll that year behind national champion Florida. The 2008 Utah football squad was the only team to finish the year undefeated, leaving many to wonder “what if?”

“For me, the only thing I’m up in arms and sad about that situation is we will never know,” Sylvester said. “We’ll just never know, but I can break down to you why I think we would beat Florida. That’s here nor there. Honestly, I don’t take anything back. How it was laid out, I really feel like the ’08 team changed a lot of history. It changed the landscape of the NCAA. Our 2008 team changed the landscape by beating Alabama.”

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