Utes Celebrate 15th Anniversary Of Historic Sugar Bowl Win

Jan 2, 2024, 3:28 PM

SALT LAKE CITY – It’s been 15 years since the game that stopped the college football world in their tracks- the ultimate David and Goliath matchup- Utah football versus the mighty Alabama Crimson Tide in the 2009 Sugar Bowl.

The Utes at the time were in the G5 ranks competing in the Mountain West Conference, while the storied Crimson Tide had already established a proud history competing in the Southeastern Conference.

Nobody gave the 12-0 Utes a chance against such an opponent which is why what happened on the night of January 2, 2009, will live on in infamy for a long time.

Utah’s 31-17 win over Alabama, including a 21-0 lead after the first quarter shocked the nation and eventually led to significant changes to the landscape of college football.

Utah Football: The Original BCS Busters

Anyone who has followed the Utes closely know that 2008 wasn’t the first season Utah football made a statement. It also has not been the last.

When following the rise of Utah football, there are a few benchmark years that really seem to indicate how the Utes have grown into one of the more consistent programs in college football.

1994 is often looked to as the starting point for all of the Utes’ recent success in college football. That team finished with a 10-2 record and a No. 10 ranking in the AP Top 25.


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That season ended with an invite to the Freedom Bowl and a 16-13 win over No. 15 Arizona to finish the year.

Ten years later, in 2004 Utah showed out again, this time going undefeated and beating Pittsburgh convincingly, 35-7, in the 2005 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. This was the first time a non-AQ conference team played in what we have later termed a New Years Six Bowl Game- formerly known as the Bowl Championship Series.

Utah’s impressive effort that season led to the moniker, “Original BCS Busters”, a No. 4 finish in the AP Top 25, and opened the door for the Utes to be the first to “Bust the BCS” twice four years later in 2008.


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The Significance And Impact Of The 2009 Sugar Bowl

As incredible as some of Utah’s earlier achievements were, neither had near the same impact as the 2008 season and subsequent Sugar Bowl win.

Utah achieved their highest ranking to date that year- a No. 2 finish in the AP Top 25. They were also the only team to finish that season undefeated.


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More than that however, the Sugar Bowl Utes opened the door for Utah Athletics to make the jump to the Power Five ranks.

Just two short years later in the summer of 2010, the Utes announced they would be joining the Pac-12 Conference for the 2011 competitive season.

The Utes spent 13 seasons in that conference growing their facilities, reaching new heights in academics, and building a brand of being a place to go to if you want to win.

From a football standpoint alone, the Sugar Bowl year led to a brand-new practice facility in 2013, an upgraded scoreboard in 2016, and a closed-in south endzone in 2021.

Utah football also saw an uptick in recruiting class rankings including a Top-25 signing class in 2023.

The Utes went to four conference championship games in that span and won two in 2021 and 2022 that lead to back-to-back Rose Bowl berths.


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The one-time, “little Group of Five team that could” wrapped up their time in the Pac-12 with 11 winning seasons and likely are not done yet as they turn their attention to a new adventure in the Big 12.

And it’s all largely thanks to a big win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl 15 years ago.

Tell us what you think in the comments. What do you remember about the 2009 Sugar Bowl season?

Michelle Bodkin is the Utah Utes Insider for and host of both the Crimson Corner Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and The Saturday Show (Saturday from 10 a.m.–12 p.m.) on The KSL Sports Zone. Follow her on XInstagram, and Threads: @BodkinKSLsports

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Utes Celebrate 15th Anniversary Of Historic Sugar Bowl Win