Foster Farms-bound Utah has history on its side despite narrow losses in Pac-12 play

December 27, 2016

NCAA

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By Morris Phillips

SAN FRANCISCO–Bowl season historically belongs to Pac-12 entrant Utah, but the Utes’ struggles in close games this season could mean their winning ways during the holidays are in jeopardy.

Utah was 7-1 with aspirations to reach their first ever conference championship game when a series of dramatic results altered their fortunes in 2016.  First, Utah dropped its showdown with CFP entrant Washington, then suffered narrow losses to Oregon and Colorado.

Just that fast, the Utes’ Rose Bowl aspirations evaporated, and their desired trip to Santa Clara, CA was for the Foster Farms Bowl and Big Ten opponent Indiana, and not the Pac-12 championship game for a rematch with the Huskies.

Do losses in three of their final four games, and the disappointment of being ticketed for a mid-tier bowl against another big conference also-ran in Indiana mean Utah won’t have the necessary focus?

Not if Utah coach Kyle Whittingham has any influence on things.

“We take it very serious no matter what bowl game it is, and it’s paid dividends,” said Whittingham, who sports an exceptional 10-1 record in bowl games.

Now in his 13th year as Utah’s head coach, Whittingham’s been honing his skills as a post-season, master motivator since his first day on the job.

Tabbed as interim coach in 2004 when Urban Meyer left Salt Lake City for the Florida job, Whittingham led the Utes past Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl as quarterback Alex Smith was named MVP. That win secured Utah’s undefeated season (12-0) and a No. 5 ranking in the season’s final rankings.

Since then Whittingham has gone on to register bowl wins over noted coaches Chan Gailey, Paul Johnson, Jeff Tedford and Nick Saban.  In the 2009 Sugar Bowl, Utah took down Alabama, shocking the Tide with a 21-point, first quarter lead despite being 10-point underdogs. The 31-17 win left the Utes as the only undefeated team in the final polls that year, in which they ranked fifth nationally.

 

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