Utah Utes football: Utes returning to Las Vegas Bowl for first time since 2001
SALT LAKE CITY — The University of Utah football team is taking the nation's longest active bowl winning streak back to where it started.
The Utes have officially accepted an invitation to play in MAACO Bowl Las Vegas, scheduled Dec. 22 at Sam Boyd Stadium — where they began their current nine-game run of success in bowls with a 17-16 win over Fresno State in 1999 and a 10-6 decision over USC in 2001.
"We're excited about the opportunity to be going back to Las Vegas. It's been quite awhile since we've been there," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. "The players are excited and the players are looking forward to it, and we think it's a good situation for us."
The 21st-ranked Utes (10-2), who are going bowling for the eighth consecutive season, will face a yet-to-be determined opponent that bowl officials said would be announced this weekend. The Pac-10 was supposed to send a representative to Las Vegas, but won't have enough bowl-eligible teams to do so.
Instead of searching through a pool of at-large opponents for Utah, executive director Tina Kunzer-Murphy said the bowl has been in contact with Western Athletic Conference commissioner Karl Benson about getting No. 9 Boise State or No. 14 Nevada to Las Vegas.
No commitments have been made, however.
"We believe our best effort is to stay out West," Kunzer-Murphy said. "And that's what we hope we get."
ESPN owns the bowl game in Las Vegas and could arrange some sort of a deal to get one of those two WAC teams. The biggest hurdle is the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco, which has the first choice of WAC teams and has the right to take Boise State.
While all of that remains to be seen, MAACO Bowl Las Vegas officials are pleased to have half of this year's matchup booked before Selection Sunday.
"Our committee is thrilled to welcome back an old friend in Utah, which has had so much success in the Las Vegas Bowl but hasn't played here in nine years," Kunzer-Murphy said in making the announcement about the Utes' selection. "We expect to feature another great matchup in front of what we hope will be another sold-out crowd."
The Utes, who held their first bowl practice Wednesday afternoon, are looking forward to the trip.
Senior defensive end Christian Cox expressed his excitement by noting that Las Vegas is close to home and warm.
"I've got a bunch of family that will be able to make it to the game," he said. "A lot of our California guys will be real excited to go down there, too."
Of the bowl options the Utes had, quarterback Jordan Wynn acknowledged that Las Vegas is the one the team wanted most.
For now, though, they're all about getting prepared.
"We're all focused on the bowl prep," Wynn said. "We've got three weeks to get better and we've got to utilize it."
Utah athletics director Chris Hill is hopeful fans make the journey.
"Getting an invitation to the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas is not only a wonderful reward for our nationally ranked football team, it is also a reward for our great fans. Las Vegas is a popular destination for Utah fans, as evidenced by the big crowds that have made the trip to attend our regular-season games against UNLV over the past several years," Hill said in a released statement.
"The proximity of Las Vegas to the majority of our fan base, along with good weather, world-class entertainment and a 10-2 Utah football team, should make this an attractive bowl game for our fans.
"I know that Coach Whittingham and the players have had their sights set on this game ever since beating BYU last week, so I am happy for them and for all of us involved with Utah athletics," Hill added.
MAACO Bowl Las Vegas
Utah (10-2) vs. TBA
Dec. 22, 6 p.m. MT
Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas
TV: ESPN HD Radio: 700 AM
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