Top 10 2008: Utes' Sugar Bowl run is year's top local sports story

Published: Thursday, Dec. 25 2008 12:00 a.m. MST

Utah receivers Brent Casteel (5) and Freddie Brown (88) celebrate beating BYU, clinching the Mountain West Conference and busting the BCS for the second time in five years.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

The Utah sports scene in 2008 was unpredictable, unbelievable and unforgettable (as much as some might try). Here are 10 local stories — OK, 11 — our staff thinks stood out the most:

1. Utah football: Pour some Sugar Bowl on me

From the Big House to the Bayou — with a bashing of BYU and a whole lotta wins in between — now that, sir, is a football season a Utah man can be proud of. No ifs ands or fuss in the muss about it.

While many people call the 12-0 Utes "BCS Busters" for earning a Sugar Bowl invitation to play Alabama on Jan. 2, that's kind of a misnomer. After all, Utah — the Gonzaga of the gridiron — has now earned two BCS bowl berths in five seasons, which is more than the vast majority of teams in the six supposedly super-duper conferences can claim. Right, Miami? Indiana? Baylor?

To sum up the season, the Utes were clutch when they needed to be and downright dominant when other teams tried/failed to be clutch; unanimous All-American Louie Sakoda and the stingy U. defense kicked some serious behind; Brian Johnson did more winning and grinning than running and gunning in his, what?, ninth season as the Utah quarterback; Coach Kyle Whittingham put on a dang good Urban Meyer impersonation while losing and getting flipped off an equal number of times; and the Utes avoided the seemingly annual "What-the-heck-happened-at-New-Mexico-or-UNLV-or-Air-Force?" letdown losses.

Keeping Paul Kruger and other defensive players open in the regular-season finale was helpful, too.

And to think it all started with that down-to-the-wire win at Ann Arbor, which wasn't the first time in this state's football history an undefeated Beehive State squad was thrust into the national spotlight after eking by a subpar Michigan team. Right, 1984 BYU Cougars?

The exciting thing for the jolliest of Utah fans is that the best part of this dream-come-true-again story may still be yet to come.

Winning the Sugar Bowl would certainly be a sweet way to end this year and kick off a new one.

2. Utah Jazz: Where stars sizzle, fizzle and get raises while going similar yet so-separate ways

It was quite a year for the Jazz's talented point guard/power forward combination — and just to make sure we're on the same page, we're talking about Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer here, not D-Will and Paul Millsap.

Though their paths were similar for the basketball stars, they were often oh-so-far apart, too. Consider:

Boozer was named an All-Star sub again; Williams made a statement by winning the Skills Challenge after being snubbed again.

Williams earned a spot on the All-NBA second team; Boozer was on the third team.

Williams went on a tear in the playoffs; Boozer went on a slump.

Williams came off the bench and chipped in productive minutes for the gold-medal-winning U.S. Olympic basketball team; Boozer stayed on the bench but remained chipper and cheered on Team USA.

Both players also made headlines for their long-term contracts — Williams signed his with an opt-out clause in 2012; Boozer talked about opting out so he could sign up for his raise, but will it be in Utah? Miami? Indiana? Baylor?

And, finally, both players suffered injuries this fall — Williams was out 13 games with a sprained ankle; Boozer has missed 18 games (and counting) with a strained quad, a bruised knee cap and a foot-in-the-mouth ailment.

Good news for Jazz fans: The last time Boozer sat on the bench this much, his team won the championship.

3. BYU football: Quest for perplexing season achieved