The original BCS busters: Looking back at Utah's Fiesta Bowl championship season
“It was like ‘this is awesome,’ ” Scalley said. “That was a pretty good deal.”
For Scalley, it was extra special. While his older brother was working on a master’s degree at Arizona State, he attended the 2002 Fiesta Bowl between Colorado and Oregon.
“I remember sitting in those stands watching that game telling my brother, ‘How cool would it be to play in this game?’ ” Scalley said. “Sure enough, years later I’m there as a participant.”
Getting there was a benchmark for the program and awesome for a hometown kid, added the former Highland High standout.
“I don’t think any one of us could have imagined how it ended,” said Scalley, who acknowledged the team could tell something special was going on as the season progressed.
Pouha, an East High graduate, said things started falling into place after a narrow loss at Texas A&M (28-26) early in 2003. Hanging in there with the Aggies gave the Utes confidence. They went on to win nine of their last 10 games, including a 17-0 win over Southern Miss in the Liberty Bowl.
Pouha said the team knew things would get even better in 2004.
"We didn't really talk about it much," he said. "But we worked like it."
The sky was the limit, Pouha continued, and the Utes were kind of on auto-pilot that season — just trying to execute better than the week before as the season progressed.
The conclusion, he acknowledged, was "something special."
Fifita remembers everyone walking out of Sun Devil Stadium after the Fiesta Bowl like they were “kings of the world.” But, then again, that’s how they felt after every game.
“We felt like every game we went into we were going to win and that’s what happened,” said Fifita, who noted that being BCS busters was on their minds. “We thought it was a possibility and it was actually one of our goals that was out there.”
Then they just took care of what they had to do, Fifita explained.
"That guy, he definitely was the heart and soul of our team," Pouha said. "He was the heart and soul. He was the guy who kind of kept everything cool, kind of kept everything chill."
Utah’s confidence grew quickly. Smith said the Utes had a pretty good idea of where they were headed early.
“I think it was the first week of the season,” he noted. “We ended the season before, obviously, on a great note with a (four-game) winning streak. Then had a great offseason.”
Even so, Smith admitted there were still some unknowns despite successful work in the winter, spring, summer and in training camp.
“You’re putting in that time hoping you’re preparing yourself the right way and doing things the right way but you never know,” he said before noting that the season-opening win over Texas A&M put any concerns to rest. “It was the last bit of confidence we needed that we could really make a run at this thing.”
Smith, who wound up being a Heisman Trophy finalist and a co-offensive MVP of the Fiesta Bowl with wide receiver Paris Warren, led the way.
“That was Alex Smith’s team. No doubt,” Whittingham said. “We had great leaders, but that was Alex Smith’s team that year.”
Smith, though, was part of a tight-knit group.
Pouha, a team captain along with Smith, Scalley, Warren and Bo Nagahi, said that the team was "surrounded by great men." He added that anybody on the squad could have been a captain that year.
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