The original BCS busters: Looking back at Utah's Fiesta Bowl championship season
While Smith garnered much of the accolades, he wasn’t alone. Meyer won national coach of the year awards. Smith, Scalley, offensive lineman Chris Kemoeatu and wide receiver Steve Savoy earned All-America recognition. A few months later, Smith, Kemoeatu, Warren, Pouha and Jonathan Fanene were taken in the NFL draft.
In later years, ’04 teammates like Eric Weddle, Quinton Ganther and Spencer Toone would also get drafted. A handful of others would also play professionally. Cornerback Ryan Smith would transfer to Florida (reuniting with Meyer) and lead the nation in interceptions.
Then, there are the coaches. Meyer (Ohio State), Whittingham (Utah), Gary Andersen (Wisconsin), Dan Mullen (Mississippi State) and Mike Sanford (Indiana State) are now all head coaches. Billy Gonzales (Mississippi State), John Hevesy (Mississippi State) and Chuck Heater (Marshall) are coordinators, while Keith Uperesa is Hawaii’s director of player personnel.
“We had great leadership. We had great athletes,” Whittingham said. “The coaching staff was very talented.”
The Fiesta Bowl was Utah’s 18th consecutive triumph.
“You look back and those were special times and special moments. But 10 years ago? I didn’t put two and two together on that but it was a fun time wasn’t it?” said Andersen, who is now the head coach at Wisconsin. “We had a good time there and I look back and you’ve got the Sugar Bowl (2009) after that. Those were good days.”
Speaking of good, Meyer is often asked how the 2004 Utes would have fared against teams from the SEC or Pac-10.
“On any given day that team could have beat anybody,” he said.
Although Utah never got the chance to take on college football’s elite that season, the Utes did finish the campaign as one of just three undefeated teams in the nation — joining USC and Auburn.
“It certainly put us on the map,” Whittingham said. “The Fiesta Bowl gave us national recognition and I guess you could say credibility nationwide essentially.”
It was a great culmination to a great season, he added.
“I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of great moments in my coaching career, and that was certainly one of them,” Whittingham said.
Brian Johnson, who was Smith's backup at quarterback that season, was only 17 years old during the historic run. He went on to lead Utah to a Sugar Bowl win over Alabama in January of 2009, earning Most Outstanding Player honors.
"We've all grown and experienced new things in life throughout that 10-year period. But it was a ton of fun," said Johnson, who went on to become the Utes' offensive coordinator and is now the quarterbacks coach at Mississippi State. "The staff that we had, the players that we had and the excitement that was around the program was exceptional. There were a ton of good things going on."
Even so, Pouha admits that it didn't really sink in at the time.
"It never hit us that day in Arizona. We were kind of like 'OK, that's cool and awesome,’ ” he said. "You never really realized the impact of it."
That changed, though, as the years passed and teams like Boise State, Hawaii and TCU and Northern Illinois made BCS bowls. Utah's historic run was always mentioned and clips shown on television broadcasts.
"To understand the impact, we never really knew what it would be back then," Pouha said. "But we kind of know what it feels like now."
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