SALT LAKE CITY — The fact that the Utah football team is playing the Pittsburgh Panthers Thursday night has little if anything to do with Jan. 1, 2005, when the Utes played, and beat the Panthers in the Fiesta Bowl in the only meeting between the two schools.
As far as the Utes are concerned, they could be playing the Pittsburgh Steelers or the West High Panthers and it wouldn't make a difference. That isn't to take anything away from the 15th-ranked Panthers, but the Utes are more focused on how they play, rather than who they're playing.
Coach Kyle Whittingham said aside from the names on the helmets, there is no connection to the '05 game.
"It's a whole new coaching regime, a whole new program," he said. "There are no similarities with this Pittsburgh team as opposed to the one we played in '05. It's a complete transformation."
Whittingham is one of just a handful of people associated with the Ute program that has anything to do with the 35-7 whipping in the Fiesta Bowl which capped off a perfect 12-0 season and labeled the Utes as the "Original BCS Busters" for life.
The only player remaining from that team is tight end Brad Clifford, while coaches Morgan Scalley and Brian Johnson were players on that team and assistant coach Jay Hill was an administrative assistant.
Although he was a first-year redshirt that season, Clifford said he has "lots" of memories of that season and bowl game, but sees little to compare to this year.
"I remember preparing for the game and how they were a really good team," he said. "But like always, we're focused on us and the preparation to win. Everything we do from meetings to film to what we do on the practice field, it's just to win. It doesn't matter who the opponent is."
Scalley recalls "the magnitude of what it meant to the whole program" and how fun it was to play in front of the large throng of Ute fans estimated to be around 50,000.
"We were the first program to bust the BCS and that was a big deal," he said. "It also meant a lot to the history of Utah football with what we were able to accomplish."
However, like Clifford and coach Whittingham, Scalley doesn't see much correlation to Thursday's game.
"Not really. It could be any team, because of the difference in the coaching staff and the offensive scheme mentality."
One thing all three agree on, is that this year's Utah team is similar to the '04-'05 team in its attitude and closeness.
"The team unity that year was amazing that's something I've seen this year," said Clifford. "There's something special in the air that's very similar to that team. The family we have is the same as that year."
Scalley said, "This is a tough football team, not a lot of complainers and whiners. This is a team that knows when to have fun and when to buckle down. It has the same mentality as the '04 team."
Whittingham agrees with Clifford about the team unity.
"There's a lot of unity on this team and I've had a bunch of players tell me that as well," he said. "Not that last year was bad, but this year's team is the closest it's been."
Whether this year's Ute squad can have a similar result on the field as the '05 Fiesta Bowl will be determined Thursday evening.
"Same jerseys same school, different players, new coaches," said Clifford. "But our preparation is to win, and it doesn't matter who is underneath those colors."
Utes on the air
No. 15 Pitt at No. 24 Utah
Rice-Eccles StadiumThursday, 6:30 p.m.
TV: Versus. Radio: 700 AM
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company