For the fifth consecutive year, Utah is going bowling.
On Sunday, the Utes accepted an invitation to the San Diego Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl. They'll face Navy on Dec. 20 at Qualcomm Stadium.
"We're elated," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "We can't wait."
The Utes (8-4), he added, have plenty of reasons to be excited.
"Who wouldn't want to spend the middle of December in San Diego? It's a great place," Whittingham said. "The weather is awesome and there's a lot to do down there. So we just feel it's a great destination. We were excited about it from the moment we heard it was a possibility."
Though he acknowledged Navy and its high-powered offense present a tough challenge, Whittingham noted that Utah has several fifth-year seniors who have won four straight bowl games and are seeking five consecutive triumphs.
"That's a heckuva pedigree," he said, while noting that the previous wins all came in different bowls Liberty (Memphis), Fiesta (Tempe, Ariz.), Emerald (San Francisco) and Armed Forces (Fort Worth).
"Not many fifth-year seniors in the country have an opportunity to play in and win five straight bowl games," Whittingham said. "That's the opportunity they have."
Navy, however, won't make things easy. The Midshipmen finished the regular season with an 8-4 record after a 38-3 victory over rival Army on Saturday.
Navy coach Paul Johnson acknowledged he doesn't know a lot about Utah. He saw the Utes on film while preparing for Air Force and caught the tail end of the BYU game on television.
"I'm sure they're a quality football team," he said, while calling Whittingham an "outstanding coach" and making note of the Utes' lopsided win over UCLA.
"We know it'll be a huge challenge," Johnson said. "Utah will be a very talented team, and we look forward to having a chance to play them."
Utah's coaching staff, meanwhile, has already started preparations for the upcoming matchup. They've already secured tape of Navy's entire season. Whittingham and his assistants have been breaking it down since last Monday. The Utes practiced three times last week and have three more scheduled this week.
The Midshipmen run a triple-option offense similar to what Air Force ran under former coach Fisher DeBerry.
"It's nice to have confirmation that we're actually going to San Diego and we're not preparing for that option in vain. That's the most comforting thing," said senior safety Steve Tate, who added that he had the utmost respect for Navy, especially the Midshipmen's offense. "It's hard enough as it is to practice for the option. If you're doing it in vain it's even worse."
Navy's offense and Utah's nationally ranked defense, Poinsettia Bowl executive director Bruce Binkowski pointed out, should make for a great matchup. So, too, is the fact that two 8-4 teams are squaring off.
"We couldn't be happier," Binkowski said.
Poinsettia Bowl president Rudy Castruita also expressed enthusiasm.
The Utes and Midshipmen are going to put on quite a show for football fans all around the country," Castruita said in a released statement.
"We are so excited the Utah Utes football program and their loyal fans will be making their way to San Diego for the third annual bowl game. We look forward to rolling out the red carpet and hosting them in our great city."
Utah plans to travel to California on Sunday, Dec. 16. They'll likely practice at the University of San Diego throughout the week. Bowl activities include go-kart racing, a trip to Sea World, a visit to the Ronald McDonald House and a luncheon aboard the aircraft carrier USS Midway.
"It's a great opportunity, obviously. We're excited to go to San Diego," Tate said. "That's a great place to play."
More importantly, however, is the chance to extend Utah's current run of six straight bowl wins. Only Boston College had a longer active streak of success.
"That's our main priority right now," Tate said. "Winning seven bowl games in a row is a huge accomplishment and it sends the seniors out right. It also builds the program and gets recruits in the door when they see you've won seven bowl games in a row. It says a lot about the program."
Navy is also making its fifth consecutive bowl appearance. The Midshipmen accepted their invitation to San Diego on Nov. 11 a day after becoming bowl eligible with a 74-62 win at North Texas.
"The Naval Academy kicked this bowl game off in grand style when they appeared in the inaugural game two years ago," Castruita said, extending the invitation. "We're so excited the rich tradition of Navy is coming back to San Diego."Navy defeated Colorado State, 51-30, in the first Poinsettia Bowl. TCU overpowered Northern Illinois, 37-7 last year.
NAVY AT A GLANCE
Conference finish: Independent
High point: Navy's 46-44 triple-overtime win at Notre Dame on Nov. 3 snapped a 43-game losing streak to the Irish.
Low point: A 34-31 overtime loss at home to Ball State knocked the Midshipmen to 1-2 early in the season.
Top offensive players: Junior quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada leads the Midshipmen with 830 yards passing and 782 yards rushing.
Junior fullback Eric Kettani has rushed for 755 yards and nine touchdowns.
Top defensive players: Freshman safety Wyatt Middleton is Navy's top tackler with 85 stops. Junior cornerback Ketric Buffin leads the team with four interceptions. Junior defensive end Michael Walsh has 10.5 tackles-for-loss.What to expect: A whole lot of offense. Navy enters the game averaging 444.6 yards of offense and 39.9 points. The Midshipmen ran for a school-record 572 yards and eight rushing touchdowns in a 74-62 victory over North Texas on Nov. 10. It was the highest combined score in a regulation game in Football Bowl Subdivision history.
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