Should Utah prevail against Navy in next week's Poinsettia Bowl, the 2007 Utes will join some elite company. They'll become just the sixth team in the program's 116-year history to win nine or more games in a season.
"If we can get there it will be a good way to send our seniors out," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "Of course, we're playing a very good opponent and we've got a lot of work to do before we get to that point. But if we can get to that benchmark then I think that's a tribute to these fifth-year seniors, particularly."
Defensive end Martail Burnett, one of the team's fifth-year seniors, acknowledged it's a big deal.
"That's an elite group nine wins," he said while noting that this season's team should have won 10 or perhaps 13 games.
Nine is good, Burnett continued, but it'll require taking care of business in San Diego.
Utah faces a Navy squad that leads the nation in rushing offense with 351.5 yards per game.
The Utes, however, do bring a six-game bowl winning streak into the battle. It's the second-longest active run in the nation.
Extending the streak would not only give Utah nine wins, it would also give them something else in common with the previous squads to reach and/or exceed the milestone.
Each of the others finished on a high note by winning their bowl games.
The 2004 team capped a perfect 12-0 season by crashing the BCS and topping Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl. The 2003 and
1994 squads finished 10-2 overall by winning the Liberty (17-0 over Southern Miss) and Freedom (16-13 over Arizona) bowl games, respectively.
Utah's two other teams to top the milestone 1964 (9-2) and 1999 (9-3) prevailed in the Liberty (32-6 over West Virginia) and Las Vegas (17-16 over Fresno State) bowl games.
Quarterback Brian Johnson said considering this year's injury-riddled 1-3 start and what the team has gone through, it would provide a bit of a silver lining to reach nine wins.
"For us to get the opportunity to win nine games is a positive for us," Johnson said. "But at the end of the day what you play for is conference championships. That's the mark of a team."
Until Utah does that again, he added, the team's main goal isn't complete.
Right now, this year's Utes are among 13 teams with eight victories in a season. The grouping includes squads from 1930, 1946, 1947, 1948, 1953, 1969, 1978, 1981, 1985, 1996, 2001 and 2006.
Breaking from the pack, for obvious reasons, would be a big positive for the program going into next season.
"You look at all the other football teams in this nation and nine wins isn't bad," linebacker Joe Jiannoni said. "It's a great accomplishment to me. I'm happy with it if we get there."EXTRA POINTS: Whittingham said the Utes got a good look at some live option Wednesday. It was Utah's only full-pad practice in preparing for the game ... Defensive lineman Gabe Long, who injured his shoulder in the BYU game, participated in contact drills and, barring a setback, will play in the Poinsettia Bowl ... Matt Asiata and Brent Casteel, who missed most of the season with injuries, dressed and spent practice in "The Pit" with other injured players. Whittingham noted that neither will see action again until next season ... Wednesday's bowl gift for the players was a commemorative football.
Seasons with 9 or more wins
2004: 12-0 MWC, Fiesta Bowl champs
2003: 10-2 MWC, Liberty Bowl champs
1994: 10-2 Freedom Bowl champs
1999: 9-3 MWC*, Vegas Bowl champs
1964: 9-2 WAC*, Liberty Bowl champs* Tri-champs in league play
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