Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News
Former Ute Alex Smith slaps hands with fans following Utah's BCS victory in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl.


Poinsettia Bowl

Utah (8-4) vs. Navy (8-4)

at San Diego, 7 p.m. (ESPN)

Bowl games are a big deal at Utah.

Getting there, however, isn't enough.

The Utes play to win. They're the proud owners of the nation's best winning percentage in bowl games (for teams with 10 or more appearances).

Thanks to a current run of six consecutive victories — the second-longest active streak in the country — Utah has a 9-3 mark in postseason games.

"It's something that we take pride in," senior safety Steve Tate said. "To be able to get invited year in and year out to these bowl games says a lot about our program.

"But the fact that we're going in, competing and winning — it's something we take pride in," he added.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham acknowledges the bowl success is a great recruiting tool.

"It certainly is. In recruiting you try to get in all your selling points, and that's certainly one that we feel is a big positive for our program," he said. "You certainly want to accentuate all the positives when you're recruiting and that is one of the many positives that we feel we have."

The cover of Utah's media guide this season features a picture of the team's championship trophies above: "6-0 bowl roll" and scores from the bowl victories.

"I think that when you have a track record in bowl games like we have, your players buy into the preparation model that you have in place," Whittingham said. "It almost self perpetuates. When they work hard and prepare the right way for bowl games, they have success. When they have success, they continue to work hard and prepare well. I think it's a good situation."

After coaching the Utes to a Mountain West Conference championship and a 17-0 victory over Southern Miss in the 2003 Liberty Bowl, Urban Meyer stressed the importance of capitalizing on success.

"If you don't follow up a great season with a great recruiting class, then everything you've done is kind of for nothing," said Meyer, whose program wound up signing Brian Johnson, Quinton Ganther, Brent Casteel, Robert Conley, Kelley Talavou, Paul Soliai and Paul Kruger to letters of intent that February.

A year later, Utah cashed in on a perfect season and a 35-7 win over Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl. Though the departures of Meyer (Florida) and offensive coordinator Mike Sanford (UNLV) took a toll on recruiting, Whittingham and his staff still managed to add speed and athleticism to the program — despite getting a late start.

Whittingham, at the time, rated the 2005 recruiting class as perhaps the best in six years or so. Among the signees in the wake of Utah's historic journey to the Bowl Championship Series were Brian Hernandez, Marquis Wilson, Zane Beadles, Soli Lefiti, Brett Ratliff, Eric Shyne, Kenape Eliapo, Darrell Mack, Sean Smith and Brice McCain.

"We feel good about what we accomplished," Whittingham said.

Subsequent victories in the Emerald and Armed Forces bowl games helped keep the recruiting success going.

Utah's 2006 recruiting class featured current contributors Neli A'asa, Joe Dale, Caleb Schlauderauff, R.J. Stanford, Stevenson Sylvester, Dustin Hensel, Matt Sims, Walter Watts and Corey Seiuli.

Last February's signees included Robert Johnson, Koa Misi, Matt Asiata, Jereme Brooks, Nai Fotu, Corbin Louks, Dallin Rogers and Eddie Wide.

After crashing the BCS in 2004, Whittingham noted that Utah's recruiting efforts were bolstered. The Utes signed players from seven different states in their first class after playing in the Fiesta Bowl.

"There's nobody that we came across recruiting that we had to educate as to who we were," he said.

Regular bowl appearances have kept Utah in the spotlight.

It's not like typical Saturdays when everyone is playing, Tate pointed out. Most of the nation watches bowl games.

The Poinsettia Bowl game with Navy on Thursday will be broadcast on ESPN.

Television exposure is a big part of the equation. And so, too, is winning.

"I think there's a misunderstanding about college football. The only way to have fun — to tell the truth — is to win," Meyer said before Utah's Liberty Bowl trip in 2003. "It stinks when you lose. It's awful. There's nothing good about it when you lose."

It's a message the Utes have taken to heart, especially in bowl games.

Utah recent bowl history

Year Bowl Opponent Result Score

2006 Armed Forces Tulsa Won 25-13

2005 Emerald Bowl Georgia Tech Won 38-10

2005 Fiesta Bowl Pittsburgh Won 35-7

2003 Liberty Bowl South Miss. Won 17-0

2001 Las Vegas Bowl USC Won 10-6

1999 Las Vegas Bowl Fresno State Won 17-16

1996 Copper Bowl Wisconsin Lost 38-10

1994 Freedom Bowl Arizona Won 16-13

1993 Freedom Bowl USC Lost 28-21

1992 Copper Bowl Washington St. Lost 31-28