SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Utes broke into the Bowl Championship Series twice, prevailing both times by capping undefeated seasons with major bowl victories. They topped Pittsburgh 35-7 in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl and knocked off Alabama 31-17 in the 2009 Sugar Bowl.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham says the win over the Crimson Tide may have eclipsed the initial BCS triumph.
“I think so, and particularly because of the opponent,” he explained. “Take nothing away from Pittsburgh.”
Whittingham added that there were primary differences in the venues and opponents, plus the 2008 team had a blueprint to use from the 2004 squad.
“They were both great experiences,” he said.
Steve Fifita, the defensive MVP of Utah’s Fiesta Bowl win, posed the question of which Utah team was better. The 2004 team finished No. 4 in the final Associated Press rankings, while the 2008 squad was No. 2. The latter also went 13-0, while the original BCS busters were 12-0.
“I didn’t doubt we were going to beat Pitt, and I didn’t doubt they were going to beat Alabama. But now the doubt is who would win that game,” said Fifita, who then shared his thoughts on such an outcome. “I’ve got to go with ’04. I’ve got to do it. I don’t think anybody was close to us that year.
“If it’s up to me, the ’04 team is winning that game,” he continued. “But I think it’s a good debate. It’s a good debate, and I would like to see other guys weigh in on it, too, and see what they think.”
Quarterback Brian Johnson, who played for both teams and was the Most Outstanding Player in the Sugar Bowl, obliged.
“I’d say ’08 because that was the team I played on the most,” Johnson mused.
Johnson went on to note that they were both great teams. However, each had different qualities about them. He said the ’04 team with No. 1 pick Alex Smith and from a scheme standpoint was so far ahead of what people were doing with the spread offense at that time.
“It was really, really cutting edge stuff that we were doing offensively,” Johnson explained. “... There weren’t any real challenges defensively.”
While every game in ’04 wound up being a blowout, Johnson said the ’08 squad was really battle-tested — scoring on eight of nine two-minute drives. He added that 16 players from the Sugar Bowl team went on to play in the NFL.
“There was a ton of talent on both teams,” Johnson said. “I guess we’ll never really know the answer on who was the best. But I’ll always say that our team was the best, probably.”
Utah’s Fiesta Bowl championship team (12-0)
Date Opponent Result
9/2/04 Texas A&M Won, 41-21
9/11/04 at Arizona Won, 23-6
9/18/04 at Utah State Won, 48-6
9/25/04 Air Force Won, 49-35
10/1/04 at New Mexico Won, 28-7
10/16/04 North Carolina Won, 46-16
10/23/04 UNLV Won, 63-28
10/30/04 at San Diego State Won, 51-28
11/6/04 Colorado State Won, 63-31
11/13/04 at Wyoming Won, 45-28
11/20/04 BYU Won, 52-21
1/1/05 Pittsburgh (Fiesta Bowl) Won, 35-7
Utah’s Sugar Bowl championship team (13-0)
Date Opponent Result
8/30/08 at Michigan Won, 25-23
9/6/08 UNLV Won, 42-21
9/13/08 at Utah State Won, 58-10
9/20/08 at Air Force Won, 30-23
9/27/08 Weber State Won, 37-21
10/2/08 Oregon State Won, 31-28
10/11/08 at Wyoming Won, 40-7
10/18/08 Colorado State Won, 49-16
11/1/08 at New Mexico Won, 13-10
11/6/08 TCU Won, 13-10
11/15/08 at San Diego State Won, 63-14
11/22/08 BYU Won, 48-24
1/2/09 Alabama (Sugar Bowl) Won, 31-17