There are so many bowl games you’ve got to fill them. I think that is why the qualifying parameters are as they are because you’ve got to fill the games. —Kyle Whittingham
SALT LAKE CITY — When it comes to going bowling, the Utah Utes are one win away from eligibility. A victory over Washington Saturday in Seattle, or Nov. 25 at home against Colorado, will give them the qualifying mark of six triumphs.
At 5-5 overall, the Utes are walking a thin line. They’re also on the verge of team history should one more win be all that comes and an invitation follows.
In 21 previous bowl appearances, Utah has always entered postseason play with a winning record. The closest to not doing so came in 1992 when a 31-28 loss to Washington State in the Copper Bowl left the Utes at 6-6 at season’s end.
Since then, the number of bowl games swelled to 40. The demise of the Poinsettia Bowl has reduced the opportunities this season. Even so, being from a Power 5 conference will likely land Utah in a bowl game with a 6-6 mark. If the Utes aren’t selected to play in a Pac-12 affiliated contest, they could end up filling vacancies at places like the Armed Forces or Heart of Dallas bowls.
“There are so many bowl games you’ve got to fill them,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said about 6-6 teams participating. “I think that is why the qualifying parameters are as they are because you’ve got to fill the games.
“Now there’s a good argument to that says you should have a winning record to go to a bowl game,” he continued. “But then you would have to cut down the number of bowl games, which may happen — I don’t know.”
Whittingham noted that as things are set right now there’s no way around it, teams at 6-6 (or worse) are needed to fill all the spots.
Utah (5-5, 2-5) at No. 15/16 Washington (8-2, 5-2)
Husky Stadium, Seattle
Saturday, 8:30 p.m. (MT)
Radio: ESPN 700AM
Last season, for example, South Alabama (6-6), Hawaii (6-7), Mississippi State (5-7) and North Texas (5-7) received bowl invitations. In 2015, three 5-7 teams Minnesota, Nebraska and San Jose State — participated in games.
Bowl appearances, Whittingham explained, are a “huge benefit” for participating programs.
“There is no doubt about it. It is almost another spring ball because you have about 15 practices, which is exactly what you have in spring football. So, you have a bunch of guys that have been redshirting or are down the depth chart and you get to spend some time with them,” he said. “You have the travelers come out for a portion of practice and then have the other guys stay and get an extra hour of work in with those guys. Their development is good for recruiting also, getting to go to a bowl game and having recruits in on campus in December and getting to watch practice and watch what is going on.”
Rewarding the senior class, though, is the main thrust as far as Whittingham is concerned.
“These seniors deserve it,” he said. “But there are a lot of things that come with it.”
Utah’s underclassmen are determined to a bowl game. Sophomore quarterback Tyler Huntley isn’t worried if that means getting in, possibly, as a .500 team.
“Whatever gets a team in a bowl game,” Huntley said.
Cornerback Jaylon Johnson, a true freshman, is also eager for the opportunity.
“I want to go to one bad,” he said. “I want to experience it for the first time.”
The Utes have gone to a bowl game 14 times since 1999, including each of the past three years.
"I think it's a big deal for opportunities for the student-athletes to have something and the coaches always talk about the practice time," said Utah athletics director Dr. Chris Hill. "That seems to be as big as going."
As for 6-6 teams going to bowls, Hill acknowledged it may depend on a team's schedule. He added that there's also a proliferation of bowls.
"It just seems like there's a lot and it's sacrilegious to act like it's not something that's a reward at 6-6," Hill said.
Utah’s bowl season
Year Record Bowl Result
1938 7-1-2 Sun Defeated New Mexico, 26-0
1947 8-1-1 Pineapple Lost to Hawaii, 19-16
1964 9-2 Liberty Defeated West Virginia, 32-6
1992 6-6 Copper Lost to Washington State, 31-28
1993 7-6 Freedom Lost to USC, 28-21
1994 10-2 Freedom Defeated Arizonan, 16-13
1996 8-4 Copper Lost to Wisconsin, 38-10
1999 9-3 Las Vegas Defeated Fresno State, 17-16
2001 8-4 Las Vegas Defeated USC, 10-6
2003 10-2 Liberty Defeated Southern Miss, 17-0
2004 12-0 Fiesta Defeated Pittsburgh, 35-7
2005 7-5 Emerald Defeated Georgia Tech, 38-10
2006 8-5 Armed Forces Defeated Tulsa, 25-13
2007 9-4 Poinsettia Defeated Navy, 35-32
2008 13-0 Sugar Defeated Alabama, 31-17
2009 10-3 Poinsettia Defeated California, 37-27
2010 10-3 Las Vegas Lost to Boise State, 26-3
2011 8-5 Sun Defeated Georgia Tech, 30-27 (OT)
2014 9-4 Las Vegas Defeated Colorado State, 45-10
2015 10-3 Las Vegas Defeated BYU, 35-28
2016 9-4 Foster Farms Defeated Indiana, 26-24