There is nothing we feel where we are like, ‘We completely missed the boat; we blew this; we blew that.’ I don’t think there is is any of that going on. —Kyle Whittingham
SALT LAKE CITY — Saturday night’s showdown between Colorado and Utah isn’t the regular-season finale that either team envisioned.
And while it may not be the rivalry that national analysts and Pac-12 officials hoped for when they invited both schools into the conference, it has come to be a season-defining game for each team and for different seasons.
This year, bowl eligibility is on the line. The winner plays one more game, while the loser, well, deals with the emotional wreckage of underachieving.
While Utah was voted No. 2 in the South, Colorado was voted No. 4. Instead of the seasons each fan base expected, the programs are tied at the bottom of the heap with 2-6 conference records and 5-6 overall marks.
While the rest of the country may not care what happens in Rice-Eccles on Saturday night, this is a game of consequence for both teams and both head coaches.
“There was a lot riding on this game last year,” said Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre. "And there is a lot on the line this year.”
The two programs entered the Pac-12 at the same time, and while Utah has performed consistently as a middle-of-the-pack team, earning some attention-getting upsets and letting some pivotal moments slip away, Colorado went from being the worst team in the south to Pac-12 South champs last season after its win over Utah.
“Like I’ve said before, you either win or you lose,” said Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham at his weekly press conference. “Nobody cares why. There is nothing we feel where we are like, ‘We completely missed the boat; we blew this; we blew that.’ I don’t think there is is any of that going on.”
Instead, it’s injuries, bad breaks and tough losses on 50-50 plays.
Both coaches said they will have no problem getting their teams ready to play Saturday night, even with the holiday two days before. Utah is coming off a tough loss after nearly upsetting Washington, while Colorado is coming off a bye week. Their tough loss was two weeks ago against USC.
“We have done it before,” Whittingham said of regrouping after a difficult loss. “We have been in tough, emotional straights before and after tough, emotional losses, and you have to pick yourself back up. That is football and that is life. That’s how it is. I have full confidence in this senior class and our leaders that they won’t let (complacency) happen. We are playing for a lot this week. We are playing for a bowl bid, and that is a pretty good carrot to play for. It takes its toll, but like I said, you have to put it behind you and be resilient.”
The game will feature two sophomore quarterbacks. Steven Montez totaled 376 yards in his last passing performance, as he threw two touchdowns and two interceptions. Utah sophomore quarterback Tyler Huntley is coming off of one of his more productive outings throwing for 293 yards and two touchdowns. He ran for another 48 yards in the loss.
Utah will have to try and contain running back Phillip Lindsay, who has 1,402 yards, which is second most in the conference behind Bryce Love.
Utah’s defense, especially run defense, is ranked better than Colorado’s. But each defense has given up big plays that have turned close games to their opponent’s favor.
Both coaches said there are a number of positives from earning the opportunity to play in bowl games. Whittingham said it’s almost like a spring football for the program’s younger players, while MacIntyre said it is one of the best-recruiting tools teams have.
“Does (going to a bowl game) affect next year’s team, I don’t think it does,” MacIntyre said. “But it affects the overall view of the program. Momentum-wise for recruiting, it makes a bigger deal.”
Whittingham pointed out how it has benefits for everyone associated with the program.
“It is invaluable for the young players, and a great reward for veterans,” Whittingham said. “We prepare hard and we work hard, but at the same time, you want to make it a good experience for them.”
Utah sophomore quarterback Tyler Huntley said he has absolute faith in Utah’s ability to win Saturday and earn the season finale the seniors deserve.
“It’s a football vacation if you think about it,” Huntley said. “You actually get some weeks to kind of relax, just feeling good that you’re going to a bowl game. That’s pretty unique.”