SALT LAKE CITY — Utah is officially going bowling for the fourth consecutive year. On Sunday, the Utes (6-6) accepted an invitation to play in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. They’ll face West Virginia (7-5) on Dec. 26 (11:30 a.m., ESPN) at the Cotton Bowl.
“Very excited. It’s a great opportunity. It’s in our recruiting footprint,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “We have had a lot of success in Texas through the years and to be able to play in the state of Texas and showcase our university is a big positive.”
Senior tight end Harrison Handley and junior safety Chase Hansen met with the local media after things were finalized.
“I’m just real thankful to the bowl committee for choosing Utah. It’s definitely a great opportunity to go out there and play West Virginia and one that we’re looking forward to,” Handley said. “We just want to go out there and make the fans proud. Hopefully it will make up for a little bit of the season. Obviously it didn’t go the way that we wanted it to, but moving forward we just want to go out there and make the fans proud and end the season on a good note.”
Finishing things off with a winning record is a big deal for the Utes.
“It’s probably one of the biggest things now,” acknowledged Handley, who added that it’s definitely something that is important to the team.
Utah is 16-5 overall in bowl games and an NCAA-record 10-1 under Whittingham.
“Our secret formula is that our players prepare hard and do it the right way,” Whittingham said. “That’s what it’s all about. We don’t have any routine or process that is super top secret. It’s just our guys, in our program, take a lot of pride in bowl games.”
Whittingham added that they look at it as another chance to win a game, just like any other contest on the schedule.
“We put in a lot of work and have a lot of pride here,” Hansen said. “We want to finish the right way.”
Hansen said bowl preparation is like another fall camp.
“It’s no joke,” he said. “Whether you like it or hate it, we go out and work when you’re getting ready for a bowl game, and I expect nothing less this year.”
The players are excited to face a Big 12 Conference opponent in the Mountaineers. Handley said it’s huge. He said that the last three teams Utah has faced in bowl games were Colorado State, BYU and Indiana.
“So someone that’s a bit bigger is going to be great for us,” Handley said. “Great competition, and we’re just looking forward to the game.”
Utah and West Virginia haven’t played since the 1964 Liberty Bowl in Atlantic City when the Utes prevailed 32-6.
Although a lot of time has passed, the two sides will certainly get up to speed on one another.
“We are very aware of their history, especially in bowl games,” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, who noted Utah’s postseason success. “So it’s going to be a challenge for us.”
Whittingham expressed similar thoughts about the Mountaineers, who were 5-4 in conference play.
“We know that we absolutely have our hands full in this game and they’ve got all our respect,” he said.
Utah’s bowl history (16-5)
1939 — Sun Bowl: Defeated New Mexico, 26-0
1947 — Pineapple Bowl: Lost to Hawaii, 19-16
1964 — Liberty Bowl: Defeated West Virginia, 32-6
1992 — Copper Bowl: Lost to Washington State, 31-28
1993 — Freedom Bowl: Lost to USC, 28-21
1994 — Freedom Bowl: Defeated Arizona, 16-13
1996 — Copper Bowl: Lost to Wisconsin, 38-10
1999 — Las Vegas Bowl: Defeated Fresno State, 17-16
2001 — Las Vegas Bowl: Defeated USC, 10-6
2003 — Liberty Bowl: Defeated Southern Mississippi, 17-0
2005 * — Fiesta Bowl: Defeated Pittsburgh, 35-7
2005 — Emerald Bowl: Defeated Georgia Tech, 38-10
2006 — Armed Forces Bowl: Defeated Tulsa, 25-13
2007 — Poinsettia Bowl: Defeated Navy, 35-32
2009 * — Sugar Bowl: Defeated Alabama, 31-17
2009 — Poinsettia Bowl: Defeated California, 37-27
2010 — Las Vegas Bowl: Lost to Boise State, 26-3
2011 — Sun Bowl: Defeated Georgia Tech, 30-27 (OT)
2014 — Las Vegas Bowl: Defeated Colorado State, 45-10
2015 — Las Vegas Bowl: Defeated BYU, 35-28
2016 — Foster Farms Bowl: Defeated Indiana, 26-24
* Game played in January