BOULDER, Colo. — The Utes did practically everything they could to lose a championship this year, then everything they could to win one.
After which they did all they could to patiently wait.
Saturday at Folsom Field, they dismantled downtrodden Colorado — loser of six straight games. They stampeded the Buffaloes like Ralphie the Colorado mascot, who, by the way, stayed penned up during pregame ceremonies. The 30-7 win left the Utes in no worse than a tie for the Pac-12 South championship. An invitation to the title game was still in balance as the afternoon darkened.
So the Utes’ conference season is behind them, with a 6-3 record. They lost two straight games in September, won four in October, and then lost at Arizona State to put things in doubt. Later, they strong-armed Oregon, and on Saturday dismantled Colorado.
Kyle Whittingham did his part, bringing the Utes back from the dead.
Just like this weekend’s weather in Boulder, this year’s Utes have been pleasant and inviting, but occasionally stormy and cold.
Actually, the Utes should have known Saturday would be a convincing win. It was a snow day, played on a field sheeted like a rink. That’s Whittingham's favorite conditions, though he hastened to say after the game “we don’t have a preference.”
Clearly, irritable weather gets his juices flowing. By Saturday afternoon, his team was doing its best to send Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre into seclusion.
Two weeks ago, the Utes had only a flickering chance of winning the South. They went into Saturday’s game with three conference losses, same as Arizona and Arizona State. The Utes had to beat Colorado and the Sun Devils lose one of their final two games for Utah to claim the title outright.
Despite the fact the Buffaloes came into Saturday’s game with five consecutive losses, there was no denying the Colorado Conundrum. Utah needed only to defeat Colorado in Salt Lake in 2011, in the season’s final game, to win the South title. Didn’t happen. In 2016, they lost to the Buffaloes on the road in Game 12.
It’s not like the Utes have been terrible against the Buffs; they’ve won six of eight pairings since joining the conference. Saturday dawned amid calls for MacIntyre’s firing. One television station said he would be let go at season’s end, but he denied that a decision had been made, calling the story “gutless” because no sources were quoted.
The game was promoted as picturesque Folsom Field’s 500th game. That’s roughly how many people were in attendance at the end. An announced crowd of 16,627 (scanned ticket count) showed up. By the fourth quarter, Utah fans outnumbered Colorado fans. That’s neither surprising nor damning.
Meaningless snow games seldom rally a big hometown effort.
The 11:30 a.m. kickoff brought 29-degree temperatures with snow. The Utes took that as a good sign. They take their cues from Whittingham.
Snow? What snow?
“It doesn’t bother us a bit,” Whittingham said. “We are up in the mountains up in salt Lake City, so not a problem at all.”
Two hours before kickoff, about three-dozen Utah players warmed up wearing nothing but shorts, shoes and beanies.
“We’re from Utah,” receiver Samson Nacua said. “We play through snow.”
That doesn’t mean it was terribly graceful at first. The first punt by Utah was nearly blocked, then fumbled but recovered by CU. Chase Hansen left the game on a targeting call. Whether Hansen hurtled or skated was debatable. At one point in the second half, officials asked fans to stop throwing snowballs.
They might have hit a player — but not anyone else.
The day seemed to describe MacIntyre’s prospects of keeping his job: a snowball’s chance.
Players on both sides spent the game doing their best figure skating moves. Nacua even executed a respectable Lutz jump while tipping the ball to himself for a score.5 comments on this story
“At this point, obviously you look back at the season and replay things,” Whittingham said. “Sitting here at 8-3, at least with a share of the title, I guess no matter what happens with the South Division title — and perhaps bigger things — we’re very proud of our guys. Never satisfied but very proud and happy for them.”
As evening approached and the snow kept falling, several Utah players did snow angels in the end zone after the final gun.
Snow or no snow, they were going to enjoy their day in the sun.