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Steve Griffin, Deseret News
Utah Utes linebacker Cody Barton (30) and Utah Utes linebacker Chase Hansen (22) run of the field after stopping the Colorado offense during the University of Utah football game against the University of Colorado at Folsom Field Boulder on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018.

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s small senior class can go out in a big way in the Holiday Bowl. The 11 players on scholarship and two walk-ons are on the cusp of completing their collegiate careers with some special accomplishments, adding to the distinction of being the veterans on the program’s first team to play in the Pac-12 championship game.

“It’s a chance for the seniors to go out with another bowl win and a 10-win season,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “That’s a pretty good milestone to be able to win 10 football games, and so there’s a lot of positives attached to this game.”

Since 2014, the Utes have prevailed in the Las Vegas (twice), Foster Farms and Heart of Dallas bowls. They posted a 10-win season in 2015.

“You don’t want to go out losing, especially being a senior,” said linebacker Cody Barton, who made mention of Utah’s bowl history and his impending last game with the Utes.

Barton added that both things feed into the whole team and it creates an energy, a force that permeates bowl preparation. The Utes, simply, don’t want to lose. Whittingham’s teams have prevailed in 11 of 12 bowl appearances.

“Every game is important. I hear people say meaningless games, to me there’s no such thing as a meaningless football game,” Whittingham said. “Go in our team meeting and say: ‘Hey this game is meaningless.’ You’re not going to get a great response from that.”

Especially, it seems, from this class of seniors. Whittingham has repeatedly said there is a lot that is special about them. It’s the smallest group he’s had during his lengthy tenure at Utah. Even so, they’ve made a lasting impression.

“They have been phenomenal the entire year with their leadership and how they have taken control of the team,” Whittingham said earlier this season. “Really good football teams are player driven, and these guys have done just that.”

Nine of Utah’s seniors earned all-conference recognition from the Pac-12. First-team selections include right guard Jordan Agasiva, left tackle Jackson Barton, kicker Matt Gay, linebacker Chase Hansen and punter Mitch Wishnowsky. Gay, Hansen and Wishnowsky were also named to All-American teams.

Strong safety Marquise Blair garnered second-team all-conference accolades, while Cody Barton, free safety Corrion Ballard and center Lo Falemaka made the honorable mention list.

Now comes the curtain call.

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“I get that it’s my last game, but it hasn’t like full-on hit me,” said Cody Barton. “But I know that my time is coming short, so I’m just trying to cherish the moment.”

Same goes for the entire senior class. They, too, are cherishing things. Barton acknowledged they’ve spoken about their upcoming finale and vow to enjoy every day.

“Because it’s been fun,” he said.


Holiday Bowl

No. 22 Northwestern (8-5) vs. No. 17 Utah (9-4)

  • SDCCU Stadium — San Diego
  • Dec. 31, 5 p.m. MST
  • TV: FS1
  • Radio: ESPN 700AM