As Utah gets ready for its first Rose Bowl appearance, against national power Ohio State, coach Kyle Whittingham’s track record in bowl games is well-known.
Under Whittingham, the Utes are 11-3 in bowl games, dating back to 2005. He is No. 3 nationally among active coaches in bowl victories, behind only Alabama’s Nick Saban (17) and North Carolina’s Mack Brown (14).
Unlike Saban and Brown, all 11 of Whittingham’s bowl wins have been accumulated at one school. Included in that win total is victories in the Fiesta and Sugar bowls. The Utes defeated Saban’s Crimson Tide in the 2009 Sugar Bowl.
The Rose Bowl marks Utah’s third overall appearance in a New Year’s Six Bowl.
“We’ve had a pretty good track record in bowl games. We have a process that we follow and adhere to. It’s been successful for us,” Whittingham said. “We’ll follow that just like we have in the other bowls we’ve played in. Not our first rodeo in that regard. … We’ve got a plan in place. Typically our guys do a great job preparing for a bowl game. We’re going to have to, with Ohio State as our opponent. We’re going to have great preparation to have a shot.”
Going into the 2018 postseason, Whittingham had an 11-1 mark in bowl games, giving him the best winning percentage (92.0) in NCAA football history.
While the Utes have a reputation for winning bowl games, they are currently mired in a two-game bowl losing streak. In the 2018 Holiday Bowl in San Diego against Northwestern, Utah squandered a 20-3 halftime lead (the Wildcats scored 28 unanswered points in the third quarter) and fell 31-20, snapping a five-game bowl winning streak.
Then in 2019, Texas pounded the Utes 38-10 in the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio. It marks the first time they dropped back-to-back bowl games since 1992 and 1993.
The Utes opted out of bowl participation at the end of the 2020 COVID-19 impacted season.
While Utah won 11 of its first 12 bowl appearances under Whittingham, the most recent bowl win came nearly four years ago, on Dec. 26, 2017, with a 30-14 triumph over West Virginia in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
Wide receiver Britain Covey has tasted victory in a bowl game only once at Utah — the 2015 Las Vegas Bowl at the end of his freshman season.
Utah also won bowl games in 2016 (a 26-24 decision against Indiana in the Foster Farms Bowl) and 2017. But Covey didn’t play in those games because he was serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Chile during that time. In fact, he didn’t play in the 2018 and 2019 bowls, either, due to injuries.
There is a common denominator with those two bowl losses in 2018 and 2019. Both years, the Utes went into those games fresh off painful setbacks in the Pac-12 Championship game. The emotional letdown from those defeats might have played a role in the bowl game outcomes.
“There was a little bit of a hangover,” Whittingham said. “We weren’t quite as sharp in those two games as we had been in years past. Hopefully we can get back to playing our brand of football in the postseason.”
As Utah heads into the Rose Bowl, it is coming off of a dominating 38-10 performance in the Pac-12 title game against Oregon.
The Utes have enjoyed a meteoric rise since starting the season with a 1-2 record. In fact, some pundits have said Utah is not a team anyone would want to face right now.
Some observers have said that if the College Football Playoff were expanded to more than four teams, the Utes, winners of nine of their last 10 games, would deserve to be involved.
“I definitely think we’re a top-tier team. And although we didn’t start off necessarily the way we wanted to, especially as the season progressed, I think they should take into account teams getting better,” linebacker Devin Lloyd said of the CFP. “They should take that into account because we may not have started out the best, but teams can get better throughout the season.”
That aside, everybody at Utah is excited about the Rose Bowl.
For the first time, the Utes went into bowl preparations in December coming off a Pac-12 title.
Practices since the Pac-12 Championship game in preparation for the Rose Bowl have been spirited, Covey said. Much better than the practices leading up to the 2018 and 2019 bowl games.
“Everyone’s happier. Coach Whitt is actually smiling in the locker room,” Covey said. “I would say that you don’t want to move on so fast from the Pac-12 championship because that’s what we set out to do. I’ll carry that with me forever.”
And Covey would love nothing more than to end his Utah career with a win in the Rose Bowl and start a new bowl winning streak.