If the Utah Utes thought playing in the Pac-12 was a new world, then their current situation must feel like they are in a new universe altogether or made a time warp back to the days when the Utes suffered losing seasons on a consistent basis.
The last time the Utes weren’t eligible to go to a bowl game was 2002, when they finished 5-6. The last time they finished with a losing record in conference play, as they will this year, was 1990 when they went 2-6 in the WAC.
But the Utes maintain they are heading into Friday’s game at Colorado (1-10, 1-7) with a good attitude despite the disappointment of losing to Arizona on Saturday.
“It is the last game of the season, and we are still going to lay it all out on the line,” receiver Kenneth Scott said. “That is how we play every week and how we are going to take it.”
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham was adamant he didn’t need to build the season finale into a bigger game than it was or call it a bowl game for the Utes to make sure his team played hard.
“It’s not my philosophy or belief to pretend or make something up,” he said. “It’s another opportunity to win a game. We’re not thinking about it remotely as a bowl game.”
As it stands, the chance of going bowling isn’t totally out of the realm of possibility for the Utes (4-7, 2-6).
If there aren’t enough bowl-eligible teams to fill the 35 bowls, the teams with the highest Academic Progress Rates that didn’t qualify for a bowl game will be placed into a group. Bowls needing to fill slots then would negotiate over the teams.
The Utes, who have an APR of 33, could be in that group, along with teams like Rice (No. 6), Wake Forest (No. 18) and Missouri (No. 21).
“The bowls would negotiate for who they want, and it would come down to fan base, TV money and all that,” Football Bowl Association Executive Director Wright Waters said.
Waters believes at least one slot will need to be filled since there currently are 13 teams needing a sixth win to be bowl eligible. Of those, seven are favored. Pitt and South Florida have four wins each with two games to go but will be underdogs in both of their remaining contests.
The two bowls at risk of not filling slots in Waters’ projections are the Military Bowl on Dec. 27 in Washington and the Independence Bowl on Dec. 28 in Shreveport, La.
“The last week is the time when everyone panics, but it always works out by the first week of December,” Waters said.
Whittingham said he hadn’t heard of the possibility of a 5-7 team going bowling until Monday, and he wasn’t interested in discussing the chances the Utes could be one of those teams.
“We aren’t at five yet,” he said about the wins. “So we aren’t in the mix right now. Our goal is to get to five this week, and if that happens and materializes, we’d have to take a look at it and see what opportunities there are.”
Utah’s more immediate concern is beating Colorado and earning its first road win of the season.
“This is just another game we need to try and win,” he said.
A closer look
The Utes will have a losing record in Pac-12 play this year no matter how Friday’s game turns out. Here is a look at how the Utes have done in league play under coach Kyle Whittingham:
Year Rec. Conf.
2005 4-4 MWC
2006 5-3 MWC
2007 5-3 MWC
2008 8-0 MWC
2009 6-2 MWC
2010 7-1 MWC
2011 4-5 Pac-12
2012 2-6 Pac-12