The top two seasons are interchangeable for Utah, two great years punctuated by a breakthrough into college football’s elite.
Still, 2008 is tops for one reason only: the 31-17 Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama when no one outside of the 801 area code expected the Utes to shock the world.
Here’s a look at the top Utah football season of all-time:
Biggest moment: The opening drive of the Sugar Bowl, when Utah marched down the field in a minute and 19 seconds to score. Quarterback Brian Johnson completed 5 of 5 passes on a 68 yard drive, the smaller conference Utes steamrolling SEC powerhouse Alabama and setting the tone early on.
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Lowest point: There aren’t many low points to pick out for an undefeated team, but a close 13-10 victory at New Mexico was a huge scare. The Lobos finished only 4-8 that season, good for third from the bottom in the Mountain West, and would have wrecked Utah’s plans for a marquee bowl game.
Season MVP: Quarterback Brian Johnson was an efficient field general all season, tossing 27 touchdowns to nine interceptions along with 2,972 yards passing. He was dominant in the bowl game, completing 27 of 41 passes for 336 yards and three touchdowns against a stingy Alabama defense. He also outclassed BYU’s Max Hall in the 2008 rivalry game, tossing four touchdowns on 30 of 36 completed passes along with 303 yards.
Legacy: This Utes team solidified the long-standing perception that non-power conference teams could outplay power conference teams on any given day. What began with Boise State’s upset of Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl was finished with Utah’s win over Alabama. A second undefeated season in four years was also a major stepping stone for the Utes to join the Pac-12 in 2011, becoming a part of one of the conferences that had scoffed at Utah’s legitimacy before 2004.