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Las Vegas Bowl: Utes have fierce bite as underdogs

Published December 22, 2010 10:03 am

Boise State is favored by 17 points, but Utes say they won't roll over.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Las Vegas • Utah defensive end Christian Cox guaranteed a Utah victory at a Utah basketball game, receiver DeVonte Christopher referred to Boise State as "Girlse State" on his twitter page and a few Utes mixed it up with some Broncos during a bowl event gathering at the Hard Rock Cafe.

The No. 20 Utes (10-2), who head into the Las Vegas Bowl against the No. 10 Broncos (11-1) as 17-point underdogs, sure aren't acting like a team that expects to lose.

Perhaps that is the secret to Utah's long bowl success, which is the longest current winning streak with nine victories: The Utes never act like underdogs, even when everyone else considers them so.

The Utes, who started the streak with a 17-16 win over Fresno State in the 1999 Las Vegas Bowl, say they are never intimidated by an opponent or situation. They take the mentality that a win is rightfully their own whether they are in their first BCS appearance, sharing a field with a storied program such as Alabama's or, in the case of Wednesday night, battling a team many thought might land in the BCS title game.

Nevada trashed that scenario by upsetting the Broncos in overtime.

Now the Utes would like to prove they are the supreme team in their region by beating the Broncos, who have the distinction of being the highest-ranked team to play in the Vegas Bowl. The point spread is even greater than what the Utes faced in the 2009 Sugar Bowl when they took down Alabama 31-17 in its own backyard. Consider the Utes miffed and motivated at their current status in the eyes of the oddsmakers.

"They're a team that has been ranked No. 3 for a lot of the season," Utah running back Matt Asiata said. "I'm excited, everybody is. We can't wait to make a statement on Wednesday."

Boise State coach Chris Petersen and his team aren't buying into the role of favorites, at least publicly. If anything, all the talk about the Broncos being favored has made Petersen and his team more adamant it will be a close game.

"What they've done, we're nowhere near their bowl record," Petersen said. "What they do, they are a tremendous challenge for us. It also reinforces our opinion that you guys, or whoever makes us the huge advantage, doesn't watch tape. They are a tremendous team, a top-five team at one time. It's an even matchup."

Petersen joked that he'd like to understand the secret to Utah's bowl success. However, Whittingham and his players say they have no mysterious ways of preparing for bowls but just do what they do all season — work hard.

"Our process never changed in the four years since I've been here," Cox said. "Our preparation is the same. It doesn't matter if the opponent is Alabama, Navy or Cal, it's the same preparation we have for Boise. We hit the weight room hard, the film room hard and hit the grass running gassers after practice."

Research by one site, Doc's Sports Service, seems to substantiate the belief the Utes thrive as underdogs.

The Utes are 4-0 against the spread in their past four bowl games as an underdog, are 5-1 against the spread in their past six games as an underdog of 10.5 or greater and are 27-8-1 in their last 36 games against the spread as an underdog.

But more than just being underdogs, the Utes say they are motivated to keep their bowl streak alive as a way to honor the hard work of the players before them. The winning streak is tied with USC (1923-45) for the second-longest bowl win streak of all time. Florida State earned 11 consecutive bowl wins from 1985-96.

"It's a huge streak that has been kept alive by hundreds and hundreds of players who have come through the program," Utah offensive lineman Zane Taylor said. "We want to keep that alive ourselves. There is a lot of pride on the line, and we want to keep that going."

lwodraska@sltrib.comTwitter: @lyawodraska —

The streak

Utah has won nine straight bowl games, despite being the underdog in five of them:

Game Spread Result

2009 Poinsettia Bowl Cal 3-point favorite over Utah Utah 17-16

2009 Sugar Bowl Alabama 10.5-point favorite over Utah Utah 31-17

2007 Poinsettia Bowl Utah 8-point favorite over Navy Utah 35-32

2006 Armed Forces Bowl Utah 2-point favorite over Tulsa Utah 25-13

2005 Emerald Bowl Georgia Tech 8-point favorite over Utah Utah 38-10

2005 Fiesta Bowl Utah 16-point favorite over Pitt Utah 35-7

2003 Liberty Bowl Southern Miss 7-point favorite over Utah Utah 17-0

2001 Las Vegas Bowl USC 6-point favorite over Utah Utah 10-6

1999 Las Vegas Bowl Utah 6-point favorite over Fresno State Utah 17-16 —

Utah vs. Boise State

P At Las Vegas

Wednesday, 6 p.m.

TV • ESPN

Radio • 700 AM

Records • Utah (10-2, 7-1 MWC); Boise State (11-1, 7-1 WAC)

Series history • Boise State leads 4-2

Last meeting • Boise State won, 36-3, Sept. 30, 2006

About the Utes • Utah is making its 10th bowl appearance in the last 12 seasons and has a nine-game bowl win streak. … The Utes have won 10 games for the third year in a row under coach Kyle Whittingham. … Senior Terrance Cain will start at quarterback for the Utes with starter Jordan Wynn sidelined with a shoulder injury. … Offensive lineman John Cullen (shoulder) will also miss the game.

About the Broncos • Boise State is making its 11th bowl appearance in the last 12 years, during which it has built a 6-4 record. … Quarterback Kellen Moore finished fourth in the Heisman voting. … Boise State has beaten the Utes in the last three meetings. … The Broncos are without linebacker Bryon Hout, who was injured against Idaho, and have tweaked their lineup for the Utes with sophomore J.C. Percy playing at the weakside and senior Daron Mackey at middle.