Monson: Utes in the ... uh, Zaxby’s Bowl? Utah fans have earned a pass

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes coach Kyle Whittingham as the University of Utah hosts Washington State, NCAA football in Salt Lake City, Saturday November 11, 2017.

There are three kinds of excited over bowl games outside the four playoff slots these days, including for Utah fans considering the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl:

No. 1 • So fired up you’re going to rearrange holiday plans, blow off family and friends and years of Yuletide tradition to head off to the game’s destination, live in a hotel over part of the holiday, spend thousands of dollars on accommodations, food, rental car, airline passage and game tickets, and pay for marriage counseling after your spouse threatens to leave you for your out-of-balance fanaticism concerning the college football team for which you root.

No. 2 • Interested enough to interrupt your day, set aside three hours to watch the game on TV, taking regular trips during breaks from your barcalounger to your fridge, loading up a plate of ham sandwiches for consumption, guzzling a few tall glasses of your favorite icy-cold beverage throughout.

No. 3 • Couldn’t give a rip because you know full well the game is meaningless, just a tacked-on exercise of competitive excess, an event that gives coaches an excuse to work their players, especially the ones who will return next season, for another three weeks, 15 sessions worth, over a span during which those “students” should be focused on their studies, their finals, other collateral education-type stuff, something you might record and buzz through later, after you’ve worked out at the gym or carved some turns or visited with family members who have traveled distance to visit with you during the holiday season.

Regarding the Zaxby’s, a game in which the 6-6 Utes will play West Virginia’s 7-5 Mountaineers, the question of the moment is … Into which category do you fall?

There are a couple of foundational things in place here.

The first, you’ve heard before and we can all agree about — the annual feeling of disgust at the ridiculous principle of bowl inflation. There are too many postseason games, endeavors put together by local communities, TV executives and business folks, not in the name of pure competition or reward for a great season, rather in an attempt to cash in on the glory of so-called amateur sports.

There are 39 bowl games this season, down from 40 a year ago, which means that 68 of the 119 FBS teams are “celebrating” bowl seasons. All that number really means is if your team didn’t make a bowl, it truly sucked.

Coaches and schools bragging about bowl appearances these days use it as a self-congratulatory bit of propaganda that is an extremely low measure for actual accomplishment. Some fans fall for such stretching of the truth, but many completely understand that, in this case, the Utes had a mediocre season that cannot be saved or dressed up by even a win over a cross-country opponent that few around here care about.

What does beating West Virginia mean for Utah football?

It means the Utes are one of six teams this season that did so, beating an opponent that will have lost three straight games to finish the year.

As long as we’re throwing barbs at West Virginia, we might as well chuck some at Utah, too. Outside of the inflationary bowl realm, are the Utes really worthy of a postseason reward? Are they worthy of you jumping on answer No. 1 above, requiring you, as a fan, to sacrifice to go watch them play?

The fact that the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl is at noon the day after Christmas suggests that you, if you attend the game, are making an effort that far exceeds what the team achieved during real games. Even diehard fans have to acknowledge that.

And they probably will by not going.

The best reason to attend would be the same as when your 10-year-old nephew has an early Saturday morning soccer game in, say, Pleasant Grove and you don’t much feel like climbing out of bed to get there, but you have to because … well, you’re related to the kid.

Any parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, close friends, are exempt from the get-off-my-lawn attitude exhibited here — you have no choice but to go. Everybody else, any other Utes fan, has a get-out-of-jail card on the Zaxby’s.

Just bag it.

The Washington Post ranked the Zaxby’s as the 32nd-best bowl game of the postseason, five slots behind the Idaho Potato Bowl, four behind the Belk Bowl, three behind the New Mexico Bowl, two behind the Boca Raton Bowl, one behind the Cactus Bowl, one ahead of the Frisco Bowl, two ahead of the Quick Lane Bowl, and three ahead of the Gasparilla Bowl.

Um. Yeah.

The Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl itself has no major tradition to it. It’s not as though fans would be passing on a once-in-a-lifetime type experience to miss it. The thing started after the 2010 season and has included teams such as Texas Tech, Houston, Penn State, Louisiana Tech, Southern Miss, Army, UNLV and North Texas (twice).

There is no shame in answers Nos. 2 and 3, then, even for hardcore Utes. Not in a year like this one, a year during which the fans themselves should be rewarded for suffering through the ups and downs of a season in which they couldn’t really figure out what their team was.

Their reward should be to have fun on their own, doing what they love to do, or tops, sitting comfortably in front of the fireplace and the big screen with that plate of ham sandwiches and a cold drink in hand, patting their guts, belching and burping the day after Christmas, watching on TV, relaxing, not a care in the world, wondering hopefully that their team will be more worthy of a trophy in 2018.

GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.