Colorado has gone from worst to first and back to worst in the Pac-12 South, and Utah is far better than a last-place team in this division.

The Utes proved themselves worthy of a bowl bid in Saturday night’s 34-13 victory at Rice-Eccles Stadium, thanks to an almost flawless first-half performance on both sides.

Wow. Utah-Colorado football games are never like this. Through the first six meetings of the two schools’ Pac-12 era, every game was decided by seven points or fewer. Yet on a night when each team entered with a 5-6 record, they hardly resembled each other on the field. Amid questions about the Utes’ emotional state, and with Colorado rested after an off week, this game became a rare rout in the series.

Utah’s showing “takes some of the sting out of a frustrating season,” coach Kyle Whittingham said.

The Utes established their dominance with 340 total yards to Colorado’s 117 by halftime, while building a 28-0 lead. Utah wobbled slightly in the second half before securing a convincing win.

So where have these guys been all year?

The Utes showed signs of their ability by playing this well against the Pac-12′s best teams, only to absorb tough losses to Stanford, USC and Washington. They produced touchdown drives of 73, 66, 88 and 74 yards in the first half vs. Colorado, behind senior quarterback Troy Williams. He filled in for the injured Tyler Huntley, after attempting only one pass (in desperation) in the previous five games. Williams completed 15 of 24 passes for 181 yards and ran for two touchdowns.

This was not quite like Brett Ratliff’s relief appearance vs. BYU in 2005, the last time the Utes needed to win their last regular-season game to qualify for a bowl, considering Williams was making the 16th start of his two-year Utah career. But he deserves credit for being so sharp. As he said, “You just have to stay ready, so you don’t have to get ready.”

Running back Zack Moss shredded Colorado’s defense with 196 rushing yards, giving him 1,023 for the season. “I don’t know how many people he ran over tonight,” Williams said.

As impressive as the Utes’ offensive was, Utah’s defense was even better in the first half – relative to the Buffaloes’ strengths. Colorado’s defense has struggled after losing four NFL draftees from the 2016 South championship team, but the offense has performed reasonably well. Not so Saturday, when the Utes hounded quarterback Steven Montez and shut down running back Phillip Lindsay.

The Buffs went 5-7 overall and 2-7 in conference play, finishing last in the South. Utah’s marks of 6-6 and 3-6 sound better in comparison, especially considering that’s good enough for a bowl bid. The Utes will look for a vacancy outside of the Pac-12′s postseason footprint, owning the worst league record of any of the conference’s nine qualifiers. Their destination is a mystery at this point, following a rather weird season.

Utah looked awfully good Saturday, though.

With bowl eligibility as motivation, the Utes recovered nicely from the tough ending at Washington last weekend. “We did a great job of keeping the energy up throughout the whole week,” Williams said.

The Buffs didn’t score until their second possession of the third quarter, and the Utes took a 31-7 lead into the fourth period. Colorado then completed a TD drive and was threatening again, but Ute defensive end Bradlee Anae stripped Montez and linebacker Cody Barton recovered the fumble, ending any doubt about the outcome. Anae and Barton combined for 4½ of Utah’s season-high 5 sacks.

The Utes could have added another touchdown in the last minute, but backed off in a sportsmanlike gesture. They can save it for the bowl game, after all.