This is the dilemma that Utah football fans always wished they would have: Should they spend money to attend Friday's Pac-12 championship game, or just hope the Utes win and make plans for the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day?
Other questions will come into play if Utes lose to Washington and miss their Rose Bowl opportunity. How many fans would follow the team to another bowl? And how far might the Utes fall in the Pac-12's bowl structure?
The novelty of Utah’s first appearance in the Pac-12 title game and a scheduling twist that enabled the Utes to clinch a Pac-12 South championship a week left in the regular season have driven ticket sales for Friday’s event. The school had sold nearly all of its 3,500-ticket allotment by Monday morning, athletic director Mark Harlan said.
Factoring in tickets purchased through the Pac-12, with Utah's alumni base in northern California, it would not be surprising if several thousand or more Ute fans come to Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.
“We’re anticipating a really big turnout,” Harlan said.
Sunday’s bowl selections could get interesting, if the Utes are not ticketed to the Rose Bowl as Pac-12 champions. Most projections this week had Utah in either the Alamo Bowl or the Holiday Bowl, but that was before Washington State dropped to No. 13 in the College Football Rankings. WSU (10-2) now is unlikely to make a New Year’s Six game.
With the first choice of available Pac-12 teams, the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio almost certainly would take the Cougars over a 9-4 Utah team. The bowl could bring WSU coach Mike Leach and his offense back to Texas — maybe facing the University of Texas.
The Holiday Bowl picks next, and San Diego is within driving distance for Ute fans. But there’s no guarantee the bowl would take Utah, based on the Pac-12′s rule that a team finishing within one game of the Utes in the conference standings can be chosen over them. The Utes went 6-3; Stanford can finish 6-3 by beating California (4-4) in a game rescheduled for Saturday. Oregon and Arizona State each went 5-4. Oregon has some appeal with quarterback Justin Herbert (although his shoulder injury may be an issue) and hasn’t played in the Holiday Bowl since 2008.
If the Holiday Bowl passed over Utah, the Redbox Bowl in Santa Clara likely would do the same, with the Utes having played there Friday. That would push Utah to the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas.
Harlan expected to speak this week with bowl officials, pitching Utah’s potential support. “I’m learning [about] this fan base,” Harlan said. “I think this group is committed.”
Utah has been well represented at all six road games this season. That’s the trend for the eight years of Utah’s Pac-12 membership, with fans able to plan for regular-season games. The Pac-12 championship game requires more impulsive decisions, but many fans want to be there.
“I've been to every other big Utah game in my lifetime, so it seems wrong to miss this one,” said Josh Flygare, of Riverton.
“The Pac-12 championship is unique,” Cameron Lange said. “I promised myself after missing the  Fiesta Bowl, newly married and poor, we wouldn't miss a unique Ute experience again.”
The Tribune's unscientific survey of several dozen Ute fans indicated that about half would travel to both the title game and the Rose Bowl. A handful picked the championship game as their only postseason trip, and about one-fourth said they were waiting for the Rose Bowl as their only possibility. About one-sixth of them would go to both Santa Clara and any other bowl game. A few said they would skip the title game and attend any bowl.
Tyler Higgins, of Centerville, figures he's like a lot of Ute fans in their 30s with young families. “Gotta compromise and pick one,” he said. “Gambling on the Rose Bowl.”
Same with Chad Midgley, of South Jordan, who's counting on the Utes playing in multiple Pac-12 title games in the next eight or 10 years, he said, “but you never know when you will make it back to the Rose Bowl.”
If the Utes lose Friday, fans' attitude toward a bowl game would be an interesting case study. “As a true fan, I have to support the Utes in the championship game,” said Nate Spence, of Richfield. “As a true college football fan, I would never miss an opportunity to see my team play in the iconic Rose Bowl. But “if the Utes lose the championship game, I’m just not interested in going to Texas to watch another bowl game.”