Santa Clara, Calif. • OK, so we know Utah will not be going to the Rose Bowl, having lost to Washington in the Pac-12 championship game here on Friday night. There will be no parade, no march down Colorado Boulevard, no history made. Where does that leave the Utes, heading into the second- and third- and fourth- and fifth-tier possibilities of Pac-12-affiliated bowl games? Which bowl game do the Utes deserve to be invited to?
Well. As Bill Munny told Little Bill Daggett in the film Unforgiven, “Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.”
It might have just a bit to do with it, but not as much as it should.
The affiliated bowls, after the Rose, can pick the teams they want, within certain parameters. League records are considered, divisional separations are dissolved, and a bowl, in this specific case, can take any team it wants within one game of the Utes.
That means San Antonio’s Alamo Bowl, which has first choice, likely will go with Mike Leach and his Washington State Cougars. San Diego’s Holiday Bowl picks next, and could take Utah, or it might select Stanford or Oregon or Arizona State, all of which finished in the acceptable frame. The Redbox Bowl likely wouldn’t want the Utes, considering they just played here in the league’s title game. That leaves the Sun Bowl. El Paso.
The Utes will go where they’re welcomed.
But they’ve earned something a little beyond the Sun. They were on the verge of heading to Pasadena, and came up a touchdown short, a weird off-the-hands, off-the-leg, into-the-air, into-the-hands-of-a-Husky-defensive-back pick-6 that should not bounce them all the way from the Rose, through the Alamo, through the Holiday, through the Redbox, to a bowl game on the edge of the Rio Grande in West Freaking Texas.
That’s too punitive for a team that deserves … um, that has earned … something a little more, especially since the Utes were the only team from the conference a year ago that won a bowl game. How about a little something for that effort?
They won their division this season, they had a better record than Oregon, a team they beat head-to-head, and Arizona State, a team they bettered in the South standings. They defeated Stanford, too.
Let the Cardinal play in their own Redbox, right in their backyard, or some other place. Let Oregon get out of the clouds of the Pacific Northwest and see a little Sun. Let Arizona State and its fans drive on up the road to Vegas.
Let Utah go to San Diego.
It’s the only bowl possibility that would re-fire the engines and energy of Utah fans, so let down by the whiffed shot at the Rose. And the Utes’ body of work should reap that opportunity, that invitation.
Utah has never played in the Holiday Bowl, strangely enough, going all the way back to the old WAC days. It has played in the now-defunct Poinsettia. And it has had its run of bowls nobody cares much about, along with two memorable biggies.
The Utes played in the Sun Bowl in 1938 and 2011. They got the Liberty Bowl in 1964 and 2003. They’ve played in Copper Bowls, Freedom Bowls, Vegas Bowls, the old Emerald Bowl, the Foster Farms Bowl, the Maaco Bowl, the Armed Forces Bowl, the Heart of Dallas Bowl, the Pineapple Bowl, and, of course, the Fiesta and the Sugar.
The Sun Bowl is so … 80 and seven years ago.
The Utes finished 6-3 this season and represented the South honorably in the title game. Sure, they didn’t exactly put on any kind of offensive show, but that’s because Washington morphed into the ’85 Chicago Bears over the final couple of games of the season, shutting down both Washington State and Utah. No shame in that. Defensive prowess should count for something, and that the Utes have by the battered and bloodied mouthful. They can hit with anybody.
The invitations will go out Sunday.
Politics will come into play, as they do. Money will come into play, as it always does. Bowls are businesses, after all. Glamor programs will be favored, headliners will be sought after, and nobody’s convinced that this Kyle Whittingham team is particularly sweet-faced and glamorous or that Chase Hansen and Cody Barton qualify for that kind of leading role.
Nobody’s comparing a trip to El Paso to a trip to the netherworld, but just like Little Bill said he didn’t deserve to be sent into the eternities the way Bill Munny intended to do that sending, the Utes deserve something better than the Sun Bowl on New Year’s Eve.
Whether deserving’s got anything to do with it or not, they’ve earned a Holiday, at the least.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.