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After replying to 600 text messages, Utah football coach Kyle Whittingham readies for the Rose Bowl

The Utes are 11-3 in bowl games under Whittingham, who will follow a familiar roadmap into uncharted territory

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham celebrates with Utah Utes tight end Brant Kuithe (80). The Utes defeated the Oregon Ducks to win the 2021 Pac12 Football Championship title at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, Dec 3, 2021.

Kyle Whittingham knew he wouldn’t have much time to rest after winning the Pac-12 championship game on Friday night.

And that was before the text messages started coming in.

“I’ve had literally over 600 texts, and I just finished today responding to every one of them, that was no easy task,” Whittingham said as he prepared for even busier days ahead.

The University of Utah head coach took the team charter back to Salt Lake City, woke up Saturday morning, boarded another flight and headed out to get some recruiting done. After all, the FBS recruiting calendar is in the middle of a contact period, meaning Whittingham is allowed to make in-person, off-campus visits with recruits, and the early signing period begins Dec. 15.

By Monday, Whittingham and his staff were back to preparing for Utah’s first Rose Bowl after defeating Oregon for the second time in 13 days, 38-10, at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.

[More: See where Rose Bowl tickets are currently available.]

“We’ve had a pretty good track record in bowl games,” said Whittingham, noting that he would oversee a 3 p.m. team meeting on Monday to get the month of bowl preparation started. “We have a procedure, a process we adhere to and it’s been successful for us. We’ll follow that just like we have in all the other bowl games.

“We have played in a couple of New Year’s Six bowls, the Sugar Bowl and the Fiesta Bowl in years past, so it’s not our first rodeo in that regard, but we have a process that we’ll adhere to.”

The Rose Bowl qualifies as uncharted waters for Utah.

But, no, this is not Utah’s first rodeo.

Utah is 11-3 in bowl games under Whittingham. That includes winning the Fiesta Bowl following the 2004 season when Whittingham and Urban Meyer were co-head coaches, and the vaunted 2008 team winning the Sugar Bowl to cap a 13-0 season.

But the Utes will head to the 2022 Rose Bowl in a different position than they held for the 2005 Fiesta Bowl and 2009 Sugar Bowl.

In 2004 and 2008, Utah, then a member of the Mountain West, was widely viewed as The Little Engine That Could.

The 2004 team was the original “BCS Buster,” marking the first time a team from a non-AQ conference broke through to a BCS bowl game. Those Utes blew out Big East co-champion Pitt in that ‘05 Fiesta Bowl.

The 2008 team won at Michigan, beat Oregon State, then survived November challenges from New Mexico and TCU before smashing 12-win Alabama in that ‘09 Sugar Bowl in Nick Saban’s second season in Tuscaloosa.

In its 11th season as a Power Five member, This Utah team led the Pac-12 South for the final eight weeks of the regular season, won the division outright, and beat Oregon twice in three weeks, once when the Ducks were ranked third and Friday night when they were ranked 10th, on its way to the Rose Bowl.

The 2004, 2008, and 2021 Utes are all different for various reasons, but one thing they have in common is that all three campaigns will have ended with landmark accomplishments.

“We have a plan in place, and typically, our guys do a really good job of preparing for a bowl game and we’re going to have to,” Whittingham said. “With Ohio State as our opponent, we’re going to have to have great preparation to have a shot.”

Yes, no matter what, Whittingham was going to be busy this week, but planning for a trip to the Rose Bowl has certainly made things busier.

“I’ve been splitting my time between [responding to text messages] and recruiting, I’m down here in Florida right now on a recruiting trip,” Whittingham said on a call with reporters Sunday. “There is a lot of excitement from all the ex-players, ex-coaches that have come through Utah. The community is ecstatic and I think we’ll have a very good turnout at the Rose Bowl as far as Utah fans traveling to that game.”


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