TribUte newsletter: Are these Rose Bowl-Bound Utes the program’s greatest team ever?

Utah will play in its first Rose Bowl on Jan. 1 vs. Ohio State

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One popular question in the days since the University of Utah won the Pac-12 championship game has been centered around whether or not this Utes team is the program’s best ever.

I have some half-baked thinking that I’ll save for the end, but for starters, I thought I would lay out the four realistic answers to that question as a public service to you good folks.

Let’s get it.


Record: 12-0 (8-0 Mountain West)

Bowl game: Fiesta Bowl, W, 35-7 vs. Pitt

Final ranking: AP No. 4, Coaches No. 5, BCS No. 6 (before bowl game)

Notes: The original “BCS Buster” as the first non-AQ school invited to a BCS bowl. Beat Texas A&M, Arizona and North Carolina (combined record of 16-19).


Record: 13-0 (8-0 Mountain West)

Bowl game: Sugar Bowl, W, 31-17 vs. Alabama

Final ranking: AP No. 2, Coaches No. 4, BCS No. 6 (before bowl game)

Notes: Won at Michigan (3-9), won vs. Oregon State (9-4), beat both New Mexico and No. 11 TCU, 13-10. Beat 12-win Alabama, which spent three weeks as AP No. 1 and four more as No. 2. AP No. 2 rankings is Utah’s highest-ever finish.


Record: 11-3 (8-1 Pac-12 South)

Bowl game: Alamo Bowl, L, 38-10 vs. Texas

Final ranking: AP No. 16, Coaches No. 16, CFP No. 11 (before bowl game)

Notes: Third Pac-12 South title, including second outright. Lost second straight Pac-12 championship game. Reached No. 5 in College Football Playoff rankings ahead of the Pac-12 championship game. Seven players later selected within the first six rounds of the NFL Draft.


Record: 10-3 (8-1 Pac-12 South)

Bowl game: Rose Bowl vs. Ohio State

Final ranking: CFP No. 11; Current ranking: AP No. 11, Coaches No. 11

Notes: First Pac-12 championship in its 11th season as a conference member. Fourth Pac-12 South title, including third outright, all since 2015. Beat Oregon twice, once when the Ducks were CFP No. 3 and again when they were CFP No. 10. One loss to San Diego State, which finished CFP No. 24, another to BYU, which finished CFP No. 13.

My half-baked thinking: For as beloved as the 2019 team was, it didn’t win a conference title or a bowl game. The 2004 team was obviously heralded for busting the BCS, but that group was hardly challenged. The 2008 team survived two legitimate challenges, one from New Mexico, the other from TCU, where a late fourth-quarter touchdown at Rice-Eccles Stadium saved the BCS bid. Beating Alabama and finishing as AP No. 2 were both landmark accomplishments. This discussion boils down to 2008 and 2021, win or lose on Jan. 1.

What say you, Utah fans?

• What’s on my mind, Utah or otherwise?

• Remember in March when the Pac-12 sent four teams to the Sweet 16, three to the Elite Eight, and people wondered if the league would build on that momentum? The Pac-12 is 3-10 against Power Six leagues this season, including Utah’s 76-62 loss at TCU on Wednesday. The Pac-12 right now is UCLA, Arizona, USC, followed by a lot of question marks.

• For what it’s worth as it relates to Devin Lloyd, the NCAA recognizes “unanimous” All-America status as having received first-team selections from the AP, AFCA, FWAA, Sporting News, and WCFF. If at least three of the five give a first-team nod, that player is recognized as a “consensus” All-American. Lloyd would become the fifth Ute all-time to reach “consensus” status.

• I’m starting to wonder if Utah will have more fans than Ohio State at the Rose Bowl. On Monday, that notion seemed silly, but then Utes fans started gobbling up tickets from Ohio State’s allotment, which has been open to the general public. Between Utah’s ticket allotment, fans buying from Ohio State, and buying off the secondary market, my best educated guess as to how many Utah fans will be at the Rose Bowl? Between 35-40,000.