Gordon Monson: 2022 is a football season smiling fondly now on Utah. And the Utes smile back.

Kyle Whittingham’s team is headed back to the Pac-12 championship game.

Utah quarterback Ja'Quinden Jackson, right, celebrates with offensive linemen Paul Maile, center, and Michael Mokofisi after running for a touchdown in the first half of an NCAA college football game against Colorado, Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022, in Boulder, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

The discussion is as valid as it is fascinating — from a football standpoint as well as a human one. It speaks as much to you, the respondent, as it does to the Utah Utes themselves.

Complete the following sentence with the response that most closely reflects what’s currently banging around in your brain:

Utah’s football season has been …

a) amazing.

b) satisfying.

c) serendipitous.

d) lucky.

e) less than satisfying.

f) frustrating.

g) infuriating.

h) all of the above.

Let’s try it again, with similar, but different options.

Utah’s football season has been …

a) a thrill a minute.

b) what I expected.

c) solid, but less than what I expected.

d) blessed by the football gods.

e) kissed by the Weird Sisters.

f) hard to watch.

g) like brushing my teeth with a carbon steel welding wire brush.

h) all of the above.

There are, of course, no wrong responses because … well, to each his or her own.

There are reasons for positivity. Even if your responses are slightly negative, it’s likely on account of the good news that Utah football has crossed a threshold, at least for this season, where a 9-3 record, 7-2 in the Pac-12, isn’t quite up to snuff, not this time around.

When the Utes finished their run on Saturday against Colorado, with a game that was as automatic a win as any they’ve had, the records stood as indicated. But the Utes’ run was not yet over. Their run of luck was not over.

Just when it looked as though the result of that second mark meant the defending league champions would not appear in the Pac-12 title game for the first time since 2017, excluding the 2020 COVID year, all of a sudden they would.

Thing is, the Utes were expected by a lot of folks to soar higher in 2022 than ever before since joining the conference.

They were projected in preseason polls to land among the country’s best teams, with some guesses placing them as a legitimate College Football Playoff contender. After a troubled start in 2021, they had come on strong, qualifying for that Pac-12 championship game, winning it, heading to the Rose Bowl for the first time, barely losing that game to Rose Bowl regular Ohio State in one of the most competitive, most exciting bowl games of the college season.

It was all a setup for 2022.

And then …

It wasn’t.

It didn’t appear as though it would be.

And then …

It kinda was.

Utah took care of its business in Boulder by the count of 63-21. No big surprise. The Buffs had been horrible this season, losing every game but one, most of those losses as lopsided as a blown Michelin.

It would have been understandable for the Utes to head into Folsom Field with their daubers down in the wake of last week’s defeat at Oregon and considering that, even if they won, they still had to rely on a couple of conference results to go their way to have any shot at returning to Vegas to participate in the game they had become so familiar with in recent seasons.

Victory was theirs on the field, and then it was theirs on other fields twice more.

Say it this way: They won and kept on winning, as everything that had to happen for Utah to qualify for the title game did happen. Oregon State overcame a 21-point deficit with 20 minutes left to Oregon to pluck the Ducks, and Washington beat Washington State, both of which led to an invitation for the Utes.

USC, their opponent, is either worried or excited to face Utah again, as the Utes are the only team — in conference or out of it — to have defeated the Trojans. What a game that was. Those Trojans, who hope to be included in the CFP, get their mulligan against Utah now, whether it troubles or motivates them.

Either way, for the Utes this was all a fitting way for the 2022 regular season to end.

They were down, then up, up, up, up, then down, then up, up, up, up, then down, and now up.

They play on.

Their trip to Las Vegas puts them in position to defend their title and return to the Rose Bowl, which is exactly what they, short of a playoff chance, always wanted. If that’s their booby prize, they’ll happily accept it. Would the Rose Bowl have them back if they were to lose in Vegas and USC were to make the playoff? Who knows.

After the rousing experience the Utes had in Pasadena in January, and the subsequent promise it brought heading into September, going to a bowl in El Paso or San Diego or San Antonio or Vegas in December would have been … and still might be, depending on what happens next and how you complete the sentences …

a) a kick to the head.

b) a huge letdown.

c) a bowl game to ignore.

d) a reward nobody wants.

e) a chance to polish a few smudges.

f) a ray of sunshine.

g) an opportunity to wrap up another double-digit-win season.

h) all of the above.

Whatever it is, wherever it is, it would be more of a challenge — and certainly more interesting — than what Utah faced against Colorado.

What a mess the Buffs are. By the onset of the second quarter, anyone watching this game had to ask a not insignificant question: How did CU football get this bad?

The Utes went up, 7-0, midway through the first quarter, Micah Bernard on a run. A few minutes later, Ja’Quinden Jackson ran it in for a score, and It was all downhill for the Buffaloes from there. It was downhill for the Buffs before the opening kick, and let’s be clear, everybody knew it.

Kyle Whittingham could have taken the Oscar, saying before the game with a completely straight face that, hey, Colorado had scholarship athletes, too, insinuating that nothing could be taken for granted. But, in this particular case, everything could be taken for granted and the Utes would still win.

No Tavion Thomas, he being out preparing for his NFL career, and Clark Phillips and others just out because of injury or because they were not needed on this occasion. Plainly spoken, the Utes 2′s, 3′s and 4′s could have grabbed victory here. Some of them did.

The Utes were up 42-zip at the half. And, in total, they compiled 383 rushing yards and over 600 yards of offense. Oooh.

It was the perfect kind of opponent and result for the Utes to feel a bit better about themselves after the previous week’s difficult defeat. And even better, as the game ended, as word passed that Oregon was toast, all they had to do now was watch and wait to see if their sweet fortune would hold in Pullman.

And it did.

Whoever said it’s better to be lucky than good missed the boat. It’s better to be lucky and good.

Utah is both.

The Utes — with help from friends out of Corvallis and Seattle and wherever else luck spills from — saved for themselves a load of solace, satisfaction and celebration, with work and open road in front of them still, even if their own responses to the sentences above are h), h), and h).

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