Less than 48 hours after capturing its second straight Pac-12 championship and subsequent Rose Bowl berth, the University of Utah has its opponent for Jan. 2 in Pasadena
The Utes will face Penn State, as announced on ESPN New Year’s Six reveal Sunday afternoon. The Nittany Lions, who finished the regular season 10-2 overall and 7-2 in an always-loaded Big Ten East. That conference mark was good for third in the East Division behind Big Ten champion Michigan and Ohio State. Penn State’s only two losses this season are to the Wolverines and Buckeyes.
With the No. 2 Wolverines and No. 4 Buckeyes both bound for the College Football Playoff, the Rose Bowl was left to select the next-highest-ranked Big Ten team, which was No. 8 Penn State.
“Our guys are excited to be back in the game, first of all,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said during the ESPN broadcast. “It was a great game last year (against Ohio State), right down to the wire. Ohio State played exceptionally well, particularly on offense, and got the win, but we’re going back with another opportunity to try and get a win.
“Penn State, a lot of respect for those guys, Coach Franklin’s done a great job there. I’ve already started watching the film. They play outstanding defense and just a really balanced, well-coached football team. Our guys will be excited about the challenge, and the opportunity and we’re looking forward to the trip.”
WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT PENN STATE
• Finished 10-2 overall and 7-2 in the Big Ten East, which was good for third in the division behind Michigan and Ohio State.
• Only two losses this season are to the Wolverines (41-17 on Oct. 15) and Buckeyes (44-31) on Oct. 29.
• Head coach James Franklin (101-51 overall, 77-36 at Penn State) is in his ninth season in Happy Valley.
• Nittany Lions are appearing in their fifth Rose Bowl, including the second under Franklin (2017 vs. USC; L, 52-49).
The only real Utah-related intrigue on Sunday involved, not its Rose Bowl opponent, but rather where it was going to finish in the final CFP poll.
The Utes checked in at No. 11 last week after beating Colorado, but ascended to No. 8 after their 47-24 rout of then-No. 4 USC on Friday night to win the Pac-12 championship game for the second straight season. The program’s previous best-ever CFP Top 25 finish was No. 11, accomplished in 2019 and again in 2021.
It is also worth noting that Utah finished above No. 10 USC, whose only two losses are to the Utes. The Trojans grabbed an NY6 at-large berth and are bound for the Cotton Bowl against AAC champion Tulane. The 16th-ranked Green Wave qualified for the NY6 as the highest-ranked Group of Five team.
NEW YEAR’S SIX BOWL GAMES
Dec. 30, Orange Bowl: Clemson vs. Tennessee
Dec. 31, Sugar Bowl: Kansas State vs. Alabama
Dec. 31, Fiesta Bowl (CFP semifinal): No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 3 TCU
Dec. 31, Peach Bowl (CFP semifinal): No. 1 Georgia vs. No. 4 Ohio State
Jan. 2, Cotton Bowl: USC vs. Tulane
Jan. 2, Rose Bowl: Utah vs. Penn State