Thanks to a seemingly never-ending litany of injuries, a third straight Pac-12 title just wasn’t in the cards for the Utah football team.
The hand they were dealt, however, still proved a winning one, as it was announced Sunday that the Utes will be facing Big Ten program Northwestern in the Las Vegas Bowl at Allegiant Stadium on Saturday, Dec. 23.
The matchup between the 8-4 Utes and 7-5 Wildcats will take place at 4:30 p.m. PT/5:30 p.m. MT, and the game will be broadcast by ABC.
“We are looking forward to playing in the SRS Distribution Las Vegas Bowl,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said in a statement. “We have a lot of respect for the Big Ten and Northwestern, and we are excited to start preparing for a great atmosphere in Allegiant Stadium.”
This marks the fourth time in program history that Utah will face Northwestern, with the Wildcats holding a 2-1 series advantage at present.
Their last meeting was in the 2018 Holiday Bowl, where Utah blew a 17-point halftime lead as Northwestern reeled off 28 third-quarter points en route to a 31-20 victory.
This also marks the sixth time the Utes will play in the Las Vegas Bowl. Utah is 4-1 in its previous appearances, with its most recent game there a 35-28 victory over BYU in 2015.
The Utes entered this season — their final one in the Pac-12 — with hopes of winning an unprecedented third straight conference championship following consecutive Rose Bowl appearances (Utah lost an epic shootout to Ohio State two seasons ago, then fell to Penn State this past season when quarterback Cam Rising went out with an injury).
Beyond Rising’s unavailability, Utah was further hampered by injuries to myriad more key players. Tight end Brant Kuithe, who is recovering from a torn ACL, never appeared in a game. Meanwhile, they never got top backup quarterback Brandon Rose for a game, they lost running back Micah Bernard, receiver Mycah Pittman, linebacker Lander Barton, tight end Thomas Yassmin, and defensive ends Logan Fano and Jonah Elliss to season-ending injuries.
They played games without receiver Devaughn Vele, running back Ja’Quinden Jackson, defensive end Junior Tafuna, linebacker Karene Reid, defensive ends Connor O’Toole and Van Fillinger, even kicker Cole Becker.
Whittingham called it an unprecedented situation in all his years of coaching.
Still, the team’s 5-4 record in league play saw them lose only to Washington (the College Football Playoff’s No. 2 seed), Oregon (ranked No. 8 and playing in the Fiesta Bowl), Arizona (ranked No. 14, and playing in the Alamo Bowl), and Oregon State (now ranked 21st, and facing Notre Dame in the Sun Bowl).
Crimson Club members can purchase tickets through the Utah Ticket Office beginning Monday, Dec. 4 and continuing through Tuesday, Dec. 5 via priority purchase windows, according to Crimson Club level. Tickets go on sale to the general public starting on Dec. 6.
This will be Northwestern’s first bowl game since 2020, when it beat Auburn 35-19 in the Citrus Bowl.
Meanwhile, Utah State — which went 6-6 overall and 4-4 in Mountain West play — will be taking on Sun Belt Conference team Georgia State (6-6/3-5) in the Idaho Potato Bowl.
That game also will be played Dec. 23, with kickoff slated for 1:30 p.m. MT at Albertsons Stadium in Boise. It will be broadcast by ESPN.
It will be the first-ever meeting between the programs.
The Aggies survived a quarterback carousel this year and won their regular-season finale vs. New Mexico to become bowl eligible. The Panthers, meanwhile, began the season 6-1, but lost their final five games.
This will be Utah State’s fifth appearance in the Idaho Potato Bowl dating back to 1997, when it was known as the Humanitarian Bowl.