After last season's loss to Boise State in the MAACO Las Vegas Bowl, Utah saw it's impressive bowl win streak snapped. After so many years of bowl success, to end with a loss was an ironic, bitter twist for the most winningest class in Utah football history.
This season, for the second most winningest class in school history, the focus is on leaving the program with a bowl win, and hopefully the beginnings of a new streak.
"That's really important to us. For the seniors, and the underclassmen. We've taken a lot of pride in our bowl win history, and we want to continue that, obviously," said senior Tony Bergstrom. "As seniors, we want to go out with a win, but to hopefully get that new streak started is definitely a goal. That would be a big deal."
If it is to be, it will happen on Saturday, December 31 in El Paso, Texas at the Sun Bowl versus the ACC's Georgia Tech.
The Utes really have two ways to look at the destination; be excited to play in a bowl at all considering the obstacles that presented themselves through the course of the season, or be disappointed in missing out on the chance to play in the inaugural Pac-12 championship game.
According to senior Tony Bergstrom, the Utes are choosing the former.
"The Sun Bowl, I still consider it a major bowl so I'm pretty stoked about it. It's definitely the best scenario for us at this point," offered Bergstrom. "So I'm pretty excited about it."
Utah will meet Georgia Tech for the second time in post-season play as Utah defeated the Yellow Jackets 38-10 at the Emerald Bowl in 2005. At the time, the Yellow Jackets were ranked 13th in the nation. In many ways the game helped to perpetuate Utah's national reputation after playing in the BCS Tostitos Fiesta Bowl against Pittsburgh earlier in January of 2005.
The back to back wins in bowls versus credible opposition helped to lay the foundation, or at least a resume that would years later help to make a case for Utah's second BCS run, a marquis win against the SEC's Alabama in the Sugar Bowl in 2009
As a win over Georgia Tech added somewhat of a jump-start to something special, it seems fitting now that it should be the Utes' bowl opponent as Utah looks to restart its bowl win streak.
The timing and location of the bowl also make for an interesting story line, as Utah played in the Sun Bowl one other time in its history. Utah's played in El Paso at the Sun Bowl on New Year's Day, 1939, when it played and defeated New Mexico 26-0.
When the two teams meet on the last day of 2011, it will mark almost 70 years, nearly to the day, since Utah's first ever bowl game; a trip to El Paso and the Sun Bowl. Considering the program's evolution, and the fact that Utah is in it's first season as a Pac-12 member, anyplace but the Sun Bowl seems inconceivable for the Utes.
Perhaps even something akin to a rebirth, appropriate as Utah embarks on a new era at the highest levels of college football.
Utah players are excited once again about Georgia Tech's stature, though it finishes the season 8-4 and unranked, hovering just outside the Top 25 in most national ranking lists. Notable wins for Georgia Tech include an early season win over Kansas, and ACC champion, Clemson.
Ute players are also excited about the prospect of the match up due to Georgia Tech's triple option offense.
"I think it's going to be fun. I don't usually think about the other side of the ball too much, but our defense going up their triple option [offense] is going to be interesting," said offensive tackle Tony Bergstrom.
Defensive tackle Dave Kruger agreed, but felt good about the match up, considering Utah's extensive experience going up against the Air Force Academy.
"They have a good offense, that's going to be tough to defend so we're excited about the challenge," said Kruger. "It will be a little like preparing for Air Force, so we're used to it. But it seemed like the week leading up to Air Force was totally different, so that should help us."
Indeed, the Yellow Jacket offense should prove to be a challenge for the Ute defense, as they rank 17th in the nation in total offense, averaging 459.58 yards per game. In rushing offense, Georgia Tech averages 316.83 yards per game on the ground, good for third best in the nation.
Defensively, Georgia Tech ranks 45th in the nation in total defense, but are stronger against the pass, allowing just over 198 yards per game through the air. On the ground, the Jackets are tied for 70th in the nation, allowing 162 yards per game.
A cursory glance of Georgia Tech's season statistics reveals that the sacks for, or against are few and far between and that turnovers have figured into their season minimally, with a turnover margin of just .17. Kickoff returns appear to be a weakness for Georgia Tech as it ranks 109th in the nation in that category.
The two teams mirror each other in that both rely heavily on the ground game, making time of possession a key factor in the match up. Where Utah ranks 99th in the nation with 171.58 yards per game through the air, Georgia Tech ranks 112th in the nation, averaging just 142.75 yards per game.
The Sun Bowl, besides providing a welcomed change in bowl scenery, has other benefits to it. According to the preliminary bowl itinerary, Utah will have longer to enjoy pre-game activities associated with the bowl, versus just two days of activities at last year's Las Vegas Bowl.
Utah will arrive in El Paso on December 26, something Tony Bergstrom is looking forward to as a senior.
"A bowl game is an awesome experience, especially one like this where we'll have longer to do some more the stuff surrounding the bowl. It's more time with your teammates, and things you wouldn't normally get to do with them during the season," Bergstrom said. "As a senior, that's kind of a big thing for me, and something I'm looking forward to."
Additionally, the Sun Bowl will be broadcast nationally on CBS at noon, providing for unfettered viewing access for the entire country, which conceivably should help Utah's national exposure, as well as recruiting efforts. The Sun Bowl's relationship with CBS is the most stable, and most tenured of any other bowl with a network. This year's game will mark the 44th straight year that CBS will have broadcast the Sun Bowl.