Gone are the days of the Utes being one of the Western Athletic Conference's pass-happy but defenseless programs. In the '70s and early '80s, they played in the long shadow of rival BYU. Road games at Oklahoma, Nebraska, UCLA and Arizona State during that span ended in blowout losses. Utah was not one to be taken seriously.
No longer. Under the head coaching leadership of a former BYU linebacker, Utah is now a full-fledged power. Kyle Whittingham's program has continued its ascent since winning the 2005 Fiesta Bowl and finishing No. 4 in the country. The departures of Alex Smith and Urban Meyer following that triumph were mere brief disappointments. The Utes were back in the BCS three years later, leaving Alabama crimson-faced in the Sugar Bowl and finishing another undefeated season.
In the meantime, Utah has welcomed the chance to meet Pac-10 foes.
The Utes have won seven of ten meetings against the Pac-10 dating back to 2003, including a 44-6 beating of UCLA three years ago and last year's Poinsettia Bowl victory over Cal. They were the last team to beat USC in a bowl game. Meyer went 3-0 against the Pac-10 in his two years. Going back to 1994, Oregon won the Pac-10 after being embarrassed at home by the Utes.
Here's a closer look at some of Utah's more memorable recent dates against the Pac-10:
2008 Oregon State at Utah
The Beavers turned things around later this season, winning the Sun Bowl after overcoming a pair of crushing early defeats. The first took place at Stanford Stadium. The other occurred in Salt Lake City, where the Utes scored 11 points in the final 88 seconds to steal a 31-28 victory.
Oregon State led 28-20, looking much like a team that shocked No. 1 USC a week earlier. Then quarterback Brian Johnson sparked the comeback, finding Bradon Godfrey over the middle for a 25-yard touchdown before taking it in himself for the two points. It took just 23 seconds for Utah to force a punt and get the ball back at its own 45. After his team moved the ball down the field, Louie Sakoda calmly booted a 37-yard field goal as time expired.
2007 UCLA at Utah
There existed ample motivation for Ben Olson, UCLA's quarterback who began his college career in the state of Utah (at BYU) before transferring to Westwood. Unfortunately for him, the homecoming was a rude one. The Utes scored the game's final 37 points in the 44-6 victory over the No. 11 Bruins.
Utah was previously 0-8 all-time against UCLA prior to humbling the visitors, who committed ten penalties after entering the game 2-0. The Bruins – who began the year by upending Stanford in Jim Harbaugh's Cardinal head coaching debut – were the highest-ranked team the Utes had beaten in 13 years. As for Olson, he threw for 290 yards but three interceptions as well. The Bruins also lost two fumbles.
2003 Cal at Utah
Few outside the Salt Lake region had head of Alex Smith, who introduced himself to many in the Bay Area when Utah held off Cal's comeback effort. The Utes held on for the 31-24 victory over Aaron Rodgers and the Golden Bears.
2001 Las Vegas Bowl, Utah vs. USC
Pete Carroll still had doubters then, after the Trojans fell to 5-6 all-time in bowls not played in Pasadena. The Utes were 10-6 victors.
1994 Freedom Bowl, Utah vs. Arizona
Desert Swarm hit the deck, as the Utes somehow came up with the thrilling 16-13 victory. Despite a mere 75 yards of total offense (Arizona mustered just 184), Utah completed a 10-2 season with its first bowl victory in 30 years. Facing fourth-and-goal at the Wildcats' 5-yard-line, Mike McCoy hit Kevin Dyson with 3:34 left for the winning touchdown.
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