For the fourth year in a row, the University of Utah football team (6-6, 3-6 Pac-12) is going bowling, and this year’s bowl appearance is the program’s 12th postseason appearance under head coach Kyle Whittingham. Utah will travel to Dallas, Texas, to face West Virginia (7-5, 5-4 Big 12) in the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl on Tuesday, Dec. 26 at 12:30 p.m. CT.
“We’ve never played in the Heart of Dallas Bowl so this will be a new experience for our team,” Whittingham said in a press release. “Texas is a fertile recruiting territory for us and playing in Dallas offers a great opportunity to showcase our program in the state. We look forward to playing a quality opponent in West Virginia, which will make this game enticing for our fans.”
Utah’s hopes of becoming bowl eligible came down to the wire in its final regular season matchup against Colorado where the Utes handily defeated the Buffaloes, 13-34. Leading up to that contest, Whittingham expressed his desire to get the seniors to a bowl game, and now that the team has reached that accomplishment, Chase Hansen wants the team to send them out victorious.
“It’s a good way to finish on a high note. We have a lot of seniors that have done a lot for this program and a lot for us,” Hansen said. “I feel like they can go out on a bang, go out with a win in Dallas.”
The last time the Utes and Mountaineers went head to head was in the 1964 Liberty Bowl in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where Utah clinched a 32-6 win. The team has also played in the Cotton Bowl once before and that was back in 1996 against SMU.
Bowl games for Utah aren’t something the team takes lightly. According to Hansen, “it’s like another fall camp,” and the 10-1 bowl record that the team holds with Whittingham at the helm echoes those thoughts. Whittingham’s 91 percent bowl game winning percentage is the best bowl win percentage in NCAA history.
“It’s no joke. Whether you like it or hate it, we go out and work when you’re getting ready for a bowl game,” Hansen said. “I expect nothing less this year.”
Playing in a bowl game the day after Christmas means the team will spend the holiday in Texas as the Utes will take part in team bonding activities and practices leading up to game day. For Hansen and Harrison Handley, being away from home for Christmas isn’t something they are looking down on, instead they are looking forward to the memories they will make on the road.
Hansen’s mom texted him once it was announced where Utah would be bowling to let him know the family would be there for support, just like they were this past season when the team played in the Foster Farms Bowl in California. As for Handley, he will get to bring his wife to a bowl game for the first time as a married couple, and he is looking forward to not only that, but to spending time with his Utah football family as the Utes search for one final win to close out their year.
“Obviously this season didn’t go as planned and [it was] kind of a heartbreak season,” Handley said. “But I think going out to Dallas and getting a win would definitely put a mark on the season and hopefully make the fans proud of what we’ve accomplished this year.”