Destination: Fort Worth

The U football team’s fate is finally sealed. Just two days after the regular season ended with a heartbreaking last-second loss to BYU, the Utes officially got the news many had been expecting last week: They’re headed to Fort Worth for the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl. The game will take place in Fort Worth, Texas, on Dec. 23.

The bowl berth marks the fourth straight for Utah, a first in the program’s history. While their opponent has not yet been named, the Utes do know that it will be from Conference USA.

“I hear Tulsa, I hear possibly Houston?Conference USA for certain, that’s what we know for sure,” said U head coach Kyle Whittingham. “We hope to hear sooner rather than later who the opponent is.”

Just a few weeks back, the Utes’ bowl possibilities were considered questionable after two consecutive losses dropped the team 4-4 with a month left to play. But the team responded this month, winning three straight games (including two convincing blowouts over UNLV and Colorado State) before dropping the season finale to BYU.

That loss, as dramatic as it was, is still hanging over the team to some extent.

“It’ll take a while to recover from that,” Whittingham said. “The guys have nothing to hang their heads about. They played a tremendous game, fought hard and were just one play away.”

The Utes’ recent bowl history has been arguably the best stretch in school history, as they have won their last five bowl appearances and look to make it six in a row this December.

Considering how the season ended, Whittingham said the early bowl schedule could be a positive for the team, as players and coaches will be back on the practice field already this week.

“Our guys are excited, and they’re ready to get going,” Whittingham said. “Maybe that’s the best therapy for us–to get right back on the field and get practicing for us.”

Last season, following a November performance reminiscent of last year’s, the Utes came out firing in the Emerald Bowl en route to a dominant 38-10 victory over heavily favored Georgia Tech. The year before that, Utah toppled Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl to complete its perfect season. And in 2003, the team blanked Southern Miss, 17-0.

And now the Utes head to Fort Worth for their first-ever appearance in the Armed Forces Bowl. In addition to giving the Ute seniors one final opportunity to take the field in a Utah uniform, the bowl game will give pro prospects another chance to prove themselves to professional scouts and for potential high school prospects to get a look at Utah football.

“Texas has become a focal point for us, recruiting-wise,” Whittingham said, “and this gives us a chance to go in there and let the recruits we’re looking at this year get a look at us and find out more about us.”

Mike Terry

Brett Ratliff enters Rice-Eccles Stadium and is greeted by teammates during his last home game appearance against BYU on Saturday. The Utes accepted an invitation to play in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, Texas, on Dec. 23.