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The Daily Utah Chronicle

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A Look Back at the Positive Pac-12 Football Era for the Utes

Since the Utes joined the Pac-12 in 2011, they’ve had lots of great moments and difficult results. It’s time to reflect now that they’re joining the Big 12 in 2024.
Jack Gambassi
The University of Utah Utes take the field for their matchup against the USC Trojans for the Pac-12 Football Championship at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, NV on Friday, Dec. 2, 2022. (Photo by Jack Gambassi | The Daily Utah Chronicle)


Utah Athletics announced on Aug. 4 that they will be joining the Big 12 Conference in 2024. This will bring an end to the U’s thirteen-year run as members of the Pac-12. Utah joins Colorado, Arizona and Arizona State as Pac-12 schools leaving for the Big 12 in 2024.

Early Days

Utah joined the Pac-12 in the summer of 2011, which was an exciting time to be a member of the U of U community. This was Utah’s first chance to compete in a major conference. Then the Pac-10, it was a conference with a prominent history filled with many of the premier universities in the western United States. 

Utah Football had a shaky start to the Pac-12 era as they were adjusting to the tougher schedule. The 2011 Utes lost their first four conference games. Utah then won their next four games, but fell to Colorado on Senior Day. The loss eliminated Utah from the Pac-12 Championship, The Utes rebounded and finished off the year strong and defeated Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl.

The Utes declined over the next couple of years. Utah finished 5-7 in both 2012 and 2013. Utah then turned a corner in 2014 and has steadily gotten better and better ever since. The 2014 Utes got off to a 6-1 start. This included a dominant victory over Michigan in the Big House and a memorable comeback win over USC. The Utes finished the season 9-4 after defeating Colorado State 45-10 in the Las Vegas Bowl.


The Utes started the 2015 season on a tear. They defeated Michigan again to start the season in Jim Harbaugh’s debut as Michigan head coach. A few weeks later, Utah blew out Oregon on the road 62-20 in probably the biggest Pac-12 win at that point. The Utes flew up the national rankings following this game. The win over Oregon was certainly a factor in ESPN’s College GameDay show deciding to come to Utah two weeks later for the game against California, a game in which Utah won 30-24. The Utes ended up as co-champions of the Pac-12 South, but USC earned the bid to the conference championship game due to their head-to-head win over the Utes. Utah was once again selected to play in the Las Vegas Bowl, this time against rival BYU. Utah jumped out to a 35-0 lead in the first quarter after a barrage of turnovers. BYU fought back but fell just short and the Utes won 35-28.


After two more strong seasons, the 2018 team made a breakthrough. They won the Pac-12 South division outright and earned a trip to the Pac-12 Championship Game for the first time. After starting the season 2-2, the Utes closed the regular season on a tear. Utah won 7 of their final 8 games. The regular season concluded with a memorable victory over the BYU Cougars. Utah mounted a furious comeback from 27-7 down and defeated the Cougars 35-27. Utah finished the season 9-5 after losing the Pac-12 Championship to Washington and the Holiday Bowl to Northwestern.

The 2019 team finished the regular season 11-1 with the only loss coming at USC. Utah plowed through the rest of the Pac-12 competition. Washington gave them a scare, but Utah fought and won that game 33-28. After a season-ending victory over Colorado, Utah clinched the South division for the second straight year. Utah very well could have clinched a spot in the College Football Playoffs with a victory, but they fell flat in the Pac-12 Championship. Oregon trampled the Utes 37-15. The loss carried over into bowl season, where Utah looked sluggish in a 38-10 loss to Texas in the Alamo Bowl.

Seasons during the pandemic

The 2020 season was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Utah played only five games and finished with a 3-2 record. The late Ty Jordan was the story of the season. He ran all over the competition and earned the Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year Award for his efforts. In the season-ending victory over Washington State, Jordan played his best game yet. He ran the ball 22 times for 154 yards and three touchdowns. Largely thanks to Jordan’s performance, Utah scored 38 unanswered points to turn a 28-7 deficit into a 45-28 victory. 

Utah had a tough start to the 2021 season. After losses to BYU and San Diego State, the Utes had a 1-2 record. The program then suffered another tragedy, when cornerback Aaron Lowe passed away on Sept. 26. Jordan and Lowe were childhood best friends in Texas, and Lowe played a big role in recruiting Jordan to the U. The team rallied together for their fallen teammates and turned their season around. The first game after Lowe’s passing was on the road against the USC Trojans. The Utes dominated and picked up their first-ever win at the LA Coliseum.

The Utes played arguably their most impressive game of the Pac-12 era on November 20 against No. 3 Oregon. Oregon had no answer for Utah offensively or defensively. Utah built up a 21-0 lead and made a stop with just eleven seconds to go in the first half. Instead of draining the clock and taking the lead into halftime, head coach Kyle Whittingham made an aggressive move and called a timeout. This gave Britain Covey a chance to make a play on the ensuing punt. Covey took full advantage, finding space on the home sideline and returning the punt 78 yards for a touchdown as time expired, giving Utah a 28-0 lead. The Utes ended up winning 38-7. This win clinched the Pac-12 South championship and another shot at the Pac-12 Championship Game, where Utah had a rematch with Oregon. Utah once again blew out the Ducks, winning the championship by a score of 38-10. This win was the first Pac-12 championship for the U after a decade in the league. Both Whittingham and game MVP Devin Lloyd dedicated the win to Ty Jordan and Aaron Lowe during the trophy ceremony.

Playing the Rose Bowl

The Pac-12 championship win gave the U their first-ever opportunity to play in the Rose Bowl game, where they were matched up with the No. 6 Ohio State Buckeyes. It was a game for the ages. Utah built a first-half lead thanks to many highlight plays, such as Britain Covey’s kickoff return touchdown or Cameron Rising’s 62-yard touchdown run. The Buckeyes kept punching back, however, and the Utes could not fend them off in the end. Ohio State kicked a field goal to go ahead 48-45 with just seconds remaining. Despite the loss, it was still an unbelievable game and capped one of the most memorable seasons in Utah football history.


The Utes were able to defend their conference championship in the 2022 season. After an underwhelming start that included losses to Florida and UCLA, the Utes hosted undefeated USC on October 15. This was a special night at Rice-Eccles Stadium, as the U dedicated the game to Jordan and Lowe. The players wore hand-painted helmets with the fallen players on each side. USC jumped ahead early behind eventual Heisman winner Caleb Williams, but Utah kept fighting back. After Rising scored on fourth-and-goal to cut the lead to one, Coach Whittingham made the gutsy decision to go for two. Rising scrambled and scored once again, giving Utah their first lead of the night at 43-42. With less than a minute to work with, the USC offense could not respond. The fans stormed the field and celebrated one of the greatest wins in the Pac-12 era.

In a similar situation to the previous year, Utah got a rematch with USC in the Pac-12 Championship Game. The Utes weren’t even supposed to be there. They needed some bounces to go their way heading into the final weekend of the regular season, but luckily all of them happened. UCLA beat Cal, Oregon State beat Oregon and Washington defeated Washington State. All this, along with Utah’s win over Colorado, secured an unlikely spot for the Utes in the championship. Utah took full advantage. The rematch was not close. The Utes bullied the USC defense, and USC’s offense could not get anything going for large portions of the game. Utah won 47-24, securing back-to-back Pac-12 championships. Utah once again played in the Rose Bowl, but unfortunately fell short against the Penn State Nittany Lions, losing 35-21.

Joining the Pac-12 was a huge step for the U. The football team went from newcomers to two-time conference champions. The Utes will look to win a third straight championship in their final season as a Pac-12 university in 2023. The season kicks off on August 31 against the Florida Gators.


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About the Contributors
Isaac Dunaway
Isaac Dunaway, Sports Writer
Isaac Dunaway is a sports writer for The Daily Utah Chronicle. He started this position in October 2021. He is a sophomore at the University of Utah studying communication with an emphasis in journalism. He is also a proud member of the University of Utah Marching Band. He is a native of Salt Lake City.
Jack Gambassi
Jack Gambassi, Photographer
Jack comes from Boise, Idaho and is a senior in the Honor's College majoring in economics with minors in Italian and chemistry. He is a pre-med student and hopes to go to medical school in the fall of 2024. Jack has been taking photos as a hobby since he was eight years old. After two years at the Chronicle, this will be his third and final year. A fun fact about Jack is that he speaks Italian.

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