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Utah Utes football: Best, worst possible bowl matchups

Utah Utes football: Best, worst possible bowl matchups

By Trevor Amicone, KSL.com Contributor | Posted - Dec. 3, 2011 at 7:30 p.m.



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The Utah Utes are likely going to the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, where they will likely play Georgia Tech or Virginia. The announcement will be made Sunday once the final BCS standings come out. However, there are still several possible destinations for the Utes. With Oregon going to the Rose Bowl and Stanford likely going to the Fiesta Bowl or another BCS bowl, Utah’s options are anywhere from the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, the Holiday Bowl in San Diego, the Sun Bowl in El Paso, the Maaco Bowl Las Vegas or the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco.

The Utes are one of three Pac-12 teams sitting at 7-5, Cal and Washington being the other two. With the same record as Cal and Washington, the Alamo Bowl could pick any of them, the Holiday Bowl has the next pick and could also pick the Utes. The next choices come from the Sun Bowl, the Las Vegas Bowl and the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in that order.

So with things still up in the air, let’s look at some of the best and worst possible matchups and scenarios for the Utes as they await the announcement.

Worst possible matchups:

1. Utah vs. Oklahoma in the Alamo Bowl: The Alamo Bowl has the third choice of teams out of the Big 12 Conference. This could be Oklahoma. The Sooners have the third-best pass offense in college football with one of the most potent quarterbacks in the land as well in Landry Jones. The Utes have shown their susceptibility against downfield passing this season, struggling against Arizona State and Cal.

The Sooners, however, play good defense as well, putting pressure on the quarterback as well as anyone in the nation. Oklahoma is seventh in the country in sacks with 37. Defensive coordinator Brent Vanables is a master at putting together blitz packages that confuse even the smartest quarterbacks. This would be the worst possible matchup for the Utes.

2. Utah vs. Baylor in the Holiday Bowl: The Holiday Bowl has the fifth choice of teams out of the Big 12 as the opponent for the third choice of teams out of the Pac-12. This could end up being the Baylor Bears. Baylor is fifth in the nation in pass offense and 17th in the nation in rushing offense and both are because of one man — Robert Griffin III. The Bears’ offense is maybe the best offense in the country with Griffin at the helm. Recent concussion issues may potentially keep him out of a bowl game, but if he plays, this is a terrible matchup for Utah.

3. Utah vs. Oklahoma State in the Alamo Bowl: Oklahoma State is the second-best passing offense in the country, throwing for 401.6 yards per game. Brandon Weeden and Co. throw it as well as any team in the country, but they have shown susceptibility against teams that throw together good blitz packages. If you give Ute defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake and head coach Kyle Whittingham a few weeks to prepare for the Cowboys, they could at least put together some complicated schemes for Weeden to deal with. Oklahoma State is also one-dimensional, ranking 61st in the nation in rushing offense. This would give the Utes a chance in this matchup. I’m not saying the Utes would beat the Cowboys but they should be able to keep it closer against Oklahoma State then against Oklahoma and Baylor — strictly because of matchup reasons.

4. Utah vs. Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl: We saw what Boise State did against the Utes in the Vegas Bowl last year. The Broncos have not changed much since then, but they have lost two of their key vertical threats, which has made their offense less potent. The drop off is not that steep, however, and the Boise offense would still give the Utes problems. Utah’s defense is better this year than it was last year, but this could easily turn into another blowout like last year’s Vegas Bowl.

5. Utah vs. TCU in the Las Vegas Bowl: TCU’s offense is more dependent on the run this year than it was last year with Andy Dalton running the offense, but the offense is just as powerful, scoring over 40 points a game, good for 10th in the nation. Gary Patterson game plans well for the Utes, which we all saw last season in the blowout at Rice-Eccles Stadium. This may be a better matchup this year than most people think, but TCU is one of the most disciplined teams in the country and it would be a tough game for the Utes.

Best possible matchups:

1. Utah vs. Kansas State in the Alamo Bowl: Kansas State presents a very traditional offense for the Utes to face. Utah usually eats up traditional offenses (see Pitt on October 15). All season, Ute fans have gotten frustrated with the inability to get the Utah pass offense going. As ineffective as the Utes’ passing offense has been, Kansas State’s has been even worse, ranking 109th in the nation — 10 spots behind Utah’s. The Wildcats do run the ball well, but they do it from a traditional scheme, one similar to Pitt’s. If this matchup happens, however unlikely it may be, the Utes should eat up the Wildcat offense just like they did Pitt's. This is also a good matchup externally because the Wildcats are ranked high in the polls and a win over them in a high-profile bowl game like the Alamo Bowl would look great for the Utes and put a cap on a year in which the Utes overachieved with a bad quarterback and youth or inexperience everywhere around him.

2. Utah vs. Texas in the Holiday Bowl: Texas is simply not a good football team offensively. Texas’ quarterback play is horrendous and is somehow even more frustrating to watch than Utah’s. The Longhorns are eighth in the Big 12 in pass offense, in front of only Kansas and Kansas State and they do very poorly when pressure is applied to the quarterback, having given up 24 sacks on the season, landing them at 65th in the nation in pass protection. The Longhorns do run the ball well, but they do it from a very traditional approach, one that the Utes have had a history of stopping. The external factors look good for the Utes in this one, too. A win over a big-name program like Texas in a big-name bowl like the Holiday Bowl would look great to recruits in southern California.

3. Utah vs. Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl: The Sun Bowl has the fourth choice of teams from the ACC, which will likely be Georgia Tech. My projections have this as the most likely bowl destination and matchup for the Utes. Georgia Tech runs the triple option, somewhat similar to the offense Air Force ran. The Utes were excited about getting out of the Mountain West and not having to play Air Force every year because it is such a difficult offense to prepare for. Utah does, however, perform above average against the option historically. With the Utes' youth in the secondary, this may be a difficult matchup, but the experience up front should make this a good matchup for Utah, especially if you give Whittingham and Sitake a few weeks to prepare for it.

4. Utah vs. Virginia in the Sun Bowl: Virginia is a very bland offense and a middle-of-the-road team from a middle-of-the-road conference. Virginia’s offense would present no threat to the Utes’ defense and the Cavaliers do not play well against the run, giving up 165.3 yards per game on the ground. Utah should be able to beat Virginia if the Sun Bowl chooses the Cavaliers over Georgia Tech, although that is unlikely.

5. Utah vs. Missouri in the Holiday Bowl: The Tigers have a very potent offense but it is keyed on the run. The offense has struggled offensively when the run has been stopped by teams like Texas, Kansas State and Oklahoma. If the Utes get the Tigers in San Diego, they should be able to stop the run and hinder the offense enough to be able to compete with them.

Trevor Amicone is the sports director at 88.1 Weber FM "Ogden's Radio Station" and host of the sports talk radio show, "Fully Loaded Sports with Trevor Amicone". Find more of his blogs at TrevorsTopTens.com. Follow him on Twitter at @TrevorAmicone

Trevor Amicone

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