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SALT LAKE CITY — Welcome to Las Vegas … again.
The No. 22 University of Utah football program will play in-state rival BYU in this year's Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl game on Dec. 19. Despite being tied for third place in the Pac-12 and achieving its best overall record since joining the conference, Utah falls to the same bowl game as last season.
"After being nationally ranked since the second week of the season and finishing as co-champion of the Pac-12 South Division, we are looking forward to our ninth bowl game in the last 11 seasons," head coach Kyle Whittingham said in a prepared statement. "Las Vegas is a great destination for our fans and the bowl organizers work hard to make it a memorable experience for the players."
"This has been our best season as members of the Pac-12 and we are pleased at the opportunity to play one more game," athletic director Chris Hill said in a prepared statement. "Through our past experience, we know that the people involved with the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl will provide a wonderful experience for our student-athletes, coaches and fans."
Officials selecting bowl games ahead of the Las Vegas Bowl decided to move Utah down the list, instead choosing USC, UCLA and Washington State ahead of the Utes in the Holiday Bowl, Foster Farms Bowl and the Sun Bowl, respectively. Utah shared the same conference record as USC and Washington State and had one win better than UCLA, despite losing to both USC and UCLA in the season.
The bowl committees for the Holiday Bowl and Foster Farms Bowl are obligated to choose the best team available or a team within one loss of the next best team, thus a 5-4 UCLA invite over a 6-3 Utah or a 6-3 Washington State.
With this year's invite, Utah will have played in the Las Vegas Bowl five times. Opponent BYU will be making its sixth appearance in the Las Vegas Bowl. The Cougars last appeared in the Las Vegas Bowl in 2009 when it beat Oregon State 44-20.
"We are excited to be returning to Las Vegas to play in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl," BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe said in a statement. "BYU-Utah is one of the great rivalries in college football. Playing each other for the first time in a bowl game should add a unique chapter to our storied history."
In the weeks leading up to Selection Sunday, Utah fans took to Twitter and voiced their disapproval of the idea of Utah playing BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl after early projections suggested the Utes would be the best fit to play the Cougars. The likelihood only grew after BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall accepted the head coach vacancy at the University of Virginia, making the bowl game Mendenhall's last time coaching the Cougars.
"We are looking forward to this unique opportunity of playing against a rival like Utah in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl," Mendenhall said in a statement. "This will be the first time this rivalry game has taken place in a bowl setting so it has some historic significance as well being a great matchup between two teams that have had outstanding seasons.
"This will be our 11th straight bowl game and I'm definitely looking forward to coaching this team one last time as we take the field in Las Vegas striving to achieve our 10th win of the season."
Utah last played BYU at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo in 2013, beating the Cougars 20-13. The Utes currently hold a four-game winning streak over the Cougars and an overall record of 54-31-4. The bowl game appearance will be the 90th meeting between the two programs.
Prior to the bowl selection, Las Vegas Bowl Executive Director John Saccenti told KSL.com the committee deciding upon its bowl selection wasn't sure a rivalry game would be the best matchup for the bowl given its "regionalized" appeal, despite a good fanbase that would travel well to the game.
"We're in a position where we know the BYU fans will travel here and we know what we're getting out of them," Saccenti told KSL.com at the time. "... We have zero issues with having Utah back. Anybody that was at that game last year saw it was a Utah home game; it was unbelievable. They showed up. They were at the stadium. They were loud. And they put on a great game."
The Las Vegas Bowl is one of the first bowl games of the season and will be played at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas, Nevada on Dec. 19 at 1:30 p.m. MST on ABC. Fans looking to buy tickets to the game can visit the bowl game's website.
Contributing: Rod Zundel, Sean Walker