Utah to face Alabama in the Sugar Bowl

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(KSL Sports) After missing a chance to play for the national championship, Alabama is headed to the Sugar Bowl to face unbeaten Utah.

The No. 4 Crimson Tide (12-1) was atop the rankings until a 31-20 loss to Florida in the Southeastern Conference championship game Saturday. The defeat couldn't have come at a worse time, giving Alabama no chance to bounce back like other one-loss teams such as Florida and Oklahoma, which will meet in the BCS championship game at Miami.

Still, the Tide was one of the country's most compelling teams, returning to national prominence in coach Nick Saban's second season. Before he arrived in Tuscaloosa, Alabama had gone through a rough decade: four coaches, four losing seasons, stifling NCAA sanctions and just one appearance in a major bowl.

Four years ago, No. 6 Utah (12-0) became the first non-BCS school to reach a major bowl since the format was created in 1998. The Urban Meyer-coached Utes defeated Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl to complete their first perfect season since 1930.

Now, they've got a shot at another on Jan. 2.

Alabama was 15 minutes away from playing for its first national championship since 1992, leading the Gators 20-17 heading to the fourth quarter of the SEC title game. But Tim Tebow led Florida to a pair of touchdowns and a spot in the biggest championship game of all.

The Tide's consolation was a 13th appearance in the Sugar Bowl as the SEC's representative. Alabama will be making its first trip to the Big Easy since the New Year's Day game in 1993, when a 34-13 rout of Miami wrapped up the school's sixth national title -- and only one in the post-Bear Bryant era.

"I'm very proud of what our football team was able to accomplish this year," Saban said. "The teams that are going to play in the national championship game have lost a game, too, but sometimes when you lose them at the end, it has a greater consequence in terms of your chances of being able to do that, and that's certainly the circumstance for us."

Meyer is now coaching at Florida, but his Utah successor, Kyle Whittingham, produced another BCS buster.

The Utes won the Mountain West Conference, clinching the title with a 48-24 rout of two-time defending champ BYU in the regular-season finale.

"We are very pleased and feel very fortunate and blessed to be where we are right now," Whittingham said.

Utah finished sixth in the BCS standings, securing its spot in one of the major bowls. The only other unbeaten team in the NCAA's top division was Boise State (12-0), but a ninth-place finish wasn't good enough to get the Broncos into a big-time game.

This will be the second straight year that a non-BCS team has appeared in the Sugar Bowl. Hawaii came into last season's game with a perfect record, only to be routed by SEC power Georgia 41-10.

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