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SALT LAKE CITY — Welcome back to Pasadena, Utah.
For the second straight season, Utah will make the Rose Bowl home after the Utes won the Pac-12 championship against USC to claim a spot in the Granddaddy of Them All. The only thing left for Utah was to wait out Selection Sunday to see who they would be playing this year.
On Sunday morning, No. 2 Michigan and No. 4 Ohio State earned a spot into the College Football Playoff, which left No. 11 Penn State as the highest-ranked team left from the Big Ten to play in the Rose Bowl. The Nittany Lions, who finished the regular season with a 10-2 record, got the official word Sunday afternoon.
The 2023 Rose Bowl is Penn State's fifth appearance all-time, and their first since 2017 when the Nittany Lions lost 52-49 to USC. The Nittany Lions hold a 1-3 record in the Rose Bowl, with their only win being a 38-20 result over Oregon in 1994.
The Rose Bowl will be the first-ever appearance between Utah and Penn State, with Utah being the designated home team. The game, the 109th Rose Bowl, is set to kickoff on Jan. 2 at 3 p.m. MST on ESPN.
"We're elated to be back in the Rose Bowl, second trip in as many years," Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said Sunday afternoon. "It was a great game last year versus Ohio State. It went right down to the wire, came up on the short end, obviously, but our guys had a great experience. Rose Bowl, I've been to quite a few of the bowls, the New Year's Six bowls, and the Rose Bowl is special.
"We're going to travel well. Our fans are going to be showing up, and we should have great support there. Players, like I said, are very excited to go back and have the experience again, and we're just looking forward to the trip."
It will be Whittingham's 16th bowl appearance as head coach for Utah and the program's fourth New Year's Six bowl all-time. Whittingham has an 11-4 record in bowl games, which ranks second among active head coaches and in the top 10 all-time. Whittingham has accounted for 16 of the program's 25 total bowl games, including the upcoming Rose Bowl.
Whittingham said to play in Rose Bowl for another season is "another step in the right direction in the evolution of our program." It's an opportunity to raise the profile of the university.
"We're a program that is still hopefully on the rise and trying to make our mark in college football," Whittingham said. "We had the breakthrough last year with our first Pac-12 championship, and preaching to the team all year long this year, this offseason and all through fall camp how it's harder to stay on top than it is to get to the top, and the challenge was trying to repeat.
"Through some unique circumstances we were able to do that and take another step forward. So that's kind of my take on it is another step forward for the program, and we've just got to keep evolving and keep progressing and stay on this trajectory."
Penn State head coach James Franklin added that "we truly appreciate the opportunity" to play in the Rose Bowl and that they had a "phenomenal experience last time we were involved."
"Our players and staff could not be more excited about making the trip again," Franklin said, while adding that the game between the two programs will complete Penn State's history of playing every team in the Pac-12.
"The fact that Penn State has played every Pac-12 school except for Utah, it's not too often in 2022 that you're able to do things for the first time ever, so that's really cool," Franklin said.
Whittingham said he didn't expect anyone on Utah to opt-out of the Rose Bowl, but "you never say never." He said "things happen," but nobody has indicated to him that they won't be playing in the Rose Bowl. Franklin, too, said he expects "almost the entirety of our team will play and compete."
The remaining New Year's Six bowls are as follows:
- Orange Bowl: No. 6 Tennessee vs. No. 7 Clemson
- Sugar Bowl: No. 5 Alabama vs. No. 9 Kansas State
- Cotton Bowl: No. 10 USC vs. No. 16 Tulane