SALT LAKE CITY — For the fourth consecutive year, the Utes are going bowling.
The University of Utah football team will be traveling to Dallas, Texas to take on the West Virginia Mountaineers from the Big 12 in the eighth ever Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl, Utah announced Sunday. The Dec. 26 bowl matchup, which will be played at the Cotton Bowl, will be the second time the Utes and Mountaineers have played each other, and the second in a bowl setting.
The Utes have never played in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, but head coach Kyle Whittingham said he’s ready for the “new experience for our team.”
“Texas is a fertile recruiting territory for us and playing in Dallas offers a great opportunity to showcase our program in the state,” Whittingham said in a statement. “We look forward to playing a quality opponent in West Virginia, which will make this game enticing for our fans.”
During the bowl week, though, Utah is unable to visit or talk with recruits as it’s the NCAA’s dead period, forbidding any contact between programs and future prospects.
Utah became bowl eligible in the final game of the regular season as the Utes beat Colorado 34-13 at home with the rush-heavy attack of sophomore Zack Moss, who finished the game rushing for 196 yards and two touchdowns. Although Utah qualified for a bowl, the Utes were precluded from a Pac-12-affiliated bowl due to nine bowl-eligible teams from the conference and only six bowls available.
The Mountaineers finished with a 7-5, 5-4 record, finishing fifth in the Big 12. West Virginia comes into the game winning only two of its last five games of the regular season. The last time Utah played West Virginia was in the Liberty Bowl on Dec. 19, 1964, where Utah went on to win 32-6.
Utah was battered by injuries for much of the season and Whittingham said after the Colorado game that he was hopeful the short break would give many of his players time to heal up before the bowl — most notably, quarterback Tyler Huntley and defensive end Kylie Fitts.
The upcoming bowl will be Whittingham’s 12th bowl as the head coach at Utah. He currently holds college football’s best bowl-winning percentage (with more than 10 bowl appearances) at 90.9 percent. Whittingham’s only bowl loss as a head coach came in 2010 at the Las Vegas Bowl against Boise State.