Entering Thursday's bowl game, Utah has the second longest bowl winning streak in the nation. A victory, coupled with a Boston College defeat, would give Utah the longest, but that might not be the biggest storyline facing the Utes in their game against Navy.
With a victory, Utah can do something only a handful of Ute teams have done in the past, win 9 or more games. And for a program still trying to find an identity under Kyle Whittingham, that would be huge. A win Thursday will mean Utah ended the season winning 8 of their last 9 games. It would also remove some of the sting from last month's loss to BYU. But most importantly, it would set up for some major momentum heading into the 2008 season, one that nearly unanimously has been pegged as the make or break year for Kyle Whittingham and crew.
A loss, however, and not only would Utah lose its winning streak, it could set the program back a bit. Utah would have ended the season with two consecutives losses for the first time in over 10 years and it would mean back-to-back 8-5 seasons. And even though Utah struggled early in the season, they salvaged the season and a loss could ultimately unravel all the good the Utes did over the past 8 games. If that happens, there will be no momentum heading into next year and the season will have ended on a far bigger downer than anyone could have ever expected. Which means this may be the most important bowl game, outside of the Fiesta Bowl, Kyle Whittingham has ever coached in.
For Utah to return to the national stage, it must prove they have sustainability in college football. Losing to Navy would solidify the fact Utah is a regressing program that got lucky during their winning streak. College football is fickle like that and a victory over Navy would continue keeping Utah relevant, while a loss would almost certainly place them amongst college football's most irrelevant programs.
I know it sounds like I'm putting a lot on this game, but I do think there is a big difference between 9-4 and 8-5. Just as there is a huge difference between 10-3 and 9-4, however, that is something Utah failed to attain with a loss to BYU in November. But now they can somewhat make up for it and it all will begin with a victory against Navy.