I've been pretty open about how I felt this season was disappointing and that we needed a bowl game to really make it something impressive. I don't think I was off base with that feeling - certainly when you realize just how few actual good wins the Utes had.
I mean, our best regular season victory was an overtime thriller against a fairly okay Air Force team. They're good, but not season-defining good.
Which made winning the bowl game important. Important for the following reasons...
- 10-wins. This is important because only once in program history has Utah recorded back-to-back ten-win seasons (2003 and 2004). The fact we netted ten in a rebuilding year suggests the Utes probably are at the point under Whittingham where rebuilding seasons will look less like 2005 and more like 2009 - even if there isn't a huge victory over BYU. At least there won't be losses to the likes of New Mexico and San Diego State, right?.
- 9 consecutive bowl wins. I think the players and coaches and fans take pride in Utah's bowl win streak. It is impressive and a victory in the Poinsettia moved the Utes to second place all-time (albeit tied) in that regard. They're only two wins short of tying for the NCAA record. Doable, but not if they had lost last night. Of course, it also means Utah won every bowl game they played in this decade.
- Top-25 finish. Maybe the most important because, rightfully or not, where you finish often dictates where you will start next year. Now the consensus is that the Utes might not produce a 13-0 campaign in 2010 with some of their losses and the fact their schedule is pretty tough, however, it doesn't hurt to have the potential there. Had Utah started 2008 ranked in the low-20s, it's very possible they have a better and stronger shot at national championship inclusion than what they ended up with. Unlikely, obviously, but you never know.
- A big-time, memorable win. Bowl games often offer memorable wins, regardless of the opponent. I can't tell you every team Utah beat in 2001, but I surely remember they knocked off SC that year in the Las Vegas Bowl. This year, though, the Utes had failed to own a big-time, memorable win. Like I mentioned earlier, Air Force came the closest and even that will probably be forgotten through the passages of time. A win over Cal won't. It offered a final exclamation point on a season that badly needed it.
- Momentum. I know this is subjective and many will suggest it's hard to gain momentum from a bowl game. However, I do think it plays a role for a young team or a team being led by a young quarterback. Granted, maybe I'm off here (Brett Ratliff had a superb bowl game and was less than consistent the following year), but it can't hurt, right? I think Jordan Wynn needed this and for a freshman especially, a victory like that can act as a starting point to a great career here.
I said the Utes needed a bowl win to salvage their season and they got it. I'm not as satisfied as I would have been had they defeated BYU last month. But the Poinsettia Bowl helps. It helps a lot.