I would consider myself on the younger end of the spectrum when it comes to Utes fandom. Growing up it was all about Utes basketball and Big Rick Majerus. My memories as a young kid of Utah football was a lot of close calls and under achievement. I remember trying to watch a late night football game, but Coach Mac's three-yards and a cloud of dust put me to sleep. Frankly, I wasn't a big football fan in general.
Fast forward a couple of years, and I find myself as a freshman at the University of Utah in the fall of 2004. There is a lot of hype around Urban Meyer and the defending conference champions. Utah opened up against Texas A&M at Rice-Eccles Stadium in early September, and on a whim I decided to get some student tickets to go check out my first college football game. Three plays in Alex Smith throws it to Steve Savoy, and Savoy scampers for a 60-yard touchdown -- I was hooked.
Thus setting up my list of the top Utes victories, in my humble opinion. I know of the win against Minnesota, USC in Vegas, and others, but these wins are ones that are forever burned into my memories and pull out some strong emotion.
2004 vs BYU (51-21):
For years it was all about BYU in the state of Utah. They were the ones that were favored to bust the BCS in 2004, not the heathens up in Salt Lake City. Enter Urban Meyer, Alex Smith, and the 2004 season, and BYU's worse nightmare was realized. First off, the on the field rivalry has swung in Utah's favor, winning the two previous meetings. Secondly, BYU is stuck in the basement of the Mountain West Conference with their third consecutive losing season. And lastly, Utah blew them off the field to cap a perfect season and bust the BCS as the first ever non-automatic qualifier.
What was a tight game in the first half, Alex Smith got the Utah juggernaut offense running in the second half and put the Cougars away. The game was capped by defensive lineman Steve Fafita scoring a bruising touchdown at the goal line. Sombreros, chips, and ponchos were everywhere, and Utah was on their way to Tempe for the Fiesta Bowl -- and BYU stayed home and watched.
2005 Fiesta Bowl vs Pittsburg (35-7):
As stated above, Utah had broken into the exclusive party of a BCS game. They were matched up against the Big East champion Pittsburg Panthers. Pitt was 8-3 in a bad Big East and had to go to overtime to beat Furman by three earlier in the season! Needless to say, Utah felt some disrespect with USC, Auburn, and Oklahoma also being undefeated that regular season. So Utah went out and steamrolled Pitt.
In front of 70,000+ mostly red clad fans in Sun Devil Stadium, Utah set Fiesta Bowl records for sacks in a game, completion percentage, and Paris Warren set the record for receptions in the bowl game. The funny thing is that while Utah blew out Pitt, that Utah team was very rusty for about a quarter and a half, and it could have been much, much worse. The Utes proved they deserved better that night.
2008 Oregon State (31-28):
The fifteenth ranked Utah Utes went into their biggest test to date in the 2008 season. Utah was 5-0 going into a contest against a Beaver squad that just the previous week beat the top ranked USC Trojans. The win against the Beavers came down to the last 90 seconds. Utah was down by eight points, after OSU scored a huge touchdown in the waning moments of the game. Utah immediately drove down the field and scored a huge touchdown from Brian Johnson to Bradon Godfrey. With the score being 26-28 Utah had to go for two. Johnson threw a pass into the end zone for the two-point conversion, and it landed incomplete. The crowd growled and the yellow hanky hit the ground - pass interference - Utah still has life. The second two-point attempt was nerve racking when Johnson did a play action roll out and couldn't find an open man. With the capacity crowd screaming, "RUN!" Johnson ran in the two-point conversion to tie.
It wasn't over however, and Utah received some gifts from Oregon State. The Beavers went three-and-out on their next possession, while running the ball out-of-bounds stopping the clock. After a poor OSU punt, Utah took over on the 50-yard line and moved the ball into King Louie Sakoda's range, and the rest is history. Utah moved on to be 6-0.
2008 TCU (13-10):
Thursday night, November cold, TCU with 1-loss, Utah going for 10-0, the first black out at Rice-Eccles Stadium, and the BCS was in site. It. Was. On.
The game started with TCU moving the ball with ease. The Frogs jumped out to a quick 10-0 lead, and they wouldn't score again the rest of the game. Utah wouldn't score much more either, but just enough. A good old fashioned slobber-knocking, defensive showdown is what we saw that November night. NFL talent all over the field for both squads made this one of the most hotly contested games in Utah history. With TCU moving into field goal range, the perfect season was slipping away from Utah. Ross Evans, TCU's kicker lined-up for an easy field goal and hit the upright. Utah was still kicking, but quickly punted the ball back (on a very rare poor punt by Sakoda). TCU took over on about the 50-yard line and quickly moved the ball back into field goal range. Ross Evans lined up once again, and, once again, missed an easy field goal. At that point, it was fate. Utah finally drove the ball down the field, and on third down, Brian Johnson missed an open Brent Casteel for a would-be touchdown. On a game saving first down conversion on fourth down, Johnson hit Freddie Brown when he was breaking out of his route to move the chains. Finally, a couple plays later, Johnson once again hit Brown for the go ahead touchdown and emerged 10-0 from the heavy-weight battle.
2009 Allstate Sugar Bowl vs Alabama (31-17):
Utah came into the Sugar Bowl as big underdogs. Alabama, who was the top ranked team much of the season, was coming off a disappointing loss in the SEC title game. By the looks of the game after Utah jumped to a 21-0 lead, the country was wondering if maybe the other team in red should be considered the number one team in the land. Brian Johnson and the offense lead an onslaught that left the Crimson Tide defense scrambling. The Ute defense pressured and frustrated the power run game of 'Bama all night long.
Utah not only hushed the doubters, but ended the 2008-09 season as the number two team in the country, and the only undefeated program.
2013 Stanford (27-21):
Going into year three as a Pac-12 member, Utah had yet to notch a marquee conference win. That all changed October 12, 2013, when the fifth ranked Stanford Cardinal came into Salt Lake City. Utah had lost close games to UCLA and Oregon State earlier in the season, and were so close to getting a much needed early season Pac-12 win.
It looked like Stanford was going to walk all over Utah by driving the opening series down Utah's throat for a touchdown. Utah would respond immediately showing this was not going to be an easy game. Utah actually moved the ball at will against Stanford, leveraging the speed of Bubba Poole and Dres Anderson on the outside. Leading 27-14 at the beginning of the fourth quarter, Stanford showed they were not going to get blown out and stormed back with a chance to win the game on the six yard line with under a minute remaining. Finally, after two plus years of frustration, Utah's defense held, and the Utes had their signature win - against a top five team.
Here are Steven's top five Utah football victories:
5. The Rice Bowl (1988, 57-28 upset over the BYU) - The Cougars were favored by 11 prior to kickoff and had won 15 of the previous 16 games, including the previous nine straight. The Springville Rifle, sophomore quarterback Scott Mitchell, threw for 384 yards and three touchdowns, while running back Eddie Johnson rushed for four touchdowns of his own. Utah finished the season just 6-5 without a bowl game, but the win, breaking the nine-game losing streak to the rivals down south, salved a lot of deep wounds in crimson country.
4. 2005 rivalry - a 41-34 OT victory, Utah's fourth in a row, establishing the dominance in the rivalry that has continued since the turn of the century. Utah won the game despite playing without starting quarterback Brian Johnson or their best receiver, both out due to injuries. Backup QB Brett Ratliff completed 17 of 32 passes for 240 yards, four touchdowns, and ran for 112 yards and another TD.
3. 2008 over TCU - classic game, 13-10 defensive struggle, Utah's first ever blackout, and a game that might have propelled the Frogs to their first BCS game had it gone the other way, rather than propelling the Utes to their second. No. 10 Utah versus the No. 11 TCU Horned Frogs. It took Brian Johnson's thrilling nine-yard scoring strike to Touchdown Freddie Brown in the waning minutes to complete the victory and keep Utah's BCS hopes alive.
2. 2005 Fiesta Bowl over Pitt. First team to ever bust the glass ceiling we knew as the Bowl Championship Series. Utah finished the season undefeated and in the Top 5. The reason this is not no. 1? Utah was favored over then no. 19 Pitt and were unable to really prove anything in the game.
1. 2009 Sugar Bowl 31-17 over Alabama - proved a non-BCS team could compete in a big game and beat a big, SEC name. Utah dominated from start to finish and ended the season no. 2 in the AP poll.
List off some of your favorite Utah football wins in the comments below! What are we forgetting?