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Utes shooting for winning season

When the Big Ten could not fulfill its allotted slot for the Heart of Dallas Bowl, organizers looked for other available Power 5 programs. Utah filled their needs.

The Utes (6-6) accepted an invitation to the Dec. 26 bowl to play West Virginia (7-5). The game is scheduled to be played at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.

Utah will be playing in its fourth consecutive bowl game and 12th with coach Kyle Whittingham. Utah is 10-1 in bowl games since Whittingham took over as head coach in 2005. The 91-percent winning percentage is the highest in NCAA bowl history.

"It's like another fall camp for us here," safety Chase Hansen told the Salt Lake Tribune. "It's no joke. Whether you like it or hate it, we go out and work when you're getting ready for a bowl game, and I expect nothing less this year."

Utah is one of nine Pac-12 teams to qualify for bowl games. The Utes must now switch their focus to West Virginia, which most of them have no clue about.

"I just know they're West Virginia," Hansen said. "Very respectable."

The Utes have played an offense similar to West Virginia's in Washington State. Mike Leach's "Air Raid" principles were passed on to pupil Dana Holgorsen, who is in his seventh season as the Mountaineers' coach.

"I think it's huge for us and a great opportunity," Whittingham said. "I have all the respect in the world for them, and I'm sure our players will when they see their tape and so it's a big plus for us."

Junior quarterback Will Grier, a transfer from Florida, had one of the most productive seasons in West Virginia football history throwing for 3,490 yards. He is tied for seventh in the country with 34 touchdown passes.

Grier might not be available for the game, however, because he suffered a broken middle finger on his throwing hand Nov. 18 and underwent surgery.

"Not good," Holgorsen said when asked of Grier's availability for the game.

West Virginia ranks 16th in the country in total offense, averaging 485 yards of offense per game. It has a 1,000-yard running back in senior Justin Crawford (1,060 yards rushing, seven touchdowns).

The Mountaineers are 110th in the nation in total defense, allowing 452 yards per game. They are also 104th in rushing defense, allowing 204 yards per game on the ground.

Hansen noted the priority is to finish with a winning record at 7-6.

"It's a winning season, so you can look back, be over .500 and at least hold your head up high at the end of the year," he said. "We put in a lot of work. We have a lot of pride here."





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