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Randy Hollis: Will Utes play like it's a 'Didn't Really Wanna Be There and Lost' Bowl?

FILE: Utah Utes look up to their fans after losing a football game against the California Golden Bears at the California Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, Calif., on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016.
FILE: Utah Utes look up to their fans after losing a football game against the California Golden Bears at the California Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, Calif., on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

That annual rite of December and early January known as the bowl season is officially upon us.

This year's glut of postseason college football games, featuring 40 matchups of Football Bowl Subdivision opponents spread over 17 days, got under way Saturday with five contests.

And only one of them, the Las Vegas Bowl clash between San Diego State and Houston, could conjure up the least bit of interest in our household.

That's only because, thanks to the past involvement of the University of Utah and BYU, we've been to that game a couple of times before and watched it several other times on TV. And also because we've actually heard of both of the teams involved in it this year — San Diego State and Houston — and watched them play a time or two over the last few years.

As for Saturday's other bowl game participants — the University of Texas at San Antonio, New Mexico, Toledo, Appalachian State, Central Florida, Arkansas State, Southern Mississippi and Louisiana-Lafayette — well, I'm sorry, but they just don't do much for me in the way of interest.

So, is it just me, or is that kinda how most folks feel about this year's University of Utah bowl game?

I mean, does anybody, including the Utes themselves, really care about their matchup against Indiana on Dec. 28 at Levi's Stadium, home of the San Francisco 49ers in Santa Clara, California?

Head coach Kyle Whittingham insists that his team is taking matters very seriously in hopes of notching another victory this season. Over the last dozen years, he's certainly proven that he and his staff know how to prepare their teams and get them ready to play at this time of year, having posted a superb 9-1 record in bowl games.

But who could blame Utah's players if, deep down in their hearts, they really didn't wanna be there?

After all, the Utes had their sights set squarely on reaching the Pac-12 championship game and getting an opportunity to possibly play in the "Granddaddy of ’em all," the Rose Bowl, in January.

But due to a frustrating late-season swoon that saw them lose three of their last four games, the Utes finished what had been such a promising season — remember, they were rolling along at 7-1 in late October — at 8-4.

So instead of fulfilling their Rose Bowl dreams, they find themselves playing in something that's now called the Foster Farms Bowl against an Indiana team that went 6-6 and saw its head coach, Kevin Wilson, resign at the end of the season.

The Hoosiers' defensive coordinator, Tom Allen, took over as head coach upon Wilson's departure.

Utah must play this game for pride's sake, and it could pose one of the Utes' toughest postseason challenges ever if they're disinterested and not mentally and emotionally ready to play.

If they need a reminder of what can happen in that situation, they should simply keep in mind that their program's been on the other side of that scenario before.

In the 2009 Sugar Bowl, the Utes faced an Alabama team that had had its hopes of playing for the national championship crushed, and the Crimson Tide wasn't all that excited about their Super Bowl matchup with Utah.

But the Utes were plenty fired up to knock off the perennial Southeastern Conference powerhouse. Utah subsequently took it to the Tide from the get-go, jumping out to a stunning 21-0 lead in the first quarter en route to an impressive 31-17 victory.

This year's Foster Farms Bowl certainly won't have those kinds of chest-pounding ramifications, but the Utes can't come in with a disinterested, half-hearted effort and still expect to handle the Hoosiers.

The Foster Farms Bowl has actually been around for 15 years now, with several different names attached to it along the way — the Diamond Walnut San Francisco Bowl (2002-2003), the Emerald Bowl (2004-2009), the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl (2010-2012), the Fight Hunger Bowl (2013) and the Foster Farms Bowl (2014-present).

Utah played in this game and won it handily over Georgia Tech back in 2005, when it was called the Emerald Bowl.

This year, though, the Utes must be careful not to turn this one into the "Didn't Really Wanna Be There and Lost" Bowl.

It'll be up to Whittingham and his capable staff to try to make sure that disappointing outcome doesn't happen.