Utah players will never forget their first time lifting a Pac-12 championship trophy.

But the second time may have been even better for the Utes.

The Utes beat then-No. 4 USC 47-24 to win the Pac-12 championship for the second year in a row, and punched their ticket to the Rose Bowl for the second consecutive time. The loss knocked the Trojans out of College Football Playoff contention.

“This will be our second time and this time we can go and do it the right way.” — Utah defensive back Clarks Phillips III on getting back to the Rose Bowl

Though USC was favored by just 2.5 points, the Utes still felt disrespected as the vast majority of the national media predicted the Trojans to beat the Utes.

“We definitely got the message loud and clear that a lot of people were underestimating us and not giving us much of a chance in this game,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said.

The Utes dominated the Trojans and Heisman finalist quarterback Caleb Williams, though Williams was visibly limping and not 100%, especially in the second half.

“I’m super grateful for it, man. We did a lot this season to get here. We know how long the season felt and it’s so rewarding when you win,” Utah cornerback Clark Phillips III said.

Quarterback Cam Rising, playing with a knee brace, threw for 310 yards and three touchdowns and running back Ja’Quinden Jackson ran for 105 yards and two scores.

The Utes sacked Williams seven times and intercepted him once.

Utah finally reached the Pac-12 mountaintop a year ago, beating No. 10 Oregon 38-10 in the title games. Prior to that, the Utes had lost two consecutive league championship games.

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But even with the euphoria of winning the Pac-12 title for the first time, this championship may have felt even more rewarding due to the national narrative surrounding the game and the playoff stakes for the Trojans on the line.

“This one definitely felt different. I don’t even know exactly what it was. Maybe it was the hype going into the game,” Phillips III said. “Maybe it was the fact that all the odds were stacked against us. It definitely felt good to do it our way defensively. Get big stops, play physical, outphysical those guys.”

The Utes’ chances of returning to the Pac-12 championship game were slim after losing to Oregon. Then everything fell into place. On the final week of the season, Utah beat Colorado, Washington beat Washington State, Oregon State beat Oregon, and UCLA beat Cal.

Those results forced a three-team tiebreaker, which the Utes won.

“It’s always nice when you kind of just get a curveball thrown in there and things fall your way,” Rising said.

Now, after beating USC, the Utes are in the Rose Bowl, again. This time, the Utes hope to hoist the trophy.

“I think that’s kind of been the tale of our season, coming back, running it back, all of those things and kind of mantras that we’ve kind of went into the season with. I think it plays the same part for the Rose Bowl. This will be our second time and this time we can go and do it the right way,” Phillips III said.

Rose Bowl on the air

No. 8 Utah (10-3)

vs. No. 11 Penn State (10-2)

Jan. 2, 3 p.m. MST

Rose Bowl

Pasadena, California


Radio: ESPN 700