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Utah will face Northwestern in Las Vegas Bowl

Utah is headed to Sin City. The Utes will play in the 2023 Las Vegas Bowl against Northwestern on Dec. 23.

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The Utah Utes take the field

The Utah Utes take the field against Oregon in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2023. Oregon won 35-6.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Utah is headed to Sin City.

The Utes (8-4, 5-4 Pac-12) will face Big Ten opponent Northwestern (7-5, 5-4 Big Ten) in the 2023 Las Vegas Bowl on Dec. 23, 2023 at Allegiant Stadium. Kickoff is set for 5:30 p.m. MST and the game will be broadcast on ABC.

Utah enters the bowl game with an 8-4 overall record, looking to cap off its year on a high note. A nine-win season, and the first bowl win since a 30-14 victory over West Virginia in the 2017 Heart of Dallas Bowl, after losing nine key players to season-ending injuries would constitute a successful campaign given the circumstances.

“We are looking forward to playing in the SRS Distribution Las Vegas Bowl. We have a lot of respect for the Big Ten and Northwestern, and we are excited to start preparing for a great atmosphere in Allegiant Stadium,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said in a statement.

After a one-win season in 2022, followed by firing coach Pat Fitzgerald in July of this year after a hazing scandal, Northwestern has had a surprising season under new head coach David Braun. The Wildcats went 7-5, finishing in second place in the Big Ten West, and Braun was named the Big Ten Coach of the Year.

Northwestern has the nation’s No. 102 scoring offense, averaging 22.8 points per game. Quarterback Ben Bryant has thrown for 1,585 yards, 11 touchdowns and six interceptions on 61.7% accuracy, while running back Cam Porter has run for 618 yards and four touchdowns on 156 carries.

The Wildcats boast the No. 50 scoring defense, allowing 23.8 points per game. Northwestern has the No. 24 passing defense, allowing 192.1 yards through the air, but are allowing 159.5 rushing yards per game, which ranks No. 82 in the country.

After beating Wisconsin, Purdue and Illinois to end the season, Northwestern enters on a three-game winning streak.

Utah and Northwestern will meet for the fourth overall time, and the first time since the 2018 Holiday Bowl, when the Wildcats outscored Utah 28-0 in the third quarter in the most recent matchup.

Starting in 2021, the Las Vegas Bowl changed from its historical format of a Pac-12 team vs. a Mountain West team to a Pac-12 team vs. a Big Ten team in odd years and an SEC team in even years. The game was moved from Sam Boyd Stadium to Allegiant Stadium, home of the Las Vegas Raiders.

This season, the Las Vegas Bowl had the second selection among the Pac-12’s non-New Year’s Six bowls. With Oregon and Washington playing in New Year’s Six bowls and Arizona in the Alamo Bowl, the Las Vegas Bowl committee had its choice of Utah, Oregon State and USC, all of whom had the same 5-4 conference record.

Wanting to avoid a repeat appearance, Oregon State was likely not considered due to the Beavers’ 2022 Las Vegas Bowl appearance, and the committee picked Utah over USC.

The Las Vegas Bowl selected fourth among the non-New Year’s Six Big Ten bowls, and picked Northwestern.

It’s the Utes’ first appearance in the Las Vegas Bowl since 2015, when Utah defeated BYU 35-28 after racing out to a 35-0 lead in the first quarter before hanging on for the win.

Utah has appeared in the Las Vegas Bowl four other times, a 17-16 win over Fresno State in 1999; a 10-6 win over USC in 2001; a 26-3 loss to Boise State in 2010; and a 45-10 win over Colorado State in 2014.

Perhaps the most memorable win in those four games was the 10-6 win over the Trojans, in which the Utes held USC to just one rushing yard the entire game, and held quarterback Carson Palmer without a touchdown. A three-yard touchdown run by Adam Tate in the first quarter would be the difference in the game for the Utes.