No matter what happens Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium, this is it for the Utes.

Even if Utah finishes with a 3-2 record by beating Washington State Saturday (11:30 a.m., MST, FS1) in the regular-season finale, this bizarre, grueling 2020 football season will end without a bowl bid for Utah for the first time since 2013. 

Earlier this week, coach Kyle Whittingham told reporters if the Utes (2-2) beat the Cougars (1-2), he’d allow his player to vote on whether to accept a bowl bid or not. Friday morning, the school announced that Saturday’s game will conclude the 2020 campaign.

Saturday also marks Whittingham’s 200th game as Utah’s head coach.

“Our No. 1 priority is the well-being of our players, and we support the decision they have made,” Whittingham said in a statement. “They have worked extremely hard since they returned to campus this summer, and they have shown tremendous resiliency in dealing with adversity and challenges. We’re proud of what they have accomplished on the field and the way they have handled everything off the field. We look forward to beginning our preparations for the 2021 season when the players return to campus in January.”

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It’s been a long, long grind for Utah. The Utes have had two games canceled at the 11th hour and an opponent replaced mid-week. The pandemic has taken its toll on players and coaches alike. 

“For everybody, including myself, it’s been tough. It’s been super stressful at times,” said placekicker Jadon Redding. “The coaches have done a good job of making decisions based on what we have to get done to be a better football team along with helping us out with things that are going on back home. It’s been pretty difficult for the coaches but they’ve done the best job they could with what they’ve been dealing with.”

After last week’s resounding 38-21 win at Colorado, wide receiver Britain Covey acknowledged that he and his teammates have had enough. 

“The honest truth is, and I don’t think that anyone could criticize the team for saying this, we’re all pretty burnt out,” he said. “The whole team, we’re pretty burnt out, just with the  emotional drag of this season. To have one game is not fun but we’re ready to finish strong. We want to finish with a winning record going into next year.”

Meanwhile, first-year Washington State coach Nick Rolovich echoed similar sentiments about his program.

“I think this will be it. I think it’s been incredibly hard on these guys. The uncertainty of what’s going to hit next, what’s going to hit what team. I think they all deserve a ton of credit — I’m talking about the players — for getting to this point,” he said. “You guys have no idea what they go through, and it’s not any of your fault, but this is completely abnormal for them and they continue to battle through, to represent Cougs the best they can, and I appreciate that for them.”

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Utah offensive lineman Nick Ford said his team’s focus is on Saturday’s game.

“The mentality is we’re worried about one game at a time. Right now, we’re worried about Washington State. Whatever happens after Washington State, happens,” he said. “That’s when we’ll focus on that. Me personally, I’m not even worried about a bowl game at this point. I’m worried about beating Wazzu.”

Washington State employs a run-and-shoot offense that Rolovich brought with him from his previous job at Hawaii, which has some similarities to the “Air Raid” attack used by former Cougars coach Mike Leach. 

Washington State running back Max Borghi, left, carries the ball during game in Pullman, Wash., Nov. 16, 2019. | Young Kwak, Associated Press

Running back Max Borghi, who was named to the Doak Walker Award watch list and the Fred Biletnikoff Award watch list before the season, hasn’t played this year due to injury. 

Borghi was ready to play last week against California, but that game was canceled. He could make his season debut Saturday. 

“He’s a really good player. If he comes back, it will make them a better offense, no doubt about it,” Whittingham said. “He’s a guy that can do a lot of things. He runs the ball effectively, he catches the ball out of the backfield. He’s a complete back. If they have him back, that makes them that much more dangerous.”

With Friday’s announcement, Saturday’s game will be the last time the Utes line up on the field for a game until Sept. 2, 2021, when they host Weber State. 

“This season has had ups and downs. We’re playing and then we’re not playing. You just kind of gotta take the punches and roll with them,” said tight end Cole Fotheringham. “We’re preparing this week like we have every other week. We’re getting ready to play Washington State and we’re excited for the opportunity to play those guys.”

Utes on the air

Washington State (1-2) at Utah (2-2)

Saturday, 11:30 a.m. MST

Rice Eccles Stadium


Radio: ESPN 700