Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl
Utah (6-6) vs. West Virginia (7-5)
Dec. 26, 1:30 p.m. ET, Dallas, Texas (ESPN)
Utah -6.5, O/U: 56
HOW THESE TEAMS GOT HERE
Utah: Utah got off to a 4-0 start and was ranked as high as No. 20 in early October before losing six of its next seven games. In that slide, the Utes lost to Stanford, USC, Washington State and Washington by a combined 15 points. All of those close losses meant the Utes had to win their season finale — a 34-13 win over Colorado — to play in a bowl for a fourth year in a row.
West Virginia: West Virginia still had a chance to play for the Big 12 title deep into the month of November. At that point, the Mountaineers were 7-3 overall and 5-2 in conference play, but a home loss to Texas put an end to that possibility. West Virginia lost star quarterback Will Grier to an ugly finger injury in that one and then dropped the regular season finale to CFP semifinalist Oklahoma to finish the year 7-5. Grier won’t play in the bowl game.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Tyler Huntley, QB, Utah: It was a mild surprise when sophomore Tyler Huntley beat out senior Troy Williams, Utah’s 2016 starter, to open the season as Utah’s No. 1 quarterback. Huntley missed three games, including the Colorado game, with various injuries, but is ready to roll for the Heart of Dallas Bowl. Huntley is a dual threat and finished the regular season with 2,246 yards and 15 touchdowns passing along with 480 yards and four touchdowns rushing. He completed 65.4 of his passes but tossed 10 interceptions.
David Sills, WR, West Virginia: With Grier out and running back Justin Crawford deciding not to play as he prepares for the NFL, West Virginia’s wide receivers need to do their part with backup QB Chris Chugunov getting the start. With 94 catches, Gary Jennings is WVU’s leading receiver, but he has just one touchdown. David Sills, once a quarterback, led the country with 18 touchdown catches. He has been deadly in the red zone. Utah needs to contain him.
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: It’s a shame Grier won’t play in this game, because his connection with Jennings and Sills has been a lot of fun to watch throughout the year. Even without Grier, that’s one of the best receiving duos in the country. Chugunov has two games under his belt and all of the bowl practices to prepare, but the Utah defense — ranked No. 31 nationally — will be the toughest he has faced.
WHAT’S ON THE LINE: Kyle Whittingham’s record in bowl games is pretty unbelievable. Including the time he was “co-coach” with the exiting Urban Meyer in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl, Whittingham has a 10-1 record in bowl games at Utah. He can make it 11-1 against the Mountaineers and clinch a fourth straight winning season in the process. West Virginia has appeared in a bowl in 14 of the last 15 seasons, but has lost three of its last four. A win would give Dana Holgorsen a 3-3 bowl record and WVU at least eight wins in the last three seasons.
Nick: Utah 20, West Virginia 17
Sam: Utah 34, West Virginia 24
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