For the first time ever, Utah is in the Rose Bowl. Here's what to know about the 2021 Utes

Joe Harrington
The Columbus Dispatch

For the first time in program history the Utah Utes are playing in the Rose Bowl as they face Ohio State on Jan. 1 in the "Granddaddy of them all."

It's only the second time the two programs have played. In 1986, the Buckeyes won 64-6. 

But that was a different time for Utah, which has become one of the best programs in the United States this century. And the 2021 season may be one of their best ever. 

The Utes went 10-3 and 8-1 in the Pac-12, and coach Kyle Whittingham won the conference coach of the year. 

They beat Oregon twice to win their first Pac-12 championship since joining the conference in 2011. After losing back-to-back games to rival BYU and in overtime to San Diego State, Utah has gone 9-1, it's only loss being to Oregon State 42-34. 

Utah beat then No.3 Oregon 38-7 on Nov. 20 and a few weeks later beat Oregon 38-10 in the Pac-12 Championship. 

Led by Texas transfer Cameron Rising at quarterback, who beat out former Baylor quarterback Charlie Brewer for the starting job, Utah is averaging more than 35 points per game. Rising has thrown for 2,279 yards and 18 touchdowns to just five interceptions. 

But it's the running game that has paced the Utes. Running back Tavion Thomas has 20 touchdowns on the ground and 1,058 yards on 186 carries. There are four Utah players who have rushed more than 60 times this season who average at least five yards a carry. 

How do Ohio State and Utah stack up historically?

Utah has a better winning percentage in bowl games than Ohio State. Utah's 73.9 percentage is second all-time (Marshall is first with a 12-4 mark) leads the NCAA. However, Ohio State (which has won 49% of its bowl games) has played in 51 bowl games to Utah's 23. 

Outside of that, Utah's history falls short of Ohio State, which has the second best all-time win percentage in college football (73.1%) and the third most wins (941). 

Utah's 701 all-time wins is 32nd in NCAA history. Ohio State has produced 85 NFL first round picks to Utah's eight. 

What happened the last time Ohio State and Utah played?

Ohio State hosted Utah on Sept. 27, 1986, at Ohio Stadium in Columbus. The Buckeyes were coached by Earle Bruce and Utah by Jim Fassel. Running back Vince Workman rushed for 168 yards and two touchdowns, but it was George Cooper who was the star. 

Cooper rushed just eight times for 33 yards but scored four touchdowns. 

Jaymes Bryant added 145 yards on the ground and another touchdown. 

Jim Karsatos passed for 224 yards and threw a touchdown while Tom Tupa, a future NFL Pro Bowl punter, added 97 yards and threw another touchdown. 

Black and white file photo of Earle Bruce (right) talking to Tom Tupa in 1987 (Columbus Dispatch Photo by Tim Revell).

Eddie Johnson scored the only touchdown for Utah. He rushed for 72 yards on nine carries. 

Utah went 2-9 in the WAC in 1986 under Fassel, who would later become a successful NFL head coach and lead the New York Giants to Super Bowl XXXV. He left Utah in 1989 with a 25-33 record.  

Ohio State went 10-3 in 1986 and finished 7th in the AP poll. The Buckeyes beat Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl 28-12 that season, which included a loss to Michigan that kept the Buckeyes from winning the Big Ten and going to the Rose Bowl. 

Michigan lost 22-15 to Arizona State in the 1987 Rose Bowl. The Sun Devils were coached by future Ohio State coach John Cooper, who was 2-10-1 against the Wolverines at OSU. 

The best high school player in Utah is headed to Ohio State

Devin Brown of Ohio State's 2022 recruiting class played one high school season in Utah after starting his career in Arizona. He is the No.1-ranked player in Utah in the 2022 class.

Brown signed his letter of intent with the Buckeyes on Dec. 15. 

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