Utah winning bowl games is not yet as predictable as death, taxes and heated arguments over politics, but it is closer than just about anything else these days.
Since Kyle Whittingham took over as co-head coach in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl and as head coach in the ‘05 season, Utah has posted a 9-1 record in bowl games. Whittingham's winning percentage in bowl games is the best in NCAA history.
That's why Utah (8-4) remains a decisive favorite to close out 2016 on a high note against Indiana in the Foster Farms Bowl despite losing three of four games to end the regular season. Utah hasn't lost to a Power Five team in a bowl game since 1996 when the Utes fell 38-10 to Wisconsin. The Utes are 6-0 vs. other Power Five teams in bowl games since that time.
The Hoosiers (6-6) are playing in consecutive bowl games for the first time since 1990-91. Indiana also notched a second straight six-win season for the first time since doing it in 1993-94. The Hoosiers enter the Foster Farms Bowl in a state of disarray, though, after head coach Kevin Wilson was forced to resign under allegations of mistreating multiple injured players
Utah has beaten Indiana in two of the teams’ previous three meetings. The Utes won the most recent matchup, claiming a 40-13 victory in 2002 behind 229 yards from running back Marty Johnson.
Foster Farms Bowl: Indiana vs. Utah (Santa Clara, Calif.)
Kickoff: Wednesday, Dec. 28 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Where: Levi’s Stadium (Santa Clara, Calif.)
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Utah -7
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Indiana survive Sack Lake City?
Keeping Utah out of the backfield has been a problem for many opponents this season. The Utes lead the Pac-12 with 40 sacks and 95 tackles for a loss. Utah ranks in the top 15 nationally in both categories.
Hunter Dimick leads the way up front when it comes to driving opponents backward. The senior defensive end leads the Pac-12 in sacks (14.5), tackles for a loss (20.5), sacks per game (3.33) and TFL per game (1.7). Dimick has a school-record 29.5 career sacks and, with 44.5 career TFL, he needs just three more to pass Luther Elliss and Filipo Mokofisi Sr. as Utah's career leader in that category.
It could spell trouble for Indiana. The Hooisers allowed 87 tackles for a loss for a total of 369 lost yards during the regular season, with Maryland and Rutgers the only Big Ten teams to give up more.
2. What will Joe Williams do in his finale?
A relentless running game has been Utah's offensive trademark ever since the school joined the Pac-12. The Utes will run all day on defenses and dare them to make a stop.
Williams is a major reason why Utah's run-first philosophy has continued to have success in 2016. He briefly retired for four games early in the season before coming back to shore up a backfield depleted by injuries. In six games since his return, the senior has tallied 1,110 of his 1,185 net yards and all nine of his touchdowns.
Williams is the 13th Utah player to rush for 1,000 yards in a season. He is averaging a school-record 148.1 rushing yards per game overall. If Williams gains at least 49 net yards against Indiana, he'll finish ahead of current record holder Carl Monroe, who averaged 137.0 in 1982.
Williams already put his name in the record books when he racked up 332 rushing yards against UCLA. It stands as the fourth-best single-game mark in Pac-12 history and it also is the first 300-yard game by any Utes player.
3. Can either team finish drives in the red zone?
Putting points on the board once inside the 20-yard line has not been an area of strength for either Utah or Indiana this season. Both teams rank near the bottom of their respective conferences in red zone production.
The Hooisers have converted on just 32-of-45 red zone trips (.711) with only 22 touchdowns. Only Rutgers is worse inside the 20-yard line among Big Ten teams.
Indiana certainly has the tools to challenge Utah's defense if they can overcome those red-zone deficiencies. Junior quarterback Richard Lagow has thrown for 3,174 yards and 18 touchdowns while completing 60 percent of his passes this season. Lagow could be poised for a big game, with senior cornerback Dominique Hatfield unlikely to play for the Utes due to what Whittingham referred to as a “team issue.”
Utah has not done much better than Indiana in finishing off drives. The Utes have cashed in on 38-of-50 red zone trips (.760), good for 11th in the Pac-12, and have scored only 25 touchdowns.
Part of the trouble has stemmed from junior quarterback Troy Williams playing through a sprained MCL since the win over USC. Williams has thrown for 2,579 yards and 15 touchdowns, but the injured ligament has limited his mobility and hurt his confidence in his running game. His knee is healing, though, and almost back to 100 percent. Williams is finally practicing and playing without a knee brace for the first time since Utah's loss to California.
Drawing Utah in a bowl game is not an ideal for scenario for Indiana. The Utes are a big, physical team that fits the same mold as many of the Big Ten teams Indiana sees all season. The Hoosiers don't do well against those sorts of teams. None of Indiana's six wins came against an opponent with a winning record. Utah can dominate along the line of scrimmage, pound the ball and keep the Hoosiers on their heels for four quarters. It will put the Utes in a favorable position to wrap up the 2016 season with yet another bowl win.
Prediction: Utah 31, Indiana 24
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.