Having been denied a glamorous opponent for their historic moment four years ago, they finally will enjoy a marquee matchup with one of college football's most storied and prestigious programs this time around in the Bowl Championship Series.
The undefeated Utes will play Alabama in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2 in New Orleans -- giving them the chance to legitimize their perfect season in a way they never could against only lightly regarded Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl four years ago. The rival Brigham Young Cougars, meanwhile, had to settle for the Las Vegas Bowl for the third straight year, where they will play Arizona on Dec. 20.
Alabama had been unbeaten and ranked No. 1 in the AP Top 25 for seven weeks before losing 31-20 to Florida in the Southeastern Conference championship game on Saturday. Had the Crimson Tide won, the Utes probably would have met former coach Urban Meyer and the Gators, instead.
Nevertheless, the Utes enjoyed a relatively stress-free day awaiting the official announcement of the bowl pairings Sunday, unlike some of the other top teams that anxiously waited to see how the convoluted BCS rankings -- based on two opinion polls and six computer rankings, and controversially used in place
of a playoff system -- would decide who will play for the championship on Jan. 8.
In the end, it was Oklahoma and Florida, with Meyer aiming for his second national title in three years.
But both Oklahoma and Texas believed they deserved to meet the Gators, after finishing in a three-way tie with Texas Tech for the Big 12 Conference's South Division title. Texas beat Oklahoma 45-35 on a neutral field during the regular-season, but lost to Texas Tech 39-33 on the road while the Sooners blasted Texas Tech 65-21 at home -- one of a record six straight games in which they scored at least 60 points.
That helped sway the BCS rankings, which ultimately broke the tie and allowed Oklahoma to play in the Big 12 championship game, where it blasted Missouri 65-21 on Saturday to ensure its place in the national title game.
Meanwhile, Texas stayed home, in only the latest disputed moment for college football's bizarre and beleaguered system.
USC was left out of the championship game following the 2003 season, for example, despite being ranked No. 1 in both opinion polls, while both the Utes and fellow unbeaten Auburn were left out of the next season's title game, which ultimately pitted undefeated USC and Oklahoma.
The Longhorns will play Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 5, while USC will meet Penn State in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1. The Orange Bowl on Jan. 1 will feature Virginia Tech against Cincinnati.
Alabama has not played in the Sugar Bowl since winning the national championship there 16 years ago, and will play in its record 56th bowl game.
BOWL CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES MATCHUPS
Rose Bowl USC (11-1) vs. Penn State (11-1) Pasadena, Calif.
Orange Bowl Va. Tech (9-4) vs. Cincinnati (11-2) Miami, Fla.
Sugar Bowl Alabama (12-1) vs. Utah (12-0) New Orleans, La.
Fiesta Bowl Texas (11-1) vs. Ohio State (10-2) Tempe, Ariz.
Championship Oklahoma (12-1) vs. Florida (12-1) Miami, Fla.