Team traditions: Utah’s rapid ascension to member of club
For 60 years, Utah football languished in regional conferences populated by the likes of Montana State and Colorado School of Mines. The Utes joined the Western Athletic Conference in 1962 and the Mountain West Conference in 1999, and had just six bowl appearances in the program’s first six decades of existence.
That all changed when Urban Meyer arrived. The rising star coach, who went on to high-profile stints at Florida and Ohio State, led the Utes to a No. 21 finish and Liberty Bowl win in 2003. That season was a prelude to an undefeated campaign in 2004, capped by the Utes’ Fiesta Bowl demolition of Pittsburgh, 35-7. Utah had arrived. When Meyer departed for Florida, Kyle Whittingham stepped in and led Utah to seven straight bowl appearances, a No. 2 finish in 2008 and -- most importantly -- a move to the newly re-christened Pac-12 Conference in 2011.
When Utah made the leap to the Pac-12, the program brought along one of the most enthusiastic student sections in all of college sports: the MUSS.
The name comes from the school song, though it is now an acronym for Mighty Utah Student Section. And these students are certainly mighty. In the same way baseball fans hang a “K” over the bleachers to track pitcher strikeouts, the MUSS hang a Roman numeral “V” over the bleachers to tally each false start penalty. Opponents often find themselves struggling to hear over the immense crowd noise, which, coupled with the roughly 4,700-foot high altitude at Rice-Eccles Stadium, gives the Utes quite the home field advantage.
As of the start of this season, the Utes are 60-22 at home since 2000. That includes a 27-21 upset win over No. 5 Stanford last fall that all but ruined the Cardinal’s hope for a BCS title. The 6,000-strong MUSS section deserves some credit: In that game, Stanford was whistled for three false starts, including two back-to-back during a crucial second quarter drive and the other on the desperation fourth quarter drive.
If the residents of Salt Lake weren’t watching on TV, or couldn’t hear the crowd roar from Rice-Eccles, they could certainly see evidence of the win. The Block U is the Utes’ version of the Hollywood sign: a giant letter U built into the side of Mount Van Cott, overlooking the city. Back in 1907, students at Utah painted the letter into the grass. Now it’s an enormous concrete structure studded with 124 light bulbs that blaze through the night sky anytime Utah is playing.
The Block U illuminates during home games and flashes after Ute wins. Visitors can take a hike to see the U up close, but given that it stretches 100 feet on the side of a 5,000-plus foot mountain, you might find it easier to simply look up.