The bowl season kicks off with one of the hottest teams not named Georgia or USC as Utah battles Navy. The Utes started 1-3 after starting quarterback Brian Johnson was injured in a season-opening loss to Oregon State. But bolstered by Johnson's return -- and the emergence of 1,400-yard rusher Darrell Mack -- Utah came back to win seven straight, including road triumphs at Louisville and TCU. The only blemish was a season-ending loss to BYU in the Holy War, as the Cougars won on their final drive.
Utah's offense may have lost the bite of the UrbanMeyer-directed spread-option days of old, ranking 81st in total offense (362.8 yards per game) and 74th in scoring (25.5 points per game), but these Utes are succeeding largely behind their stingy defense. Utah is 15th in total defense (319.4 ypg) and third in points allowed (15.6 ppg). The unit gave up just five touchdowns in its last six games behind all-Mountain West first-team defensive lineman Martail Burnett and defensive back Steve Tate.
The Midshipmen are without coach Paul Johnson, with the mastermind behind the machinelike triple-option attack taking over at Georgia Tech. Navy once again leads the nation in rushing, averaging 351.5 yards per game behind quarterback and leading rusher Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada, though seven players have rushed for at least 450 yards. As usual, it's all about the run with the Midshipmen. Navy attempted 122 passes all season, ranking last in the nation in passing offense.
In stark contrast to Navy's potent offense is a defense that was ranked 190th in the nation and gave up more than 40 points seven times, including 59 to Delaware and 62 to North Texas. It seems Navy's best defense has been an offense that's scoring nearly 40 points a game.
Utah has won six straight bowl games dating back to 1999, the second-longest streak in the country, and it's been predicated by defense. During that run, the Utes have held opponents to 27-of-99 on third- and fourth-down conversion attempts. But if Utah is to keep its run alive, it will have to figure out a Navy offense that's similar to the Air Force attack that totaled 334 yards on the ground in beating the Utes 20-12 on Sept. 8. The Midshipmen have unquestionable firepower, but Navy's defensive weaknesses will prove too much against a Utes offense that averaged 33 points and 416.4 yards per game during its seven-game winning streak.
The pick: Utah 38, Navy 30