It speaks to the success of each programs that we’ve become accustomed to seeing West Virginia and Utah on the bowl schedule. Both Dana Holgorsen and Kyle Whittingham, the coaches for these respective programs, are on a run of four-straight bowl s, meaning the postseason routine has not only become commonplace for fans but a crucial building block for the future with 15 extra practices and a chance to line up against a quality (usually Power Five) opponent on a neutral field. This year’s Heart of Dallas Bowl might be missing a few of the big names we saw from the regular season, but it’s also a preview of what to expect from each team next fall.
Utah: The fact that Utah got to a bowl game allows this team to reverse course and enter 2018 on a different note after a rocky and disappointing showing in Pac-12 play this season. After three straight seasons of strong play with nine or more wins and top-25 finishes, the Utes went 3-6 in conference play with four of those losses coming by eight points or less. Whittingham shouldn’t be disappointed with the quality of the play, but the consistency and ability to close out a win just wasn’t up to the level we’ve come to expect from this Utah program in recent years. So after nearly a handful of tough losses that had Utah fans pulling their hair out, the Heart of Dallas Bowl sets up well as a chance to serve as the building block to a bounce-back year in 2018.
West Virginia: The Mountaineers are banged up. At this moment, it’s expected that both starting quarterback Will Grier and starting running back Justin Crawford are going to miss the game, and that does not bode well for the West Virginia offense. Biletnikoff Award finalist David Sills V and All-Big 12 honoree Gary Jennings Jr. are going to have opportunities, but it’s tough to see them having a big impact without Grier and Crawford in the backfield. The good news moving forward is that, while Grier might not be in the lineup, he has already committed to returning to Morgantown in 2018, giving West Virginia arguably the top quarterback in the country heading into next season.
Not only is West Virginia banged up, but its going up arguably one of the best bowl coaches in the country. With his 10-1 bowl record, Whittingham has the best bowl win mark (91 percent) in NCAA history and is tied for second among active coaches for most bowl wins (Nick Saban with 11 bowl wins is No. 1). The fact that Utah dropped six games in Pac-12 play is concerning, but given some time to get healthy and get right, I like the advantage on the sidelines and think Utah can win this game by a touchdown. Pick: Utah -6.5