The Sun Bowl, along with the Sugar Bowl and Orange Bowl, are all the second oldest bowl games behind the Rose Bowl. Beginning in 2010, the bowl has the choice of the third place team behind the BCS from the Pac 12 and either the runner up or third pick from the ACC behind the BCS. Last year, Notre Dame took the Pac 12's spot as an at large, so this will be the first time both slated conferences are represented.
Georgia Tech had a disappointing 2-4 finish to the season after a 6-0 start. In their last six games, the Yellow Jackets beat No.6 Clemson and Duke, but lost to Virginia, Miami-Florida, No.10 Virginia Tech, and No.13 Georgia. Georgia Tech will be looking to snap a streak of six consecutive losses in bowl games. Its streak of 15 consecutive bowl appearances is tied for fourth best in the nation. Paul Johnson is in his fourth year as head coach of the Yellow Jackets with a 34-18 record during his tenure.
Utah finished 7-5 after winning four of its last five down the stretch. The Utes went 3-0 against non-conference opponents and nearly won the Pac 12's South Division in its inaugural season in the newly expanded league. Utah is coached by Kyle Whittingham who has a 65-25 record with the program.
The Utes are 12-5 in postseason play and had a nine-game bowl win streak snapped last year with a 26-3 loss to Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl.
These programs have only faced off once before. Utah upset the 24th ranked Yellow Jackets 38-10 in the 2005 Emerald Bowl.
Georgia Tech's offense featured five different players that ranked in the top 20 in the ACC. The array of backs helped the Yellow Jackets gain 316.8 ypg on the ground, which led the ACC and was third best in the nation. Due to the exceptional rushing attack, Georgia Tech also led the ACC and had a national ranking in the top 20 in scoring offense (34.9 ppg) and total offense (459.6 ypg).
Quarterback Tevin Washington led the rushing attack for Georgia Tech with 890 yards and 14 touchdowns on 222 carries from the quarterback position. Washington had four 100-plus yard games during the regular season. David Sims and Orwin Smith both were the team's top tailbacks, as they rushed for over 600 yards each.
Washington is not asked to throw too often, but Utah's head coach noted how important it will be to stop the Yellow Jackets signal caller
"They have a lot of great players; the quarterback is really the catalyst for what they're doing. He leads the team in rushing, and is very efficient when he throws the ball as well."
Washington completed 63-of-135 attempts for 1515 yards with 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Although the Yellow Jackets passing offense is not constant, it is still a threat due to the big play receiver Stephen Hill. The junior wideout caught just 26 passes, but made the most of his grabs as he accumulated 785 yards and four touchdowns.
Georgia Tech's defense is allowing 361.2 yards of total offense and 25.6 points per game. The Yellow Jackets have let their last three opponents score over 30 points, but has been pretty steady all year in terms of yardage as only two opponents have eclipsed the 400-yard mark. Jeremiah Attaochu and Julian Burnett are key players for the defensive unit. Attaochu leads the team and ranks third in the ACC in sacks with six and Burnett is the team's leading tackler with 113.
Utah's offense is not spectacular as it gained more than 400 yards just once and was held under 300 yards of total offense six times. The Utes' late season run at the Pac 12 title was in large part due to running back John White's emergence as an elite rusher. White is the 10th ranked rusher in the nation with 1,404 yards and 12 touchdowns on 290 carries.
Jon Hays has been under center since Utah's fourth game and showed steady improvement as the season progressed. Hays has thrown for 636 yards and six touchdowns with zero interceptions in his last five games. DeVonte Christopher is Utah's leading receiver. Christopher had his best outing in the Utes' second game against USC as he caught 11 passes for 136 yards and a touchdown.
Utah's defense has the respect of Georgia Tech's head coach.
"Certainly the strengths of their football team coincides with what looks like the strengths of our football team if you compare the rushing defense to (our offense) and those types of things. Their defensive line is as good as anybody we have played against or possibly better, so it will be a challenge for us"
Johnson's fears are warranted as Utah's defense is equipped to stop his team's rushing attack. The Utes are ranked seventh in the nation in rush defense with just 97 yards allowed per game. Utah's defense is holding opponents to 19.7 ppg this year despite allowing three different opponents to score more than 30. The Utes have talent all over the field on the defensive side of the ball, six of Utah's defenders received All-PAC 12 honors.