Originally created 11/22/04

Unbeaten Utes could be a boon for the BCS



The Bowl Championship Series is lucky to have Utah.

If properly placed, the unbeaten Utes can give the BCS what it often lacks: a compelling game outside the national title tilt.

Now that one of the so-called "little guys" is crashing the party, give them - and everybody who follows college football - a chance to see if a team from a non-BCS conference such as the Mountain West can indeed compete with the very best.

If Southern California, Oklahoma and Auburn all finish undefeated, one will be left out of the BCS national title game. Let the Utes (11-0) take on that team.

Seems like a great idea, right? Unfortunately, it's unlikely to happen.

Judging by all the sombreros and tortilla chips being tossed around Rice-Eccles Stadium after Utah's 52-21 victory over BYU on Saturday night, the Utes and their fans believe they are on going to the Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Ariz. The BCS pairings will be announced Dec. 5.

"Obviously, we'd like to play the best team we can play," Utah athletic director Chris Hill said in a telephone interview Sunday. "Our fans would like to stay West, but we'll just let the next two weeks unfold and be glad we're part of any BCS bowl.

"The reality is we have very little control over where we go."

The way things stand now, USC and Oklahoma hold the first two spots in the BCS standings. Barring an upset, they're headed to the Orange Bowl to play for a national title.

USC still has to play Notre Dame and UCLA, while Oklahoma has the Big 12 title game against Iowa State or Colorado.

Auburn is third, and it's looking more and more as if the Tigers will need a loss by USC or Oklahoma to play for a national championship.

The Tigers' consolation prize if they win the Southeastern Conference title game on Dec. 4 will be the Sugar Bowl. The SEC champ is contractually bound to play there if they're not in the national title game.

"If you could put Auburn and Utah together, that's what's best for the program, but that's not within my power to make that happen," Sugar Bowl director Paul Hoolahan said.

If the Trojans and Sooners square off, the Rose Bowl would get the first pick of other BCS-eligible teams to replace Pac-10 champ USC. The Rose Bowl wants California to face Michigan in a Big Ten vs. Pac-10 matchup.

Next up would be the Fiesta Bowl, which would have to replace Big 12 champ Oklahoma. The choices would be Utah, the Big East champ (probably Boston College) or the ACC champion (Miami and Virginia Tech are the leading contenders). The Utes are clearly the most desirable of that bunch to the Fiesta Bowl folks, who have been following Utah around for about a month.

"They've been of interest to us throughout the season," Fiesta Bowl executive director John Junker said. "We feel they'd be a great fit in a number of situations, including a possibility in ours."

That would leave the Sugar Bowl to pick between the Big East and ACC champs, and that's hardly a choice at all: The Big East is lucky to even be a player in the BCS this season. So that would mean Auburn against an ACC team with at least two losses, maybe three.

That leaves Utah and Boston College (or Syracuse, Pitt or West Virginia) in the Fiesta Bowl. Who outside of Salt Lake City would really care about that game? What would it prove if Utah puts up another double-digit win against one of those unimpressive Big East teams.

What a waste that would be.

Well, what if Oklahoma winds up left out of the Orange Bowl. Then the Sugar Bowl would pick after the Rose.

"Specifically, if we lose Auburn, then (Utah) would certainly figure into out plans as a replacement," Hoolahan said.

Of course, Utah-BC in New Orleans is no better than Utah-BC in Tempe.

Unless the best interests of the teams and college football fans are put ahead of the best interest of the bowls, this is the direction the BCS is headed. One bowl is not going to step aside and let another have the game that everybody wants to see, while they get stuck with the No-Interest Bowl.

"For whatever reason there has never existed that level of co-operation," Hoolahan said. "People work for what's best for them. I understand it and appreciate it because it's a survival issue."

It really should be a football issue.