You would think with the pure numbers, the University of Utah football team has nothing to prove anymore.
Yet, heading into the 2011 college football season, Utah might be one of the most studied programs in the nation.
That’s because Utah is going from the non-BCS Mountain West to the new, beefy, BCS Pac-12.
I am second to none in my admiration of what Utah has accomplished over the years. Even so, it’s hard to argue that the Utes have had an advantage over teams that do perform in BCS conferences.
Now if you happen to be a Ute backer, you might take exception to that statement. Utah was 13-0 in 2008 and beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl to finish No. 2 overall. The Utes were 12-0 in 2004.
Utah has played in nine bowls since 2001 and is 2-0 in BCS bowl games. The team has five Top-25 finishes the past eight years.
This year’s Utah team has an Outland Award candidate in offensive lineman Tony Bergstrom and a Lombardi candidate in linebacker Chaz Walker. Wide receiver DeVonte Christopher is considered to be one of the best in the nation.
Why does this team have to prove anything?
Well, because this entire BCS system (one I detest, by the way) is based upon the premise that BCS conferences are superior to non-BCS conferences.
As much as I hate the current BCS system, it’s hard to argue that point.
That’s where Utah could hit a home run for all those non-BCS teams, such as Boise State. Utah could win the Pac-12, or at least finish first in the South Division.
A so-so effort in the new Pac-12 for Utah would give all those non-BCS teams a hockey puck to the teeth.
That might be an unfair burden, but one that does exist.
While I would love to say the Utahs, Boise States and Nevadas of the college football world are every bit as good as the current BCS conference powers, I just can’t.
Whether it’s the Pac-10, or the Big 12, or the SEC, or the Big Ten, the route from beginning to end is tougher than it is going through the WAC or Mountain West Conference schedule. The advantage for a Utah or a Boise State is that it can have an off week and still win. It can take a breather. There are few breaks in most BCS conferences.
What I suspect will happen to Utah this season is that it will play some great football, and yet lose to a Cal or a Washington, teams that aren’t picked to finish at the top of the conference.
Utah was picked by those who cover the Pac-10-Plus-Two to finish third in the South. That’s kind of like saying that a team that has dominated (10 or more wins the past three seasons) is kind of an also-ran in its new conference.
Unfortunately for Utah, the South appears to be the much stronger of the two new divisions this season. USC was picked to win the South, although I kind of like No. 2 pick ASU a bit more. Dennis Erickson knows how to get the job done when his team is stacked and the Sun Devils appear to be stocked with talent this season. They also have snazzy, new uniforms. I also believe it will take USC a little longer to come out of its NCAA-induced funk.
UCLA is a very solid team, if not a contender. The only real bottom dweller in the South is Big 12 import Colorado, which has been a mess.
Utah did hit the lottery on the schedule because it avoids Oregon and Stanford, the top two teams (according to the poll) in the North. That’s a double-edged sword, though, because if the Utes lose to the likes of Cal, Washington, Oregon State and Washington State, then there will be a resounding belly laugh.
Myself, I see Utah as a solid Pac-12 team, but I do believe the days of domination as being over, at least for a while.
Common sense would tell us that it just takes a more complete team to get through a BCS conference season. I hope I am wrong about this, but I think Utah is going to find that to be true.
Ah, the Las Vegas Bowl isn’t so bad.