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Are the Utah Utes the #1 Team College Football?

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The Associated Press and BCS powers made another Gator national championship official today.  At the same time they made a statement for any team that doesn’t belong to the SEC, ACC, PAC 10, Big 10, Big East, or Big 12:  Your chances of becoming national champion are nearly impossible.

After a dominating win over Alabama, who less than a month ago led Florida going into the fourth quarter of the SEC Championship, Utah’s Coach Kyle Wittingham was quick to proclaim his team as #1 in the country.  Apparently none of the other coaches felt the same way.  At least they didn’t feel strongly enough about it to jeapordize their BCS vote (those with BCS votes are expected to unanimously elect the winner of the BCS Championship Game to be the national champion).  The Utes only hope for a share of the national title was through the AP poll, where they picked up 16 first place votes.  However, 16 votes left Utah far short of being competitive with the Gators…off the field.

Since the system is obviously broken (still) for this year, we can only speculate as to who really is the #1 team in the country.  We can only guess whether Utah would have beaten Florida, Oklahoma, USC, Texas, Penn State or any other team who, going into the bowl season, thought they should have a chance to hoist the national championship trophy.

The highlights of Utah’s resume include:

  • A perfect season (13-0) 
  • Three wins over ranked teams (TCU, BYU, and Alabama).
  • A compelling, dominating performance over Alabama.

As impressive as that resume is, there are some obvious weaknesses.  Utah’s overall season is comparatively light when placed next to Florida’s six wins over ranked teams (including four in the top ten), or even against Oklahoma’s five wins over ranked teams.  There was only one common opponent shared by Utah and either of the BCS Championship teams:  TCU.  Oklahoma made quick work of the Horned Frogs at home.  Utah had to come from behind with a last minute drive to pull out their home victory over TCU.  I’ll admit that most of the time it does no good to play the “Who Beat Who Worse” game in college football.  However, it’s pretty clear that week after week, Florida and Oklahoma were facing a different level of competition than what Utah saw in teams like Utah State, Wyoming, San Diego State and the like.  Had Utah played the same schedule as Florida or Oklahoma, it’s very difficult to see them going undefeated, especially when they struggled to beat a team like 4-8 New Mexico.

If the college football audience as a whole were asked to put their money on one team that has the best chance of beating any other team in college football, it’s very likely that Florida would get the pick.  Coincidentally, the BCS is all about the distribution of college football’s money.  The reality is that the Gators did get the nod.

The sad problem is that the system is obviously flawed, and there are major obstacles blocking a better method of choosing the best team in college football.  For now, non-BCS schools would best be served scheduling and consistently beating the top teams from BCS conferences.  For instance, BYU’s non-conference schedule for 2009 includes a road game against Oklahoma and a home game against Florida State.  If the Cougars somehow manage an undefeated season next year, it would be harder for the BCS formula to keep them out of the national championship mix.  If Utah had even one more win over a top-10 team in 2008, their case would be much stronger.  As it stands, even a perfect season for Utah doesn’t give them a convincing argument that they are the best.