Two things happened virtually simultaneously. The Utes were selected to play Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and they became the biggest underdogs in the BCS games.
Utah (12-0) is a 10.5-point underdog to the Tide (12-1) in their Jan. 2 bowl, getting only slightly better odds than Ohio State is getting in its Fiesta Bowl matchup with Texas and Penn State is getting in its Rose Bowl matchup with USC.
The Buckeyes and Nittany Lions are both 10-point underdogs.
The only bowl games with wider spreads than the Sugar Bowl are the St. Petersburg Bowl where South Florida is a 13.5-point favorite over Memphis and the Alamo Bowl where Missouri is favored by 13.5 over Northwestern.
However, being underdogs doesn't bother the Utes. They've come to expect it as a non-BCS team.
"It's something we have to continue to battle since we're not a conference that gets an automatic bid," Utah quarterback Brian Johnson said. "It's the nature of the beast, nothing we can do but go out and play good football."
Even though the Utes' strength of schedule is rated higher than Alabama's according to the NCAA, which has the Utes at No. 62 and Alabama at No. 72, Utah's record is discounted by some because it isn't in a BCS conference.
Teams from BCS conferences frequently are perceived as playing tougher schedules because the competition often is thought to be of better quality when conferences are judged as a whole.
Alabama coach Nick Saban seemed to subtly hint as such twice this week, mentioning that his team was the only one in a "real BCS conference" to go 12-0.
Factually that statement is true, but the Utes see little difference between the Mountain West Conference and BCS conferences, especially in a season in which the MWC finished the regular season with three teams in the Top 16 of the BCS standings and went 6-1 against the Pac-10.
Asked if this was a chance for the Utes to prove non-BCS schools are as good as programs from BCS conferences, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said he believes it has already happened, but he wasn't surprised he still gets asked that question.
"Non-BCS schools always have to prove themselves to a large extent," he said. "Our team will be prepared, excited and ready to go."
So far non-BCS teams are 2-1 in BCS bowls, with Utah beating Pitt 35-7 in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl and Boise State beating Oklahoma 43-42 in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl.
The loss was Hawaii's 41-10 thumping by Georgia in the Sugar Bowl last season. Perhaps some outside of the MWC are hesitant to buy into the Utes' ability to beat Alabama because of that result, but the players certainly don't think that way. They like their chances, not only because of their talent but because they see the matchup with Alabama's run-oriented offense playing right into their hands.
"We take pride in stopping the run," defender Paul Kruger said. "We're very excited to display our talent and our defense against those guys."
Utah vs. Alabama
Jan. 2, 6 p.m.
Strength of Schedule, opposition's cumulative record
Utah: No. 62, 58-57
Alabama: No. 72, 64-66
Results against Top 25 opponents
No. 12 TCU, W, 13-10
No. 14 BYU, W, 48-24
No. 9 Clemson, W, 34-10
No. 3 Georgia, W, 41-30
No. 16 LSU, W, 27-21 (OT)
No. 4 Florida, L, 31-20