In order to get a shot at a national title, Bronco Mendenhall acknowledges that his BYU Cougars will have to go through a strong independent schedule unbeaten.
But at least there’s a chance. And at least there is clarity for Mendenhall and his program. That wasn’t really the case before university presidents approved a plan for a four-team college football playoff in 2014, effectively ending the BCS era.
Local coaches and athletic directors applauded the decision Wednesday, calling a playoff a step in the right direction. While it will still be difficult for BYU and schools outside the BCS sphere to crack the top four, it’s less difficult than it was before.
With its move to the Pac-12, Utah faces a smoother task — win the league, get through the schedule unbeaten or perhaps with one loss, and a playoff berth likely awaits for Utes.
Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said while he thought the move was a positive step, he would still pursue an antitrust lawsuit against the BCS until it demonstrates that its selection process is fair.
"The antistrust violation has always been in the selection process," Shurtleff said.
Shurtleff announced earlier this week that he had identified a law firm to aid in his effort, and he said Wednesday that he will announce in the next couple of weeks which firm that is.
From a football perspective, the change was greeted with nearly unanimous praise.
"This is a step in the right direction," Mendenhall said. "It will clear up the naming of a national champion, which is what I think every coach wants. It will take away the debate and give us a more clear-cut champion."
With four spots, six major conferences and the possibility of five deserving teams each year, there is a sentiment that an eight-team playoff would have been better. Almost everyone, though, agrees that the old system didn’t work.
The deal will last for 12 seasons before being re-evaluated. The semifinal games will rotate among the major bowls while the title game will be offered out for bid, like the Super Bowl. The four teams will be chosen by an NCAA basketball-type selection committee.
"I honestly think four teams is enough," Utah State head coach Gary Andersen said. "We’ve been wanting a playoff system in place for a long time, and this gives us the chance to win a national title. I like the idea of crowning a true national champion."
Utah’s unbeaten 2004 and 2008 teams likely would have contended for a playoff berth under the new system. Should Kyle Whittingham’s bunch go through its conference unbeaten, there would be little chance of Utah being left out.
"This is a good step, and it allows other teams to have something to look forward to in the bowl system," Utah athletic director Chris Hill said last week. "I’d like to think it would give us the chance to play for a national championship."
Tribune reporters Bill Oram and Lya Wodraska contributed to this story.
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