It's a question Kyle Whittingham doesn't want asked within earshot of him or his players, at least not yet, but nobody else has to play by his or their rules. It's too compelling to resist for the rest of us, so â¦ we won't.
Here it is: Can Utah play for a BCS championship?
Notice how we skipped right past the more ordinary for the two-time winning Utes, anyway can-they-qualify-for-a-BCS-bowl question and went straight to the big one.
Utah (5-0) sits at No. 10 in the coaches' poll, which is factored into the BCS computations and No. 11 in the Associated Press poll, which isn't. The first BCS rankings, comprised of human and inhuman figuring, come out Sunday.
"We can't worry about what we can't control," Whittingham says. "We don't get bent out of shape about [the polls]. In fact, we enjoy flying under the radar, just doing our thing, trying to get better each week."
The initial component to answering the question, though, is obviously within the Utes' control: They must go undefeated the rest of the way to have any shot. That means beating Wyoming, Air Force, Notre Dame, and San Diego State on the road and Colorado State, TCU, and BYU at home.
Nothing automatic there.
But if the Utes found a way to win all of those games, they then have to bore headlong into what they cannot control: 1) What the teams ahead of and around them do; 2) What the pollsters think of what they and those teams do; and 3) What the numerical equations make of all of it.
The teams that presently rank ahead of Utah, in the coaches' poll, are Ohio State (6-0), Oregon (6-0), Boise State (5-0), Nebraska (5-0), TCU (6-0), Oklahoma (5-0), Auburn (6-0), Alabama (5-1), and LSU (6-0). Right behind are 6-0 Michigan State and 4-1 South Carolina.
Most of those teams will have to stumble to clear any opportunity for the Utes.
Since Utah plays the Frogs, that matter can be handled directly. Ohio State must still play 5-1 Wisconsin in Madison and at 4-1 Iowa, and 5-1 Michigan at home. Oregon has USC, Cal, and Oregon State on the road. Boise State has smooth sailing, except for maybe Nevada in Reno. Nebraska faces Texas and 5-0 Missouri at home and 5-0 Oklahoma State on the road. Oklahoma must play at Missouri, at Oklahoma State, and, like the Huskers, possibly in the Big 12 championship game.
Auburn plays 4-1 Arkansas, LSU, at Alabama, and possibly in the SEC championship game. Alabama still has LSU on the road and Auburn at home, plus a potential league title game. LSU plays at Auburn, Alabama, at Arkansas, and maybe an SEC championship game. Michigan State goes to Iowa and Penn State. South Carolina, which is ahead of Utah in the AP poll, has Arkansas at home, and Florida and Clemson on the road, plus a possible SEC game.
The Utes have their own problems to work out, but a huge hurdle, beyond the higher-ranked Boise State's easy path and non-BCS status, for Utah is the one-loss phenomenon demonstrated already by Alabama and South Carolina. If those teams can suffer a loss and still be ranked ahead of or around the Utes, some of the other top teams will or might be given the same benefit.
It's a scenario familiar to Utah, considering what happened in 2008, the difference being that the Utes gained more respect earlier this season and the overall program is held in higher regard based on past successes.
Still, it doesn't take much elasticity in any stretch to believe that Utah, because it is not yet a member of the BCS club, not yet a full-fledged Pac-12 participant, even if it remains unbeaten, will be brushed aside.
All along, we figured Whittingham didn't want the question asked or answered because his players could get too presumptuous, too ahead of themselves, too fat-headed about their prospective position.
The reality is, because of an ongoing unjust, unfair, unbalanced system, the answer, ultimately, is a kick in the onions, a shot to the hopes and dreams of a team that, if it does win all of its games, including the tougher ones down the stretch, is bound to get shut out and screwed over, again.
GORDON MONSON hosts "The Gordon Monson Show" weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on 1280 The Zone. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.