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Utah football: National pundits continue to hammer Utes
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Whether it's CBSSports.com's Dennis Dodd writing that Utah and TCU gave "non-BCS detractors all the ammo they needed," SI.com's Stewart Mandel writing that the Utes don't deserve too much credit or ESPN analyst Jesse Palmer calling Utah the most over-rated team in the BCS, criticism of Utah's high standing in the BCS has risen along with the Utes' ranking.

In 2004 when Utah became the first BCS buster, the Utes were portrayed as a great story for college football, the little team from the Mountain West Conference that could.

The 2008 Utes aren't getting similar love, for any number of reasons.

First of all, BCS busters are an old story, Dodd said in an e-mailed response.

"I'd much rather see how Ball State or Tulsa could do against the big boys," he said. "Utah is a legitimate team and a strong program, but I'm having trouble finding new story lines if it goes to the BCS."

In 2004 the Utes were a sexy team. Utah had Alex Smith, the soon-to-be No. 1 pick in the NFL draft and a dynamic, up-and-coming coach in Urban Meyer.

On the field, the Utes boasted one of the most varied offenses in college football and defeated their opponents by an average margin of 25.8.

As for the 2008 Utes, they have Brian Johnson, a guy who Utah fans know has more wins than any other starting quarterback in Utah history, but no one is calling him a Heisman candidate like Smith was. His coach, Kyle Whittingham, doesn't have the big personality that is an attention-getter nationally.

On the field, Utah is winning by a margin of 16.9 points, but the struggles of Utah's offense to be consistent are widely known and have hurt Utah's image - even if it hasn't harmed the win-loss record.

In 2004, Utah's closest game was a 49-35 win over Air Force. This season, the Utes had to hold on to beat Michigan 25-23, needed a game-winning drive to beat Air Force 30-23, needed a near-miracle finish to come from behind and beat Oregon State 31-28 and escaped New Mexico with a 13-10 win.

Against TCU, in Utah's only matchup with a ranked team, the Utes survived because TCU's kicker missed two field goals. Some can argue the Utes won the game in the final minute, but the perception is the Horned Frogs gave the game away.

Those wins aren't sexy; they're lucky, many believe. They also provide the kind of fodder that columnists' such as ESPN's Mark Schlabach use to discount the Utes. Schlabach speculates that Arkansas - the worst team in the SEC West, which gave Tulsa its first loss - would beat Utah, Ball State and Boise State, too.

While Dodd believes the Utes are good enough to beat the ACC champ in the Orange Bowl if that is where the Utes land, others believe the Utes wouldn't get to the BCS if it played in a tougher conference. The Utes' schedule ranks No. 57 according to the NCAA's statistics, which is harder than four other teams in the BCS Top 10, including top-ranked Alabama's, but the MWC isn't as respected as others.

Earlier this season, Meyer said his 2004 Utah was good enough to beat any team on any given day, but it would have no chance of staying unbeaten in the SEC. Statements such as that continue to feed the thought that the Utes are undeserving of their ranking - not that the players say they care.

"Let them say what they want," Paul Kruger said. "As long as we get the 'W' on Saturday it's not a big deal to us."

In the meantime, all the negativity serves as motivation, the players say.

"That is their job to speculate, so let them speculate," receiver Brent Casteel said. "We have to go out there and prove ourselves and make them look like idiots on national TV."

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