Monson: Utes have nothing more to prove

Published January 4, 2009 9:59 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

New Orleans

Two hours after everybody had vacated the Superdome, after the Utes had left the big building and headed to Bourbon Street to toast their win over Alabama, the only remnant of victory was confetti on the field.

Stacks of colorful confetti scattered around a makeshift stage between the 20- and 30-yard lines where the Utes had accepted their Sugar Bowl trophy and proclaimed themselves No. 1.

Of all the memorable moments of Utah's undefeated season, the one that will stand out to me came immediately following the end of Friday night's game, when that confetti rained down over the Utes as they chest-bumped, hip-bumped, head-bumped, arm-bumped, ear-bumped, elbow-bumped, knee-bumped, and shoulder-bumped one another like there was no tomorrow.

Tomorrow had, in fact, been put off until further notice, suspended, just like the confetti in the air, creating a strobe effect as the players ran around soaking in a strange and remarkable here-and-now.

It was a moment anyone who was there to experience it, or even witness it, will remember a long, long time.

A team from a non-BCS league, a team that nobody thought could win, absolutely taking it to a highly ranked opponent from a storied program out of a strong BCS league, and claiming a victory that was no fluke.

There was no jury-rigging here, no superficial concoctions, no statues of liberty, just superior big boy football played by the Utes.

Then, all of a sudden, the floating confetti came crashing down.

Brian Johnson, enjoying the happiest, purest seconds of his college career, having just thrown for 336 yards and three touchdowns as he capped an unbeaten season, said: "This is the best thing ever. We're the best team in the country."

That's when the wonderland the Utes had created for themselves in their biggest win ever crumbled back to a frustrating reality.

Is Utah really the best team in the country?

"There is only one undefeated team in the United States of America right now in Division I football, and it's these guys right here," Kyle Whittingham said later. "… As I sit here right now, why wouldn't [we] be number one in the country? You tell me. Somebody out there has to tell me why [we] wouldn't."

Here's why: Because college football is all screwed up.

What we have now is USC claiming it's No. 1, Utah claiming it's No. 1, maybe Texas, if it wins the Fiesta Bowl, claiming it's No. 1, and the winner -- Florida or Oklahoma -- of the BCS championship game claiming it's No. 1.

The truth is, what the Utes proved better than any college team ever, is that nobody knows nothing no more about who's No. 1.

Nobody ever will until there is a proper playoff.

Without the opportunity to show it on the field, few would have said Utah is a better team than Alabama, or, at least, that the Utes would beat the Tide.

Their undefeated season before the bowl had been brought into doubt by Nick Saban, who, like a lot of people, questioned whether an unbeaten team from a conference like the Mountain West was really all that much to respect.

The irony is that the Utes faced a much stiffer challenge out of TCU and New Mexico and Air Force, and a number of other teams, than the one Alabama mounted.

Some had said the Utes lucked out in two home games against Oregon State, squeaking by the Beavers in the final seconds, and against TCU, which missed a couple of easy field goals at game's end. Some say Utah would have lost both of those games had they been played on the road.

Beats me.

All we know is that the Utes have not lost, and that what we took in Friday night, a football game dominated by Utah against an opponent that had lost just one game all year and that had been ranked No. 1 over a substantial span, was a one-sided decision played out in front of a national audience, plain for everyone to see.

The Utes were the athletic equal of Alabama, they executed better, they were better prepared, better coached, they found within themselves more motivation, they played harder, and they won.

"You know, what else do we have to prove?" Johnson said, postgame. "Our strength of schedule going into this game was actually higher than Alabama's, and we beat Alabama by more than Florida did."

Two hours after the beating went down, after all the hugging and high-fiving had stopped and the most memorable moment had ended, that colorful confetti remained out on the field, waiting to be swept up.

You had to wonder, when it is, will anyone, besides the Utes themselves, anyone in a position of power, remember the point they had proved, the lesson they had taught, the moment they had relished?

GORDON MONSON hosts "The Monson and Graham Show" weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on 1280 AM The Zone. He can be reached at gmonson@sltrib.com" Target="_BLANK">gmonson@sltrib.com .

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