Kragthorpe: BCS is not perfect, but the Utes were

Published January 4, 2009 10:19 am
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New Orleans

The night began with Utah's student section mocking Alabama with the Gator chomp and sing-song chants of "Urban Meyer!" to drive home the Crimson Tide's recent loss to Florida and it ended with someone suggesting to coach Kyle Whittingham that if Florida beats Oklahoma in this week's national championship game, his Utes and his old buddy's Gators should meet somehow, somewhere.

In between, the Utes scored 31 points against Alabama in Friday's Sugar Bowl, exactly matching Florida's production against the Tide in the Southeastern Conference title game.

Yeah, bring on the Gators.

"You tell us where to be and when to be there, and we will be there, I can tell you that," Whittingham said.

Of course, there will be no such occasion in this era of major college football. Next up for the Utes, in the wake of their Bowl Championship Series victory: a home game with Utah State in eight months.

So is this a satisfying ending for a 13-0 football team?

Well, it had better be.

It is unsatisfying in the sense that these Utes deserved to keep playing until somebody beat them. But having long ago decided to be the only sports columnist in America who's not wasting ink or cyberspace complaining about the BCS and the absence of a playoff system, I'm saying this conclusion was good enough for Utah.

This is it, regardless. And it was awfully fun to witness.

While there's obviously something incomplete and unjust about a perfect season ending before the other guys play for the championship, there's a lot to like about the way Utah finished this thing. The BCS provided the Utes everything they could have wanted, short of a title opportunity. This was a showcase game. It was Alabama, the SEC and the 75th Sugar Bowl, and the Utes measured up to every bit of the challenge. They tremendously helped themselves and everybody else in the non-BCS classification.

Did Utah get Alabama's best shot? Probably not. The Tide were missing two of their top three offensive linemen for most of the game and were unable to summon a premium effort under the circumstances of a consolation game.

Yet none of that fully explains the way quarterback Brian Johnson and the Ute offense attacked a proud defense, passing for 336 yards and moving the ball every time the momentum started swinging Alabama's way.

It was enough to make anyone believe the Utes could do this against Florida or Oklahoma, or at least be worthy of trying.

Nearing the end of a six-week buildup to Sugar Bowl, Whittingham -- a longtime playoff proponent -- was asked if he really could picture regrouping and doing it all over, if this were merely a quarterfinal game. "I don't know anybody who wouldn't want to do that," he said.

But here's the thing nobody talks about in terms of a playoff: fan involvement. The Utes enjoyed terrific support amid the sea of Tide followers in the Superdome, especially considering the economic factors, but they did not come close to selling their 17,500-ticket allotment for a one-time BCS event.

Imagine if their fans had to travel again this week, or had stayed home from New Orleans, hoping there would be another game or two.

As Whittingham related, "One guy told me he had to mortgage his house to get here. That type of sacrifice is what a lot of people made to get here and watch this football team play. And I guarantee you, there is not one of them that regret it."

The postgame celebration was something to see, with the Utah players gathering in a corner of the Superdome in front of all the fans in red. This system is not better than a playoff, but it is not all bad. The Sugar Bowl was a nice send-off for Johnson, the other seniors and assistant coaches Gary Andersen and Andy Ludwig, besides signaling the arrival of Whittingham's program on a national stage.

A satisfying ending? As the New Orleans Times-Picayune headline said, "AbsolUTEly!"

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com" Target="_BLANK">kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

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