I posted a parody a couple of days ago on how the BCS computers are a poor way of determining champions. The comments on that thread lead me to think, as the sole University of Utah blogger here, that I should set out the case for the Utes being ranked #1.
We could sit and argue about who the "best" team in the country is all-day long without getting anywhere. Of course, such an opinion would be a highly debatable fact, and the truth is fans always think their team is the best regardless of their current record (just ask any Yankees fan!). Instead, the only sensible argument — and conclusion, in my opinion — is that based on our current system the Utah Utes should have been ranked the #1 in post-season polls.
However flawed, instead of utilizing a traditional playoff, our current system creates a 13 game playoff known as the regular season. During that so called playoff Utah beat everyone on their schedule including #7 TCU, #18 Oregon State (who beat USC), #25 BYU, and of course the #1 ranked team in the country for 5 weeks, Alabama, While some teams may have had arguably "tougher" schedules during their regular season, each of the contenders for #1 has at least one loss to explain. The Utes are the only division I team in the country with a "0" on the right side of their record.
Florida, the purported "National Champions," during the regular season played against 4 teams that finished the season in the top 25. They went 3-1 in those games, losing at home to Ole Miss, a team who had four losses during the season, including losses to unranked Wake Forest, Vanderbilt, and South Carolina.
In addition to their undefeated season, Utah also had the most impressive win in a BCS game. Not because they merely beat 'Bama, but for long stretches of the game, they made them look like a J.V. team in their own backyard. Florida's win over Oklahoma doesn't even being to compare to the walloping Utah dished out.
So the question remains why did Utah not get the opportunity to play in the "National Championship" game? That answer is surprisingly simple and disturbing: Pre-season Polls. Consider where teams who were ranked ahead of Utah at the time of the selection of the "National Championship" game started the season: Florida, Oklahoma, USC, Texas, and Alabama were ranked 5th, 4th, 3rd, 11th, and 24th respectively in the AP Poll. (Utah was not in the top 25). Other than the big jump Bama got when they thumped pre-season #1 Georgia at home (who turned out to be wildly overrated), it is virtually impossible for a team to move over another team without that team losing. So in week 4 when USC lost to unranked Oregon St they fell from #1 to #9 while Utah was still at number 15. When #5 Florida lost to than-unranked Old Miss, they dropped only to 11th while undefeated Utah remained at 14th even though at that time nobody had any reason to believe Florida was any good based on anything other than the preseason polls.
In short, because Utah began the season unranked, they could not jump any team who was preseason ranked in the top 10 unless those teams lost twice, (LSU, Georgia, West Virginia, OSU, Clemson, and Auburn).
Knowing this raises the question: How are the top 10 teams decided before the season has even started? Basically a bunch of people get together before a single game had even been played at the "BCS Conferences" Media Days, where they listen to the hype of those coaches and decided by way of a popular vote what 10 or 12 teams will be considered for the national championship five months later in January. While pre-season polls should be used purely for entertainment purposes, instead they create a system of 10 or so elite teams that must lose at least twice before they can be passed by someone not in this unique fraternity.
In regard to my previous post, some VC readers wondered why Utah doesn't play more big teams. Utah scheduled (several years ago) a game against Michigan at Michigan. It was hardly the Utes' fault that Michigan turned out to be bad this year. (Or, maybe I should rephrase that — once the Utes knocked off Michigan at home, that sent Michigan into a downward spiral. Michigan essentially ranked 26th in the AP pre-season poll.) Moreover, most top-ranked teams don't want any piece of Utah. They know that Utah is a traditionally strong team and could very well knock them off and have no incentive to schedule them in non-conference play.
Finally, it's no secret that the BCS voters just don't like the MWC and Utah. The Utes were called "BCS Busters" for a reson: They are not part of the "in crowd" and this in crowd consists of many of the voters and media outlets. It would be interesting to see how many of the voters had seen the Utes play, given the limited broadcast arrangements that the Utes have been able to secure.
The bottom line is if the current system worked Utah would have been in the National Championship game; however, because the BCS is not in a vacuum it does not work and the big conferences with the most fan support will always have an advantage over the little guys. As Rick Reilly said: "Some gifts people give are pointless: Styling mousse to Dick Vitale. An all-you-can-eat card to Kate Moss. The BCS Championship given to Oklahoma or Florida. It means nothing because the BCS has no credibility. Florida? Oklahoma? Who cares? Utah is the national champion. The End. Roll credits."
Update: A commenter on this post mentions this interesting blog comment on what it means (and should mean) to be declared a "national champion." Here is John Feinstein's open letter asking AP poll voters to vote for Utah for college football's sake.