Saturday, January 3, 2009

Who's No. 1?

Friday had already been a surprising day for college football fans when they sat down to watch the Sugar Bowl between Alabama and Utah.

After all, Ole Miss pulled off an amazing 47-34 victory over Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl Friday afternoon.

But few people — outside of Utah's base of hard-core supporters — gave the Utes much of a chance of beating the Crimson Tide. Although they were undefeated, there weren't many college football observers who thought the Utes could beat the team that many people believed should have been playing Oklahoma for the national championship.

Myself included.

For most of the season, I believed that Alabama was the best team in college football. I was among those who were surprised when the Crimson Tide lost the SEC championship to the Florida Gators last month — even though Florida's quarterback was the defending Heisman Trophy winner.

And I was absolutely shocked that Utah not only beat Alabama but did so by two touchdowns.

Gentry Estes of the Mobile Press-Register called it an "uninspired" performance — and implied that the Crimson Tide lost its motivation after losing the SEC title to Florida.

In the future, I believe Nick Saban's Alabama program will be a force to reckon with — on both the SEC and national levels.

But, to pull off this victory — Utah's 14th straight win and its eighth consecutive bowl triumph — required more than athletic ability.

As Gordon Monson of the Salt Lake Tribune wrote, it required a "winning mind-set."

Monson aptly wrote, "Destiny, thrown in alongside talent and execution, even when it shows up in the last two minutes, can do that for a team. A group of guys who have been good enough to win 12 games without a loss figure they're good enough to win 13, even when few others on the outside agree with them."

Following the Utes' victory, it is appropriate to wonder what kind of impact this may have on the national championship picture for this season — and, looking ahead several months, what kind of impact will it have on national polls and expectations when the start of the next college football season approaches.

It may have an impact next week, after Texas plays Ohio State on Monday and either Florida or Oklahoma wins the "national championship" game on Thursday.

No matter how those games turn out, Utah will finish the season, as Cory McCartney writes for, as "the only unbeaten," and he all but underlined the achievement by observing, "Entering Friday night's showdown, the Utes had beaten three teams ranked in the latest AP Top 25 (No. 11 TCU, No. 17 BYU and No. 24 Oregon State)."

Make that four teams now.

McCartney observed that Utah took some motivation from Saban's remarks after the loss to Florida last month. Saban said Alabama was "the only team that plays in a real BCS conference that went 12-0, which is very difficult to do."

Florida or Oklahoma will still be proclaimed the national champion a week from now, but Utah's victory should make some people think twice about what "a real BCS conference" is.

Then, perhaps, we can do away with the BCS nonsense altogether.

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