Utah's Argument To Be Ranked AP No. 1

J PContributor IJanuary 3, 2009

Here we go again.

Last night's Utah victory over Alabama will surely provide hundreds of hours of media analysis and debate about BCS versus non-BCS schools. And naturally, a huge cry will rise up, demanding that the AP rank the Utes No. 1 in the 2008 season's final poll.

Sorry, can't buy it.

Utah is a very good football team, but they simply do not belong ahead of at least Florida and USC. Undefeated or not.

Why not? Because there is a significant question as to whether the the Utes could have run through one of the stronger FBS conferences undefeated.

Please don't tell me Utah should be ranked ahead of USC because the Utes beat Oregon State and Oregon State upset the Trojans. This sort of transitive logic just doesn't work in football. And no one with any sense would favor Oregon State over USC in a rematch, even if the game was played again on Oregon State's home field.

About last night's game...

The subpar Alabama running game and the unusually high number of sacks and hurry-up pressure on John Parker Wilson were direct results of the suspension of all-world offensive tackle Andre Smith and the early injury of starting offensive guard Mike Johnson.

Everything Alabama does flows from a powerful offensive line and eating up time of possession with a ball control running game. No matter how poor Alabama's defense was last night (and they were pretty poor during the first and fourth quarters) an offense can't score if they are standing on the sideline.

And no, I'm not an Alabama fan.

While Alabama was clearly not ready to play last night and Utah clearly was, you can't take away one entire side of ANY team's starting offensive line and expect a victory against a quality opponent.

At least five or six teams ranked behind Alabama probably could have beaten them last night under the same circumstances. Doesn't mean they're better teams over the long haul.

Football is all about exploiting key matchups: Utah clearly targeted its blitzes and D-line stunts on Smith's and Johnson's replacements.     

So sorry, but Utah's victory last night was not against "the real" Alabama. You won't hear much about this angle on ESPN or elsewhere because it isn't as interesting a story as David beating Goliath.

But you just can't have any sense of confidence that Utah would beat Alabama with a healthy and full-strength Alabama first string offensive line.

Utah did a lot of things right to win and deserves a lot of credit. And even with a full-strength Alabama, the Crimson Tide's best wide receiver would still have been largely neutralized by an NFL-caliber Utah defensive back.

Give Utah their due, but you simply can't rank them No. 1 in the nation when almost half of their undefeated schedule came against Mountain West opponents with mediocre records (including two 4-8 records, one 2-10 record, and one 5-7 record).

Are they very good? Unequivocally yes. Are they the best in the nation if they have to face—on average—bigger, faster and stronger players every week for three months? Their strength of schedule just creates too many unknowns.

It is precisely this "wear-and-tear" factor that is the fundamental counterweight to the argument that Utah should be ranked No. 1 in the nation simply because they are the only undefeated top 10 team.

Utah deserved to win last night. But it would be a mistake to draw sweeping conclusions based upon last night's outcome.