Utah, Boise State, and the Arrogant Mythology Behind Deja Vu

Mordecai BrownerAnalyst IJanuary 4, 2009

Can we please stop calling them David-and-Goliath upsets?

Four years ago, the Utah Utes thrashed Pitt 35-7 in the Fiesta Bowl.  Two years ago, Boise State beat an 11-1 Oklahoma squad in the very same stadium.  And then this year, the Utes returned to the BCS and knocked off Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

David only slew Goliath once.

Cinderella's fairy godmother only showed up to one girl.

Non-BCS conference teams have won three of their four BCS bowl appearances.  The Big Ten is 0-5 in their last five.  Prior to Virginia Tech's Orange Bowl win, the ACC hadn't won a BCS bowl since Florida State won the BCS Championship in 2000.

We need to stop calling them stunning upsets.  We, the collective sports viewing public, need to change our perceptions and expectations.  We need to evaluate teams fairly and objectively so we can stop being "stunned" when this happens.

And when I say "we" I generally mean "you:" You, the hypocritical over-bloated sports network whose concocted baloney seems to have no expiration date; you, the insecure Southerner whose lingering bitterness with "them derned Yankees" has been translated into football arrogance; you, the lazy graduate assistant who fills out ballots for the Coach Weises of the world; and you, the armchair economist hellbent on convincing the world the little guys have no place at the table out of some fear the game will suffer financially.

Utah was ranked higher in Wes Colley's computer poll.  They were ranked higher in the rankings Jeff Sagarin presented to the BCS.  They were ranked 2nd in Jeff Anderson's poll, only behind Oklahoma.  They were ranked higher in Massey's and Wolfe's.  The only computerized poll that didn't rank them higher was Richard Billingsley's, which uses the tainted factor of past seasons.

Yet, to many, computers are just mythical boxes of random numbers that mean nothing, so they discarded them and decided Alabama would be a 10-point favorite, and framed most discussion around such.


Two years ago I wrote about Boise State being my national champions.  The same reasons therein can now be applied to Utah in a sobering case of deva ju.

For worse, and not better, we're going to have an "officially" crowned national champion with a glaring blemish on their record, either a home loss or a neutral loss to a rival with a better resume.

Utah has no such blemishes.  They won at Ann Arbor when everyone thought Michigan was still Michigan.  They beat TCU and BYU, both of whom made the top 15 at one point in the season.  They beat as many bowl teams on the road as Southern Cal and took care of the Sun Bowl champions.

How can they not get a share of the national title?

Because of their schedule?  Give me a break.  They went on the road to Ann Arbor, a game that was scheduled well before anyone knew Michigan would suck, a game few schools like Texas or LSU would ever think of scheduling.  Alabama, Texas Tech, Southern Cal, and Penn State all had schedules in the lower half of all D-1 strength of schedules and not one of them would have been kept from the title game for that reason.

Because they play in a weak conference?  The Mountain West beat the Pac-10 in head-to-head match-ups this year.  And while the bottom half of the Mountain West sucks, TCU, BYU, and Air Force are nothing to sneeze at.  A good team is a good team, regardless of what conference subheading they live under.

Prior to their thumping of Alabama, Utah had three wins against top 30 teams.  That's the same number as USC, Alabama, Texas, Texas Tech, and Florida.  Yet one is different, isolated, and forgotten because of some imagined inferiority.

How fitting that our two main references for an upset, David/Goliath and Cinderella, come from the realm of legends and mythology, stories that might have roots in history but whose real value comes in the morals shown to listeners of embellished tales years later.

The power of lore runs strong through college football.  "We" have constructed all sorts of myths we keep telling our gullible selves.  Notre Dame being strong is essential.  The ACC and Pac-10 are way down.  Computers are worthless.  There's something special about SEC speed.  Lesser known schools are worse than Baylor and Mississippi State.  Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia.

It's fun to pretend, I suppose, until suddenly a "no-name' quarterback torches your revered team for 300+ yards in the Sugar Bowl and a mormon outcoaches your suitcase-living multimillionaire and you have no clue what just happened.

Unfortunately, certain media types got this image in their heads that college football began and ended with the Big XII and SEC this year, that three top fifteen teams meant nothing to the national picture, despite what every single objective measure of college football told us.

I prefer not to live in fantasy-land.  What I know is that Utah has beaten every team it has played, including two that will rank among the top fifteen in the country.  I know no other team can say that.

National titles should not be deferred based on imagined hypotheticals.  Hypothetically, USC should be the national champion and Alabama should have smoked Utah by 10.

Realistically, Alabama should have been a 3-point favorite with the "home field" advantage, and the media should have treated it like such.  The Utes deserve better than the "out of their element" (I'm not making this up - it's the first line of the AP write-up) crap that's being spewed.  Realistically, Utah has proven as much this season as USC, who's being thrown as a "shoulda-been" national title contender despite their glaring loss to Oregon State, a team Utah beat.

And realistically, the Utes deserve at least a share of the title, and they will be the National Champions to at least this one fan.  Congratulations, Utah, you earned it, despite what the mythology says.