The 2005 Fiesta Bowl was the first ever BCS Bowl to feature a participant from a non-BCS conference.
The undefeated Utah Utes took care of the Mountain West Conference which featured only two other bowl teams. Utah also beat Texas A&M, Arizona and North Carolina which allowed them to rise to a No. 6 ranking, and after beating the rival BYU Cougars, Utah became the fifth team from outside the BCS to qualify for the party and the first one to be invited.
Pittsburgh played an 11-game schedule which they ended with an 8-3 record and were tied with Boston College, West Virginia and Syracuse in the final standings of the Big East. Other than wins against South Florida and Rutgers, every Pittsburgh game was close and the Panthers were ranked 18th in the final BCS poll.
The difference between the teams showed clearly on the field when Utah led 28-0 in the third quarter behind a strong performance from quarterback and future first overall pick in the NFL draft, Alex Smith who threw for four touchdowns and 328 yards.
Utah wideout Paris Warren also impressed, catching 15 passes for two touchdowns and almost 200 yards.
Pittsburgh and Utah would trade touchdowns, but the score was a solid 35-7 in favor of the Utes.
Kyle Whittingham replaced Urban Meyer as head coach of the Utes and has since enjoyed a great deal of success. Though Utah won the MWC only one more time since then, they have appeared in a bowl game to end every season including a Sugar Bowl win over Alabama to cap off an undefeated 2008 season.
Whittingham’s only bowl loss came last year against a Boise State team that was knocked out of BCS contention late in the season.
There are two reasons for the significance of this game, the fact that it proved that the talent gap between BCS and non-BCS schools was not as large as it once seemed.
Yes, Utah beat a mediocre team from the worst BCS conference, but had it not been for this game, the 2006 Boise State team might have not received a Fiesta Bowl bid, and we would have never seen the ultimate shootout.
The Pittsburgh loss was a sign of just how bad the Big East is as a conference. Since the BCS began, Big East schools qualified 13 times and won just six (three of those came from Miami who moved to the ACC).
In 2010, possibly the weakest year in the history of the conference, an unranked Connecticut won the conference to qualify for the Fiesta Bowl where they were matched up with No. 7 Oklahoma with whom they, not surprisingly, lost 48-20.