If you're among those claiming the BCS system/polls give mid-sized programs no respect, I present the 2010 Utah football season.
For a team that started nowhere, and nearly blew itself up along the way, the Utes couldn't have asked for more. It's December and they are yet in the Top 20. They got obliterated by TCU and Notre
Dame, but still that didn't keep them out.
They somehow remained fixed in the rankings, as permanent as grandma's wallpaper.
I'm skeptical any non-BCS team (hello, TCU) will play in this year's national championship game. If it does happen, it will be to the BCS's dismay. But respect? It's hard to quibble when a slightly suspect 10-2 Utah team is entering bowl season ranked 20th in the BCS standings.
Since when has a Mountain West team lost two games yet been ranked that high — much less ranked at all? Actually, the 2008 BYU Cougars were ranked No. 16 with a 10-2 record after losing to ranked TCU and Utah, which illustrates my point: Mid-sized teams are getting respect.
A team from a non-automatic qualifying conference may not ever make the title game, but getting to the BCS bowls is becoming simple — just have a great season. Boise State and Utah have twice been to BCS bowls and TCU is headed for its second.
So for now, I'll leave the "disrespect" rants to the Central Floridas and Northern Illinoises of the world.
I hasten to add I'm still not a BCS proponent. Just knowing that a four-loss, unranked Connecticut (rather than a one-loss Boise State) might end up in the Orange Bowl makes me itch. The only honest way to decide a champion is to have a playoff. At the same time, it's hard to complain if undefeated Oregon and Auburn end up in the title game this year. When you have three undefeated teams, it's a judgment call, and nobody's going to defend the bottom half of the Mountain West schedule, including me.
But to say non-AQ schools always get the short shrift is only partially true nowadays. They're getting unprecedented notice. TCU started the preseason ranked sixth nationally, Boise State third, and both remained highly ranked throughout. Though the Utes weren't ranked (why would they be?) to begin, they jumped to No. 20 after one week.
At one point in the season, there were three non-AQ teams in the top 10.
Utah got as high as No. 5 in the BCS ratings, despite beating just one ranked team along the way (Pitt, which is now just 6-5). Even after losing 47-7 to TCU, the Utes held at No. 14, a surprisingly high mark, considering how bad they looked. After following with a 28-3 loss to a mediocre Notre Dame, they were still ranked 23rd.
What they were doing in anyone's ranking, after losing two games by a combined 75-10 margin, is a mystery. Yet they moved up to 20th in the BCS poll after squeaking past San Diego State, then stayed there after beating a .500 BYU team by a single point.
Zero respect has given way to some respect, and now considerable respect.
The last step, though, is the ultimate respect — a fair chance to play in the national championship game.
I wouldn't say the BCS is going out of its way to get non-AQ teams into big bowls. But at least it isn't ignoring them if they have a great year. The Rose Bowl seems a fine place for TCU to land, if it's not in the championship game. But work remains to be done. Boise State deserves a BCS bowl, not Connecticut. Getting non-AQ teams in more than one BCS bowl is a work in progress.
Do smaller conference teams still have to jump through more hoops and do more doggie tricks than AQ schools? Ruff-ruff!
But I sometimes get believing crazy things. For instance, some days I believe Elvis is alive and living in Arizona. In my wildest moments of belief, I figure the championship will eventually be decided by a playoff.
If that happens, to borrow an Elvis phrase, I'll finally be able to say without reservation to the powers that be in football: Thankyou. Thankyouverymuch.