We just witnessed the greatest season in the state's football history, yes, even better than the 2004 12-0 Utah season or the 13-0 BYU season of 1984.
What the University of Utah did in being the only team in the country to go undefeated this year and to beat a team that was ranked No. 1 for nearly half the season, was nothing short of incredible.
The Utes beat all comers, some in blowout fashion and some by the slimmest of margins. They survived a schedule that was tougher than either the '04 Utes or the '84 Cougars. The Utes defeated four ranked teams at the time and six that went to bowls.
The 2004 Ute team swept through their schedule, winning every game by at least two touchdowns. That offense was probably superior to this year's team, but the '04 defense, which allowed large numbers including 35 points against Air Force, 31 to Colorado State and 28 to UNLV, San Diego State and Wyoming, couldn't touch this year's D.
The 1984 BYU team began the season defeating Pitt, a ranked-team-that-turned-out-to-be-lousy, just like the Utes did in beating Michigan in their opener. But they didn't beat any other ranked teams. During the season, the Cougars barely survived games against Hawaii, Wyoming and Air Force, just like the Utes slipped past Oregon State, TCU and New Mexico.
The biggest difference, besides wins over ranked teams, between this Ute season and the '04 season and the '84 Cougar season was the bowl game. The Utes handily defeated the No. 4-ranked team in the country that came in 12-1, while the '04 Utes beat a Pitt team with three losses and BYU barely sneaked by a 6-5 Michigan team.
You can argue that the '04 Utes and '84 Cougars couldn't control whom they played those years, but the simple fact remains: The Utes' bowl victory was much more impressive, along with their wins over ranked teams, making their entire season more impressive.
Whether the 2008 Utes could have beaten the '04 Utes is a question open to debate. When I asked Utah coach Kyle Whittingham that last week, he hemmed and hawed before saying, "You've got to line up and play. Who knows? This team has fought their way out of adversity every time this season. Both teams have different strengths and weaknesses, but the bottom line is, it's pretty even."
I know I'm not supposed to care about these things as a journalist, but I have to admit, the Ute Sugar Bowl victory was satisfying just to see the smug look wiped off the face of Nick ("I am not going to be the Alabama coach") Saban. I truly believe he thought his team could just show up and roll tide on the yahoos from the WAC or wherever the heck they were from.
When the matchup was first announced, Saban started by talking about his being "the only team that plays in a real BCS Conference that went 12-0" and kept the same attitude through the bowl game.
During press conferences he said the right things about having respect for the Utah program, etc., etc. But he usually talked in generalities, speaking of "their quarterback" or "their defensive end," rarely mentioning players by name. He became defensive when someone asked about the advantages Alabama had with its facilities and finances and never addressed the question.
Alabama fans and media were also overconfident and a bit condescending leading up to the game. In my conversations with them, the gist of the talk was usually whether the Utes could keep it close and avoid being another Hawaii (which was crushed by Georgia in the previous Sugar Bowl). I didn't hear much from the Alabama media at the post-game buffet.
I have to admit I was skeptical of a Ute victory before the game, although I wasone of two people in a New Orleans Times-Picayune media poll to pick Utah (I pegged it 23-20). I've also said all along that the Utes probably couldn't stay with Oklahoma, Texas or Florida.
But now I wonder. If the Utes could dismantle Alabama they way they did, the same Alabama team that led Florida 20-17 in the fourth quarter before losing in the SEC Championship, why couldn't the Utes beat Florida or Oklahoma or Texas?
Unfortunately, we'll never know, but Ute fans can revel for a long time in the greatest season in Utah football history.
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