NEW ORLEANS While confetti rained down from the Louisiana Superdome roof, jubilant Utah players and coaches held aloft the Sugar Bowl trophy and proclaimed themselves the No. 1 team in the land.
Under the current system, that's more of a dream than a possibility. What is clear is the winners of the Mountain West Conference proved they could soundly defeat one of the Southeastern Conference's best an Alabama team that spent more than a month atop the rankings.
"What else do we have to prove?" Utah quarterback Brian Johnson said. "Without question, we're one of best, if not the best team in the country."
At the very least, the seventh-ranked Utes established themselves as the best of the BCS busters, finishing their undefeated season with a convincing 31-17 win over No. 4 Alabama on Friday night.
Johnson threw for 336 yards and three touchdowns on his way to being selected the game's most outstanding player, a fitting finish to the career of Utah's winningest quarterback (26-7).
Utah (13-0) became the first team from a non-BCS conference to win two BCS bowls. The Utes beat Pittsburgh in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl under coach Urban Meyer, who will go for his second BCS national title with Florida when the Gators play Oklahoma on Thursday in Miami.
Yet, after winning the Mountain West, the Utes were left out of the BCS national championship game in favor of perennial powers Florida and Oklahoma, even though both have one loss.
"I don't know why they wouldn't deserve that consideration," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said of his Utes. "Somebody has to explain to me why they wouldn't. There is only one undefeated team in the United States of America right now in Division I football, and it's these guys right here."
Utah's only chance for a piece of the national title albeit a remote possibility is The Associated Press poll. The AP, not part of the BCS, awards its own national champion.
Johnson was 27-of-41 and was not intercepted, and the Utes took charge from the start by bolting to a 21-0 first-quarter lead. When Alabama pulled to 21-17 early in the second half, the Utah declined to wilt.
Utah's defense was equally impressive, intercepting John Parker Wilson twice and sacking him eight times, with the seventh sack forcing a fumble that sent crimson-clad Alabama fans streaming for the exits with just more than 5 minutes remaining.
After surging to No. 1 in the rankings with a 12-0 regular season, Alabama closed with two consecutive losses, the first against Florida in the Southeastern Conference championship game.
Following that first loss, Saban noted his club still was the only team to have an undefeated regular season in a "real BCS conference."
The comment clearly motivated Utah, much to Saban's chagrin.
"I apologize if anybody was offended by that. We had a tremendous amount of respect for Utah," Saban said. "I certainly misstated that. ... So if that's what gave them all their intensity, then I guess I'm responsible for the way they played and I'm responsible for the way we played."
Alabama could have used suspended All-America left tackle Andre Smith, but even he might not have been enough to stop an Utah defense that played with speed, ferocity and discipline.
Utah held an Alabama ground attack that was averaging 196.5 yards to 31 net yards.
The Utes' array of stunts and blitzes appeared to upset Wilson's rhythm. He overthrew a couple of open receivers downfield and finished 18-of-30 for 177 yards and a touchdown
By contrast, Johnson adeptly spread the ball around to seven receivers, hitting Freddie Brown 12 times for 125 yards.
Johnson's touchdowns went for 7 yards to Brent Casteel, 18 yards to Bradon Godfrey and 28 yards to David Reed. Matt Asiata ran for a 2-yard TD, a score set up by Reed's leaping catch at the 2. Louie Sakoda capped Utah's scoring with a 28-yard field goal.
An Alabama comeback appeared to be brewing early in the second half, when Dont'a Hightower stripped Johnson and Bobby Greenwood recovered at the Utah 30. Soon after, Wilson hit Glen Coffee for an easy 4-yard score on a rollout to close the gap to 21-17.
Unfazed, Johnson opened Utah's next drive with a 33-yard pass over the middle to Brown. The completion kick-started a 71-yard scoring drive that ended with Reed's touchdown.
Alabama drove back into Utah territory, but Mark Ingram was stuffed for no gain on third-and-2 from the Utah 32. Leigh Tiffin then missed his second long field goal of the game, hooking a 49-yarder just left of the upright.
Utah's 21-0 lead, the largest deficit the Tide faced all season, stood until Tiffin hit a 52-yard field goal on the first play of the second quarter. Alabama did not score an offensive TD in the half, but pulled to 21-10 when Javier Arenas returned a punt 73 yards for a score.
"They jumped ahead of us early in the game. I don't think we gave them their due respect coming into the game," Coffee said. "That's something we never should have allowed to happen."