The Cougars' 14-1 team of 1996 were robbed in broad daylight of a much-deserved BCS bowl bid and I wished BYU and the Western Athletic Conference had the gumption then to sue the BCS for all that is good, right and just in the world of college football.
A high profile legal challenge then by BYU, who defeated a universally-favored Kansas State team in a thrilling come-from-behind 19-15 Cotton Bowl win, would have stripped away the layers of hypocrisy, the self-serving nature of the "big dog" conferences, their financial self-interests with all their built-in flaws and collective warts for all to see.
Fortunately for the BCS, much longer term (think "eternal") implications were on the line for BYU and its sponsoring body, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). The craven image of BYU seeking earthly riches and gridiron glory didn't matter as much in the otherworldly scheme of things. The powers-that-be decided if anyone was going to challenge the BCS, it was not going to be BYU.
Now we come to another critical crossroads today in Salt Lake City with the seemingly unstoppable Utes poised on the brink of busting the BCS with every major under-represented college hoping and praying for a convincing Utah win over a hapless BYU squad the unknowing have given up for dead.
The Utes are favored by the gambling gurus as near three touchdown favorites because of the potent offense lead by quarterback Alex Smith and the inspired coaching of wunderkind Urban Meyer.
And as much as the Cougars desperately need to win this afternoon to earn their first post-season bid (Las Vegas Bowl) in three years and save any chance for embattled head coach Gary Crowton to keep his job next year, the pressure is clearly on Utah to deliver the goods in a primetime national ESPN2 game.
The cast and crew of ESPN Game Day with talking heads Mike Fowler, Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit are now comfortably settled at Rice Eccles Stadium for the first time ever in Utah. Their presence is the ultimate symbol of recognition, achievement and respect a Div. 1 college football program can earn during these highly competitive fall weekends.
Even as they and all knowledgeable prognosticators toast and trump the unprecedented record and stunning achievement of these Utes, BYU, despite its religious LDS Church affiliation, is not given a prayer of winning by anyone "in the know."
Well, obviously I am NOT "in the know" because I confidently predict the Cougars of BYU will upset the overloaded apple cart and edge the mighty Utes in a letdown of colossal proportions. BYU has to play its stingiest defense of the year and its on-again, off-again offense MUST click on all eight cylinders for this to happen.
Sadly, a BYU win today lets the BCS off the hook yet again and that discourages me more than anything. That the NCAA forfeited its role, right and responsibility many years ago to stage a true national college football championship as in all other sports is bad enough, but a Utah loss today will unfairly validate to many that the MWC (and all other "mid-major" conferences by extension) is a not-ready-for-primetime football conference.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Utah deserves its top 10 ranking. Meanwhile, a two-loss Boston College team will be artificially hyped in the AP and ESPN/USA Today national polls because they will be automatic BCS qualifiers as Big East Conference champions.
Utah would convincingly wallop the Eagles' buttocks 10 out of 10 times if they played this year – and it appears they might if they beat BYU today. Boston College only has remaining games against lowly Temple and a struggling Syracuse team to secure its likely BCS Fiesta Bowl bid.
As the game approaches in a few hours, all the hype and hoopla will shortly come to an end. However, the intense rivalry between the Utes and the Cougars will continue unabated with even greater intensity … especially when the Utah sombreros distributed free at today's game will become a painful memento of what could have been rather than a celebration of their historic ascension to BCS greatness in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.
And if Utah finally wins one for all the non-BCS marbles? Well, send me a Utah sombrero and I'll gladly eat it. Check that ... I'll be wearing it as I root for Utah all the way in front of my TV wearing my red Nebraska sweater.
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