FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Urban Meyer's star is rising so fast that the rich and famous no longer just admire him. They try to hang with him.
That was Bill Marriott in the front row Friday morning at the Florida coach's day-after press conference. Yes, that Bill Marriott. The hotel mogul who is possibly the University of Utah's most famous alum and the state's No. 1 corporate citizen.
"What he did for Utah is fabulous," said the 76-year-old chairman and founder of the Marriott chain. "We didn't have much of a football program until he showed up. Now Utah is No. 2."
That's kind of the problem as Year 11 of the BCS concludes: Utah is No. 2. It should, in many minds, be No. 1, or have a better chance to finish No. 1. Bill Marriott was still celebrating, as a fan of Utah and an admirer of Meyer.
Thousands of other Utes, no doubt, are bitter. This season proved that Utah's 2004 undefeated season (with Meyer) was no fluke because 2008's undefeated season (without him) was more impressive.
It is significant that Meyer is accepting multiple national championship trophies with his fingerprints all over the top two teams in the Associated Press final poll. One, he built into a national champion in two seasons. The other, he established as the flag-carrier for the playoff supporters.
Meyer's legacy now stretches across three time zones, two schools and the dividing line separating the BCS and non-BCS.
|Dodd's Power Poll|
|9. Penn State|
|10. Boise State|
|11. Ohio State|
|13. Virginia Tech|
|15. Texas Tech|
|17. Oklahoma State|
|20. Florida State|
|23. Georgia Tech|
|24. West Virginia|
|25. Oregon State|
|(Out: Michigan State, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Ball State, Northwestern)|
"Utah isn't going away," Meyer said. "If you just evaluate that program you keep hearing the word BCS conferences. I can't think of many schools that are better than Utah. As far as the toys they have, as far as the facilities, resources and alumni, recruiting base, Polynesian culture. When you hear BCS conference that means nothing to a lot of coaches like myself."
The perfect storm occurred for Utah to finish on top -- Florida struggling to beat Oklahoma -- but pollsters were still not convinced Utah deserved the top ranking. Or even a top-three ranking.
Utah finished second in the AP poll but was a distant fourth in the coaches poll. The Utes' lone first-place vote came from its own coach.
If it's all about proving it on the field, what were the coaches thinking? Utah had no shot at No. 1 in the coaches because the winner of the BCS title game automatically gets the No. 1 ranking. But fourth?
To his credit, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham broke ranks.
"I did what I thought was right," he said. "What ramifications will come of it, I don't know."
What's the worst that can happen? Whittingham will not be asked back as a voter and some clone who toes the line will be brought in to legitimize the flawed poll.
Maybe someone, somewhere will see the folly of stripping the coaches of their free will. Whatever "legitimacy" the BCS has comes from that coaches poll. For the second time since 2004 it didn't have the flexibility to recognize a major-college undefeated team. Auburn finished 13-0 four years ago but was outdone in both major polls by another undefeated team, Southern California. This time the Utes were the nation's lone unbeaten team.
Blame the BCS or blame the college football culture. Utah's season was decided before it was kicked off. It won at Michigan, beat the only team that beat USC (Oregon State), knocked off four top 25 teams and finished undefeated for the second time in five seasons.
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Sorry, Utes. Your fate was determined when you went into the season unranked. The problem being that Utah was Utah and not, say, Notre Dame, a school that gets votes because of what it has done over eight decades, not necessarily the past eight years.
"Bitterness is really not the right word," Whittingham said of the No. 1 snub during a Friday conference call. "We feel like we can play with anybody in the country."
That is no longer an empty statement. Utah did play with the anybodys. The problem is it is still a relative nobody.
"What the hell, I mean if they're No. 2 they should be qualified for the BCS, right?" Marriott said. "What does it take?"
Actually, it needed that No. 2 ranking on Dec. 7 -- the day the final BCS poll was released -- not only Jan. 9. Utah was sixth in the BCS, doomed mostly by a Mountain West schedule. The reality, though, is that the Mountain West was probably better than the ACC and Big East this season.
Marriott had an excuse for schmoozing with the nation's hottest coach. His Marriott Harbor Beach here hosted the press conferences leading up to the BCS title game. Sun, ocean and another national championship.
His legacy now is so golden that Meyer had his former Utah quarterback rooting for him in the national championship game. Brian Johnson was a freshman on that 12-0 Utah team in 2004. He was recruited and coached by Meyer and offensive coordinator Dan Mullen. Johnson was the starter this season during the 13-0 run.
"I think it will be remembered as the greatest season in the history of the program," Johnson said.
That would be Utah, not Florida, which has now won three of these things since 1996.
"Unless you do it on the field nobody really pays attention," Whittingham said.
Unless you do it on the field and you're Utah. After years of mediocrity, the program took off under Meyer. Whittingham, Meyer's defensive coordinator at Utah, kept the momentum going. Glaciers melt, though, at a faster rate than the voters' cold, cold hearts.
To dismiss Utah out of hand is shortsighted. When Boise State upset Oklahoma three years ago, the (same, tired, old) argument was: Let's see how they'd do in the SEC.
Yes, let's. The Utes just beat Alabama in what was a de facto home game for the Tide in the Sugar Bowl. The argument against more access for the non-BCS schools -- don't you hate that term -- is making less and less sense.
|Urban Meyer has two national titles in four seasons as Florida coach. (US Presswire)|
What BCS coordinator John Swofford wouldn't say is that you're likely to see Tim Tebow take a knee on the 1-yard line with the game on the line before one of the have-not conferences get into the BCS title game. The criteria are set forth (conference rank, BCS rank, etc.); a specific numeric line that the conferences have to cross is not.
It's time to throw away four-year reviews. The Mountain West, more than any other non-BCS league, deserves to be part of the party. This is not a one-year, one-trick pony. The league has developed its BCS worth over the decade of its existence.
"You get your brains kicked in every year (in a major conference) and finish 3-8, you're not BCS," Meyer said. "You might have a little bigger check at the end of the year, but Utah is a much better program than most BCS programs."
The problem begins with the fact that Meyer's colleagues don't believe him. (Look at that coaches poll.) The conference commissioners are reluctant to add another AQ (automatic qualifier). That would diminish the big six's (Big Ten, Pac-10, Big East, ACC, Big 12, SEC) chances of getting an additional at-large team in any given year.
But the BCS types have lawyers too. All this saber-rattling about antitrust violations is just that. A non-BCS school has qualified for a BCS bowl in four of the past five seasons. A glass ceiling, manufactured mostly by the voters, is keeping them from achieving more.
The polls point up the reason why Meyer left Utah. It's a lot easier for Florida to lose once and finish No. 1 than for Utah to go undefeated and get all the way to No. 2 -- for the first time in its history.
"I don't know how many coaches could say, 'I left four years ago. They're No. 2 and we're No. 1,'" Marriott said. "It's an incredible achievement."
For one coach. Not necessarily for two programs.