The Mountain West needs to focus, look closer. Capitol Hill's favorite conference spent the offseason pitching its case to Congress and challenging the BCS.
But let's be clear. It was the coaches poll -- the prove-it-on-the-field guys -- that hit Utah with a lead pipe with its final regular-season poll.
The Utes finished No. 7. Seventh, for what turned out to be the nation's only undefeated major-college team. Utah's chances were dead before it got that Sugar Bowl bid. Great result and all that in New Orleans but let's analyze why the Utes couldn't play for it all.
There's a bias, all right. It comes from the coaches. The Harris poll also voted Utah seventh before the bowls but it almost gets a pass. The Harris voters aren't in the business, lining their pockets with bowl money, at the same time denying two major-college teams (Boise was undefeated in the regular season too) a better bowl fate.
The coaches, dear Mountain West, are the ones who have drawn the line -- and it clearly doesn't include teams from below the BCS level. Is that about to change? We'll see with the Mountain West sporting three possible BCS busters again this season (Utah, BYU, TCU).
Only the top two teams in the BCS play in the national championship. The winner gets the coaches poll automatic No. 1 vote (or is supposed to).
Heck, Utah was only able to make it up to No. 4 in the coaches after beating Alabama by two touchdowns in the Sugar Bowl.
The BCS might be unfair to the great unwashed non-BCS school but it is unfair mostly because the voting coaches -- by and large -- don't take those schools seriously. (Remember, Utah finished second in the Associated Press media poll. It was fifth among the computers.)
Guess who had the majority of the coaches votes last season? Thirty-seven of the 61 voting coaches came from BCS conferences (61 percent). The power conference schools make up only 55 percent of Division I-A.
The Mountain West voters were New Mexico's Rocky Long (Utah, No. 7 before the bowls); TCU's Gary Patterson (No. 7) and Utah's Kyle Whittingham (No. 5). Whittingham voted his Utes No. 1 after the Sugar Bowl.
The Mountain West has done its best to make all of this clear. Unfortunately, it will be another five seasons, at least, before any kind of playoff can be staged.
Until then, there is a hope. Short of a playoff, we learned in January that the Mountain West could gain automatic BCS access by 2012.
The noble fight goes on in 2009 with Utah expected to repeat as conference champions. Don't tell TCU and BYU, though.
Picking the Mountain West ...
1. Utah -- Give Whittingham credit. He didn't mope around after getting shafted. He didn't skip town for a bright, shiny new job. He stuck to the task. Losing quarterback Brian Johnson, kicker/punter Louie Sakoda and defensive end Paul Kruger won't be hard with 24 redshirt freshmen returning, not including three players back from missions. Remember the name Corbin Louks at quarterback.
2. BYU -- Along the Wasatch Range they're talking about the Cougars the way the rest of the nation is talking about Utah. Coach Bronco Mendenhall has won 32 games the past three seasons while winning two Mountain West titles. This year's team is loaded and gets the Utes at home to finish the regular season. Best sign? The last four times BYU has had a senior quarterback, it has won the league. Senior Max Hall is the Mountain West's best at his position. Defensive end Jan Jorgensen is the league's career sack leader.
3. TCU -- Coach Gary Patterson specializes in taking high school running backs and turning them into defensive terrors. Get ready, then, for All-American defensive end Jerry Hughes to cause more damage. Hughes was handed a defensive number when he got to Fort Worth and went to work. Last year he led the nation with 15 sacks. TCU's unit as a whole led the nation giving up only 47 rushing yards. If the Frogs are going to jump over Utah, they can't get bogged down offensively. Last year's 13-10 loss in Salt Lake City was a killer.
4. Air Force -- It has been a seamless transition from Fisher DeBerry to Troy Calhoun who has won 17 games in his first two seasons in Colorado Springs. The option offense continues to be the great equalizer. The Falcons should win the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy. Beyond that, we're wondering if Air Force is the team that started 8-2 in '08 or the one that lost its last three.
5. UNLV -- Mike Sanford likely saved his job by winning five games last season. Bowl eligibility is a definite possibility this season. That's saying a lot for a program that has had one winning season in the last 14. Ryan Wolfe is the leading returning receiver in the league (88 catches, six touchdowns).
6. New Mexico -- First-time, first-year coach Mike Locksley has made his share of waves since arriving in the high desert. He injected some energy in what had become a lazy program. He used his recruiting prowess to snatch a few players from the Washington, D.C. area. Above all else, Locksley, the former Illinois OC, needs a Juice Williams-like presence at quarterback. Recruit Emmanuel Yeager left school recently to go back to D.C. That might have set the position back considering incumbent Donovan Porterie was recruited by Rocky Long to run the option.
7. Colorado State -- Steve Fairchild took the Rams from 3-9 to 7-6 (and a bowl win) in his first season. That tied for the most wins since 2002. The defense must get better after giving up 30 points per game. A veteran offensive line could spring junior tailback John Mosure for a big year.
8. Wyoming -- Dave Christensen, his Hog and his spread offense blew into Laramie from Missouri promising more appealing football. Christensen was the OC at Missouri for Chase Daniel and the Tigers' record-setting offense. Last season Wyoming's offense averaged less than 13 points per game. There's no one on the roster close to resembling Daniel. Let's hope that Christensen's motorcycle isn't the program's most entertaining feature.
9. San Diego State -- Still trying to figure out why Brady Hoke made this lateral move from Ball State to take this job. Sure, Ball State wouldn't bump up salaries for Hoke's assistants. Is that a reason to go to the worst program in the Mountain West? Brady, your career is at risk here.