Utah owned SECW champs Alabama last night in the Superdome. As in it was never really close. The 31-17 drubbing finished a perfect 13-0 season for the Mountain West team, and thrusts them squarely into yet another brewing challenge to the BCS system's validity. If the Utes can go 13-0, beating Alabama, Oregon State, and Boise State, then how can a one loss Florida or Oklahoma claim to be the champs? I'll let others argue that one. Honestly, short of an NFL style playoff system that drags out for another month, there is no perfect answer. I'll leave it at that.
But back to Utah.
This is a team that has recruited exactly four 4* players in the last five years. Not in EACH of the last five years. In the last five years COMBINED. Their average star rating for the last five recruiting classes is 2.4. The highest their recruiting classes have ranked since 2004 is 55th. The only SEC team they favorably compare to from a recruiting standpoint is Vanderbilt (funny, that). Their starting QB is a fifth-year 2*. He made John Parker Wilson look like a scout team QB by comparison last night.
Bama, on the other hand, signed as many 4* and 5* offensive linemen in 2006 alone (4) than Utah signed in all positions in the combined years of 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008. Bama's average star rating over that period is 3.3. The lowest they ranked was near #20, and the highest was last year's #1 rated class.
Saban makes over $4 million a year. Whittingham was making $4 million over SIX years before signing a recent raise to $6 million over 5 years.
Of course, any team can have a great day and beat any other team, right?
Yet this is the Sugar Bowl - against the great and historic Alabama Crimson Tide, resurgent under the recruiting prowess and coaching genius of Nick Saban. Surely there's no way Bama was overlooking this team. Surely they weren't unprepared.
No, I think Utah was a better team. How is that possible, considering the serious disparity in recruiting and coaching salaries between the two teams?
Well, it's impossible to know for sure. Here are my two educated guesses.
1. Salaries define past coaching performance mixed with hope and sprinkled with incentive for good measure. Salaries do not define ACTUAL coaching performance.
2. Recruiting is like mining. You generally get raw material of varying quality and it's the coaches' job to make it shiny and profitable. Sometimes, an up-and-coming operation will be able to get more out of lesser known raw product than a well-established, "elite" operation, where too much inertia and internal chaos get in the way of processing the very finest raw material available. It's called efficiency and waste.
The vast majority of Bama fans won't like those answers. Most Bama fans won't like any answers this morning. And I would be the same way. But to me, Bama was outcoached. Not just this year. But outcoached as a program by Utah. You can't put it all on Saban. This loss is about Utah being a much more solid football program - in total - than Alabama. First Urban Meyer, then Whittingham. The Utah athletic director knows how to pick coaches, apparently.
Would Utah have beaten LSU or Florida or Georgia?
Well, with that passing game, I think LSU could've been in serious trouble. I can't speak for the Gators or the Dawgs.
I'm impressed with what Whittingham and Utah have done.
Alabama has some big holes to fill for next year, but they have to remain the favorite in the West. And I'm cool with that, too. I prefer Les Miles and LSU to be slightly under estimated.
As for Utah, they graduate a TON of seniors this year. And that's a program that rebuilds, not reloads. They'll be remembering 2008 for a long, long time!