I don't want it to go down like this, but it will.
Thursday night, we will have a national champion. Unfortunately for those fans living in Los Angeles, Austin and Salt Lake City, there won't be a split title. Either Florida or Oklahoma will be atop both the polls and everything after that then becomes the big story. Who'll finish 2nd and who'll get jobbed out of a top-3 ranking?
As of tonight, USC, Utah and Texas were all winners in their BCS bowl games. The Trojans and Utes own the two most impressive victories, as they dominated their opponents. Texas, who faced Ohio State last night, came from behind in the final minute to pull out their victory. Will it diminish their final ranking? Probably not.
It won't because too many members in the media will look past the fact Texas came 30-seconds away from losing and instead, they'll focus on how they pulled out a pretty impressive come-from-behind victory.
Before the game, Ute fans wanted something similar to what happened in Glendale Monday night. A close and ugly win by Texas was the best-case scenario for anything that wasn't a loss. Ironically, that close game set the foundation for a finish that will easily mask Texas' obvious deficiencies. The story tonight isn't that Texas struggled to barely beat a fairly unremarkable Ohio State team, rather the story is that Texas had a remarkable comeback to win the Fiesta Bowl. Had the game ended with an interception on the Buckeyes' final scoring drive and maybe we're looking at a win that is less satisfying to many in the media than what we received. Sure, it won't be enough to split the title for the Longhorns, but it will help in their final ranking, which hurts Utah. Such is the life for a non-BCS team.
Moving beyond Texas, though, this close contest helps USC, too. The Trojans easily defeated Ohio State earlier in the season and for a while, the win didn't seem to register, since the Buckeyes weren't performing at a fairly high-level. That changed in the Fiesta and while the Trojan win over Ohio State would have held more merit had they actually pulled off the upset, it does offer a comparison. USC beat the Bucks 35-3, Texas beat them 24-21. Does it prove USC is better than Texas? No, but it does add more fuel to the debate. Of course, if you use that whatever-degrees of seperation here, then you've got to add Utah, who defeated the Beavers, the lone team to beat USC. But they won't.
So when it's all said and done, the AP and Coaches will most likely figure out a way to stick it to Utah. They'll make an excuse about 'Bama not being motivated enough as justification for ranking them below a bunch of 1-loss teams and ignore the true dominate fashion of Utah's win. Of course, that will play less of a role in ranking Texas and USC will get the benefit of the doubt with their blowout of Penn State, since no one would ever question the Nittany Lions' motivation. That leaves the loser of the national championship game. While no one can predict how that game will go (in terms of the final score), if the loser keeps it close, don't be surprised to find them ranked ahead of Utah, as well.
In 2004, Oklahoma was rolled by USC, yet finished the season 3rd, ahead of Texas and Utah. A year later, the Trojans lost a heart-breaker to Texas in the national championship game and finished 2nd. Ohio State, after getting rolled by Florida in their title game, finished 2nd. Last season, with two-losses, they did drop to fifth (AP) and fourth (Coaches), which might give us an idea of what to expect for this year's loser.
What does that mean for Utah and where will they most likely finish? It isn't going to be No. 1 or No. 2. They might have a shot at No. 3, but I doubt it and it's possible they get the 4th spot if the national champion loser gets blown out. Also, don't be surprised if the AP poll has Utah a spot higher than the Coaches, which was the case in 2004, when the media put Utah 4th (ahead of Texas) and the coaches 5th (behind Texas). Though I would not be shocked if Texas was ahead of Utah in both polls, since in 2004, the Utes were still ranked ahead of the Longhorns in the AP Poll entering the bowl season. This year, though, Texas is 3rd and it seems very unlikely they would drop them behind Utah.
That means on eary Friday morning, this is how I expect the final top-5 to shake out:
It'll suck and we'll be pissed, but I don't see it happening any other way. Had Texas lost to Ohio State, the Utes would have undoubtedly been no worse than 4th. I even think had the Longhorns not won in such exciting fashion, the Utes very well could have leaped them. But not after a finish like that, even though the game as a whole was less impressive than many expected.
But as I said, such is the life.