How a college football playoff would have affected Utah in '04 & '08

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 03: A piece of the trophy remains on the stage after the Michigan Wolverines won 23-20 in overtime agianst the Virginia Tech Hokies during the Allstate Sugar Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 3, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Hooray! College football is about to accept a playoff after years and decades and generations of essentially the bowl status quo.

Let's not kid ourselves here, this is a pretty big step and the hope is that it will lead to even bigger steps down the road - you know, in like ten or fifteen or twenty years with how fast college football adapts and all.

But that's not to say what we very well could get won't be controversial. In fact, as it is with everything NCAA, whether the basketball tournament selection committee or the BCS, it probably will be and we should expect as much. With only a four-team playoff, the postseason will be more difficult to get into than Bohemian Grove.

It's going to be geared toward the bigger conferences and more importantly, the bigger conferences within the bigger conferences. The ACC & Big East? You're in limbo right now because it's very possible your champion will need to go undefeated to even get a shot at the playoff. It might even be worse for the no man's land teams of the Mountain West and C-USA.

If you're not a member of the Big Four, you're facing an uphill battle.

In 2004, the Utes became the first non-BCS team to break through and finally play in a BCS bowl game. We all wanted our shot, though, at USC or Oklahoma or Auburn to prove we were better than sixth nationally. It never came and we were left wondering, ' what if.'

So, had the current playoff proposal been around in '04, would Utah be given a shot to win it all?

That's debatable.

What we know is that the likely teams to be selected would be USC, Oklahoma and Auburn. There isn't much disagreement there. The Trojans were #1 throughout the entire season, Oklahoma was easily #2 and Auburn was from the weakened, but yet still important, Mighty SEC.

After those three selections, though, it gets tricky. Now you're looking at just one open spot and three teams vying for it:

Texas

California

Utah

The Utes were the only undefeated of the group, but Texas is Texas and their lone loss was to Oklahoma - who easily sailed on through to the playoffs. Cal is the less sexy pick, but they were ranked ahead of both Texas & Utah. Plus, like the Longhorns, their lone loss came at the hands of a team that made the playoffs.

Utah would have been ranked behind both programs.

It's not an easy call, is it? Well, maybe for us - pick the only undefeated team, morons! But in reality, it's not that easy. A committee would ultimately have the final say. Do you trust they would pick Utah? I don't think so. I'm skeptical. I think Texas would have enough name recognition and clout to grab that final playoff berth.

But maybe I'm wrong and Utah somehow slides into the playoffs. Great!

What about four years later, though?

This is a bit more difficult. 2008 was much better, across the board, than 2004. There were just a ton of great teams that realistically could claim a spot in the playoffs.

So, it's obvious Oklahoma and Florida are in. With Texas owning a win over Oklahoma, their case would be extremely strong for playoff inclusion, even if they lost to Texas Tech.

That leaves Alabama, who lost to Florida in the SEC Championship after holding the #1 ranking for a good portion of the season, USC, who lost only once, to Oregon State, and won the Pac-10 decisively, Utah, who went undefeated and defeated the team that beat the Trojans, Texas Tech, who I already mentioned above, Penn State, who also defeated the team that defeated USC, and Boise State.

From the start, you can probably eliminate Boise State, even though they were undefeated, Penn State and Texas Tech. That leaves Alabama, USC and Utah.

Though the Utes were undefeated, they weren't ranked higher than either USC or Alabama. Plus, since USC actually won the Pac-10, their conference championship would be heavily weighted. Pac-10 > Mountain West, even though in '08, I would wager the Mountain West was better than the Pac-10.

Sadly, and I hate saying this, I just don't see Utah getting in under these circumstances. Maybe if Texas is left out in place of USC, but since officials have already conceded they want the best four available, it's hard to deny the third-ranked Longhorns one of those four spots, even if they didn't win the Big 12.

Still, it would be a contentious debate and certainly, if Utah was left out, it would lead to some gnashing of teeth, especially in the 801.

Tough luck, right?

What does this prove? The current proposal is infinitely better than the old system - if you're invited. If you're not, does it make any difference? Probably not and it's possible, maybe even likely, Utah would have been denied a spot in the playoffs both years they went undefeated.

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