Utah football made a name for itself by busting the current BCS system. There is little doubt that a program of Utah's stature benefited from the Fiesta & Sugar Bowls. While I am in no way condoning the current system, it's hard to ignore the influence its had on Utah football - from its coming out party in 2004 to its eventual invitation to the join the Pac-12.
To compare, BYU, during its glory years, was almost always relegated to the Holiday Bowl, even when they were undefeated (1984). The Big Bowls kept them out of the system and because of it, they were often paired with mediocre Big Ten teams, as was the case when they won their national championship - Michigan finished 6-6. The Cougars certainly had records worthy of receiving an invite to the Big Four bowl games, but every year, regardless of how many games they won, whether they went undefeated or how high they climbed in the rankings, BYU was relegated to lesser bowls - with the Holiday Bowl almost always being their holiday destination.
Only once, in 1996, did one of those prestigious bowl games hand out an invite and that was the Cotton Bowl. The Cougars won that game over Kansas State and the influence of that team, they were 14-1, getting the ultimate shaft from the major bowls, led to the creation of the BCS. It was their first - and only - New Year's bowl game.
So, even though BYU was able to claim a championship in 1984, the program was really overshadowed by the bigger bowls - Rose, Fiesta, Sugar and Orange. You can only play so many Big Ten programs in the Holiday Bowl before people lose interest.
Had the BCS been around in the 80s, specifically the BCS as we know it, it's likely the Cougars have multiple berths to the big bowl games and who knows how dramatically different their program fares - maybe they build themselves into a western Penn State. Instead, while BYU has consistently been a top-level non-BCS team, their success slowly faded in the 1990s and they've failed to recapture it in the BCS era. Only once did they really make the case late for a BCS bowl (in 2001) and that all came crashing down with a loss to Hawaii (though, they had been informed prior to the game that they wouldn't be included, so, win or not, they weren't going to bust the BCS that year).
I guess their consolation prize is that 1984 championship trophy. Not bad, if you ask me.
But for Utah, it's hard to deny that the BCS has ultimately helped our program. Prior to 2004, I doubt many knew who the Utes were, or where they came from or even what a Ute was. Okay, in some respects, that latter point still holds. Even so, along with Boise State and TCU, we've been elevated to national status and our program was able to parlay that into an invite into the club we had been busting the last few years. So, in that regard, the BCS has helped Utah. It has helped make us a better, more nationally known school and for that, I'll always be grateful. I enjoyed getting an invite to the Fiesta Bowl. I enjoyed storming the field at the end of both the '04 and '08 seasons chanting "BCS". I enjoyed the Sugar Bowl beat down of Alabama and I know that none of this would have happened had the old system, the system that was around when BYU was doing what Utah has done, been in place.
So, what should we expect under the new system? This is going to be different than anything we've ever experienced because it will be a true playoff, even if it is just four teams. Is it realistic to expect Utah to make the playoffs, knowing how exclusive the club will be? Surely if they go undefeated in the Pac-12, they're in. But can the Utes really go undefeated in the Pac-12? It's possible, though I hope it never happens, we're just not at the level to even worry about what a postseason will look like because we might not make it.
To make it, I think it's pretty clear we'll have to win the Pac-12. That includes our division and then the conference championship game. Beyond that, I also believe it would require near-perfection, and certainly no more than one loss. We did it twice before in a lesser conference, but can we get through a 13 game schedule unscathed?
These are tough questions to answer. So, let's try answering 'em. We know USC and Oregon, maybe Stanford, should be contending for a playoff spot the second the system is created in 2014, but what about Utah? Are we ready to take it to that next level?