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An open letter to Stewart Mandel

Stewart Mandel knows college football and by all accounts, he seems to be a pretty decent guy. However, like most college sports writers for the major sites, they have one fatal flaw: They rarely give non-BCS teams credit. Today, in his power rankings, he did just that, setting his eyes on the Utes and their 10-0 start. 

Now I actually don't have too much of a problem with his ranking, as he puts the Utes at ninth, however, he also does so by tearing down not only Utah, but other non-BCS programs. Something that appears to be all too common nowadays. 

This is my counter.

With its dramatic 13-10 win over No. 11 TCU last Thursday, Utah firmly established itself as the highest ranked of the non-BCS teams. But the Utes didn't exactly blow anybody away, either. They went 59 minutes without a touchdown, were outgained 416 to 275 and were extremely fortunate that TCU missed two late field goals to leave the door open for their game-winning drive.

Texas Tech didn't blow Texas away, either, winning in the final seconds of that game. In fact, it took a more miraculous drive in that win than what Utah went through in theirs. Sure, Tech outplayed Texas for most of the game, however, had the Longhorns actually pulled out the victory, would Mandel and others have questioned the win because it came in the final seconds and they didn't dominate? I doubt it, especially since he puts Texas at 4th in his rankings (the Red Raiders are 2nd, even with their non-dominant victory over the Longhorns). 

Sure, TCU really isn't at the level of Texas and Utah probably isn't at the level of Texas Tech. But we're not talking about putting the Utes at first or second in the country here, we're just talking about moving them up a spot or two. Defeating a team Mandel admits he had rated higher the week before, even if it happened in the final seconds, should not be diminished because the Utes failed to dominate. 

Alabama didn't dominate LSU, a team Utah is ranked ahead of, barely squeaking by the Tigers in overtime. But how many people have made that an issue when it comes to ranking the Tide? Not many. See, when you're a BCS team and you defeat another solid BCS team by a small margin, it's a good win. But when you're a non-BCS team and you defeat a solid non-BCS team by a small margin, it's just an average win. Had the Utes and Frogs both been in a BCS conference, no one would be questioning Utah's last minute victory, just as Mandel didn't question Georgia's, who barely defeated a slightly better than average Kentucky team. They're tenth, right behind Utah, up from thirteenth a week before. Utah's victory over TCU, who ranked ninth last week, only netted them a one-spot gain in his rankings. So I guess we should believe a close win over an unranked Kentucky team is more impressive than a close win over a ninth ranked TCU team, at least that's the logic Mandel seems to employ here. 

But that not all.

Note that Utah also needed a dramatic, last-minute rally in its other big win of the season over Oregon State, and, in the game that originally put the Utes on the map, had to hold on for dear life to survive Michigan, which is now 3-7.

Note, Penn State, who Mandel has ranked seventh, ahead of Utah, lost to an Iowa team teetering on the brink of a losing season. Sure, the Hawkeyes are a better team than Michigan, but if you go by Mandel's rankings, he believes Penn State is better than Utah, so they should equal out, right? Well not in his world. Instead of dropping Penn State behind Utah for losing to an Iowa team that entered that game 5-4, they keep them ahead of a 10-0 Utah team who defeated a 9-1 Texas Christian team he had ranked ninth the week before. Confused? Yeah, so am I. We'll dock the Utes points for barely winning at Ann Arbor, but we'll keep them behind a Penn State program who lost to struggling Iowa. I don't get it. 

But he didn't end there.

Again, Utah most certainly deserves the highest ranking of the non-BCS bunch. It's undefeated and alone atop the toughest non-BCS league, the Mountain West. It has beaten TCU (9-2), Air Force (8-2) and Oregon State (6-3), whereas fellow undefeated Boise State's lone substantive win was at Oregon (7-3). Undefeated Ball State's best win came against Indiana (3-7).

Well that just makes it all better, doesn't it? Nothing like a backhanded compliment, eh? Isn't it interesting the Utes have now two wins over two current top-25 teams (TCU and Oregon State), while also defeating a team on the cusp of the top-25 (Air Force). But that isn't good enough in his eyes. 

Utah deserved to be rewarded for beating TCU (which I had moved ahead of the Utes last week), and I did move them up one spot from 10th to 9th, but I'm starting to believe that we the voters are being overly generous in our rankings of these teams.

Utah deserved to be rewarded for beating TCU (which I had moved ahead of the Utes last week), and I did move them up one spot from 10th to 9th, but I'm starting to believe that we the voters are being overly generous in our rankings of these teams.

I jumped 8-2 Ohio State above Utah this week. Why? Because no part of me believes the Utes would stand a chance against Terrelle Pryor and Beanie Wells. I would have moved Georgia ahead of them as well had the Dawgs not struggled so mightily to win at Kentucky. (I did move them ahead of Boise State.) Oklahoma State is almost certainly better than the Utes and Broncos, too, but that would have required keeping the Cowboys in the same spot after losing 56-20 to Texas Tech.

Uh, what? So your rankings are based on whether or not a team has a shot at defeating those ahead of them? Well if that's the case, why the hell isn't Iowa ranked ahead of Penn State? I mean, they proved they could not only hold their own against the Nittany Lions, but they actually won the game! What's more, why isn't Oregon State ahead of USC? I know, I'm letting results get in the way of flawed logic, but I can't help but push this further. 

He says Utah would not stand a chance against Ohio State and bases this on, I guess, his opinion. I don't know if Utah would beat Ohio State, hell, they'd probably lose if the game were in Columbus. However, that doesn't mean they wouldn't stand a chance in either a bowl game or if they were to have played them at Rice-Eccles. I mean, USC managed to dominate the Buckeyes and the Beavers turned around and beat the Trojans, who then lost to the Utes. Yes, it's a warped way of making my point, but no more warped than Mandel's belief Utah couldn't hold their own against Ohio State. 

He finishes it off by trying to save face, but maybe inadvertently ruins his case. 

Utah will deserve its coveted top-12 spot if it beats 9-1 BYU and finishes undefeated in an admittedly tough conference, but don't get fooled into thinking these are the 2004 Utes. That Alex Smith-led team may very well have beaten a top-five foe in a BCS game if given the chance. This team has proven that, if given the right breaks, it can beat TCU and Oregon State.

I wouldn't even think of comparing this team with 2004's. In fact, there is no comparison, that team was far better and proved it on the field by blowing out every opponent they faced. However, we're not talking about the 2004 Utes, or the 2004 season. We are talking about the 2008 Utes and the 2008 season.

What these two teams do have in common, though, is that they both have been written off. In 2004, it was because the Utes didn't play anyone and now it's not that they haven't played anyone, but rather they haven't dominated those teams like they should have. But it's the double standard we non-BCS fans have to put up with.

I mean, had Utah lost to Iowa in the same fashion Penn State did, does anyone really believe they would have kept their top-ten ranking? Does anyone really believe they wouldn't have tumbled all the way out of the top-15? Of course they would have and that's the problem with the BCS. They give too much credit to the teams from the BCS and not enough credit to the teams from the non-BCS. When those smaller conference opponents do defeat the eleventh ranked team in the nation, even if it's by a hair,  it's only a marginally decent win. But when the number one team in the nation barely defeats the fifteenth ranked team, it's a solid win, deserving of high praise and proof that their players are worthy of a national championship berth. 

It would seem the media isn't much different than the BCS as they, too, make excuses to keep the Little Guys out. Even when their own rantings appear to cheapen their arguments.