From 1998 through 2003, no team outside a BCS conference had made it to a BCS Bowl (Fiesta, Orange, Rose, and Sugar Bowls). Several came close with Tulane in 1998 and Marshall in 1999 both completing an undefeated season, but neither was chosen to bust the BCS. In 2002, Utah changed the landscape of college football by hiring rising coaching star Urban Meyer, and the rest, as they say is history.
In 2004, the Meyer led Utah Utes completed an undefeated regular season with a rank of sixth heading into the bowl season. ESPN's college football preview show College Gameday broadcast from the Utah campus for the Holy War game against BYU, a 52-21 statement over the heated rivals to the south.
Utah earned the invitation to the 2005 Fiesta Bowl, a game they were favored to win over Big East champion Pittsburgh. Utah went on to dismiss Pitt 35-7, racking up three Fiesta Bowl records, including completion percentage, sacks, and receptions. The Utes were, however, left out of the BCS National Championship, which featured the undefeated USC Trojans and Oklahoma Sooners. Utah was not the only undefeated team left out of the national championship, Auburn also completed an undefeated regular seasons. (Had the college football playoff existed in 2004, Utah likely would not have been chosen, ranking sixth at the end of the season.) These questions and many other aspects of the 2004 Utah Utes team are explored in the Celtic Waters Productions documentary Busters.
The U Fan Cast talked with Tom (the director) and Dave (the producer) Cook about their documentary. The idea to make the documentary started when Tom was a film student at Utah in 2004.
"Man, somebody should be documenting this, and nothing ever came out," said Tom "With the ten year anniversary, we just thought, it is time to make [a documentary]."
John Madsen, a wide receiver on the 2004 team, was the first former player to grant an interview, and that is what really got the project going.
We asked if they had a chance to talk with Utah's head coach in 2004, Urban Meyer, who is now the head coach at Ohio State.
"We are still working on it. Hopefully, mid October we can get back there, is kind of what we are hoping for," said Tom.
One aspect of the original BCS busting team they wanted to tackle is the role that 2004 Utah had on helping to create the college football playoff. There were three undefeated teams at the end of the bowl season, USC (who won the national championship), Auburn (who won the Sugar Bowl and finished ranked #2), and Utah. This was one of the most controversial years for the BCS and strong evidence that a playoff was the only effective method to decide a true national champion.
"Every one of [the players] said, 'How can you really determine a national champion? Three undefeated teams, and they never played each other. How can you really say USC was the national champion that year?'"
Even 10 years later, it was clear from talking to the former players how much the season meant to them. The players have continued to keep in touch through the years, as well.
"It has been 10 years, but their recollection of very, very fine details was unbelievable really," said Dave "There is still a really tight relationship there between those players."
The other star after Urban Meyer of the 2004 team was quarterback Alex Smith, who finished fourth in the 2004 Heisman voting. He was the first pick in the 2005 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers. We asked if they had a chance to interview him yet.
"We're working on it," said Tom.
"We're in contact with some people," added Dave.
The documentary is nearing completion, but there are the interviews with Meyer and Smith that they would like to add, in addition to a national media member. We asked who they hope to get.
"I would personally like Kirk Herbstreit," said Tom. "Very complementary toward the Utes during that season, very complementary towards the MUSS. I think he would have a good perspective."
"Kirk called that Utah-BYU game," said Dave. "He actually had a comment during the Utah-BYU game towards the end, he goes 'This would be a year to have a plus one,' which I thought was prophetic in a way."
In this day and age, with all of the technology and social media, there are many different ways to release a movie, so we asked them what their plan is for the final release for Busters.
"We have a couple of national companies looking at it right now," said Tom. "We are looking at a direct sell [rather than showing at a film festival]."
Every documentary has a theme, a reason to tell the story that the documentary is sharing. It may not always be clear what that is at first. It may not be until you look back at the content you have that you decide what story is being told.
"The message I think we are trying to portray here is a couple things: 1. Every once in awhile you will get a special team that comes together, regardless of conference, that can really makes some noise, and that is what that 2004 team did. You take a look at the amount of the NFL talent that came out of that team. Couple that with the coaching staff. Urban Meyer went on to win two national championships. Coach Whittingham with the 2008 team. Gary Anderson is now at Wisconsin. Dan Mullen is at Mississippi State. You had this compilation of people that came together at the right time and put it all together. The other [theme] is what effect they had coupled with the other busters to move college football forward towards a playoff," said Dave.
Had there been a four team playoff in 2004, would Utah have been in?
"I think they would have been in," said Tom. "They beat every team by 14 points or more. At that point, only Nebraska in 1995 had done that. On the eye test alone, I think they would have passed it."